I went back to the Te Henui cemetery this week to take my gardening friend some of the giant albuca she wanted. The dedicated volunteers keep the whole place blooming all year round but it was the lilies that caught my eye this week. One lily in particular was standing sturdy and straight with no staking and reaching a heady height of maybe 1.8m. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s an Oriental, she said. “I bought the first one from a bulb outlet and it is called ‘High Tea’ and the rest came in a mix of Orientals that I picked up at The Warehouse.”
The yellow one next to it was clearly an Oriental – and a very pretty one at that with good yellow colouring for one with Japanese auratum lily in its parentage. ‘High Tea’ had me puzzled and then I realised it was very similar to one we had at home that I relocated last year. I hadn’t noticed it before the previous summer but Mark and I had discussed it when it suddenly produced a fairly spectacular performance. Neither of us have any recollection at all of acquiring it in the first place or planting it in its original location. Mark took one look at it this morning and said, “It is an Aurelian”.
This took me down the rabbit hole of looking at lilium groups. Does this matter to the home gardener? Not at all. You can happily grow plants without knowing anything at all about their origins or relatives. But it is a bit like doing crosswords – some of us like the challenge and find it interesting trying to work out the genetic lines and the different groups.
We grow a lot of Aurelians and auratum lilies and they are a strong feature of our summer gardens. But neither of us were at all sure what the definition of an Oriental lily was. It turns out that Oriental is a broad term that takes in a whole lot of hybrids between different species but the dominant genes come from Japanese lilies. They flower a little later in the season and they usually have the best fragrance. L. auratum that Mark and his father before him have done quite a bit of work on to get a range of good garden plants here would be classified as falling within the Oriental group even though they are just variations on the one species.
What makes the cemetery yellow Oriental interesting is that it the result of an effort to get yellow auratum hybrids. Auratums come in shades of pink, white and red so the yellow has been introduced from a different species and will have involved some sophisticated hybridising techniques.
Trumpet lilies from the wider Asian area have the catch-all term of Asiatics. They are not renowned for their scent, but we have a lot that are scented. They also have finer foliage and flower a little earlier in the season.
The Aurelian group is a blanket term for hybrids with L. henryii in their parentage. So all Aurelians are Asiatics, but not all Asiatics are Aurelian. Once you get into these larger groupings, the breeding can be very complicated involving several different species and hybrids.
So Mark was right that ‘High Tea’ is not an Oriental and it may indeed be an Aurelian. It is certainly an Asiatic.
The graveyard is a splendid backdrop for plants. Lots of framing of small pictures that are a delight. Flowers this week included Dierama pulcherrimum which the internet and I know also as angel’s fishing rod but a social media follower declared was in fact fairy’s fishing rod on account of Tinkerbell but the detail eludes me. I like the graceful form and the gentle way the blooms age.
What we call calla lilies are not lilies at all. They are zantedeschia from Africa. I pulled most of mine out because they were too shy on flowering and not worth the space in the garden but this patch was doing well in the graveyard. The gardener in me wanted to rogue out the stray orange one. If the flowers look familiar, it is because they are the same family as the common arum which is a noxious weed in New Zealand.
The beautiful white flower that looks as though it is tissue paper is the Californian tree poppy, Romneya coulteri. It is one of those plants that is either extremely happy and inclined to become rampantly invasive or it is unhappy and it dies. Our attempts to grow it resulted in its death.
Beautiful, ethereal gaura floating like butterflies.
I assume this is false valerian (Centranthus ruber) but I will stand corrected if my assumption is wrong.
This local graveyard remains one of the very best places to see a huge range of flowers and some charming and well thought out combinations.