Tag Archives: summer flowers

Garden diary, January 31, 2017. Radio, geckos, summer flowers and a tour in the rain.

img_20170129_064707A quick trip to Auckland at the weekend saw me rushing hither and yon but also enabled a face to face conversation with Tony Murrell in the studio at Radio Live. Usually we do these by phone. It is at the unseemly hour of 6.30am each Sunday morning so I had to rise even earlier to get to the studio. These conversations are remarkably complex for the early hour but both Tony and I are enjoying them enormously. Last Sunday it was partly about taking inspiration from other people’s gardens and not falling into the trap of thinking that recreating these ideas at home means using their blueprint, often from another climate, another country and another time. The link is here if you want to listen – it is about 25 minutes of solid gardening discussion.

img_3767We did not see Glenys, our resident gecko, last year so were thrilled to spot her again last week. But this one is not Glenys. It is considerably smaller so our best guess is that she is the daughter of Glenys. Whether the mother is still around and we just haven’t spotted her remains unknown but having a smaller specimen this year suggests we now have a breeding population. Why do I use the female gender? Because those more knowledgeable about herpetology tell us that this is the behaviour of pregnant geckos, incubating their young. These reptiles can disappear in a flash if they are spooked so it takes quiet movements to sneak up to see. The safe haven appears to be in the fissures of the tree, beneath the bark.

img_3770The UK gardening tour I mentioned last week has done been and gorn. It rained, steadily, when they arrived which was disappointing but we moved them all indoors for tea and cakes and the rain stopped a few minutes into the walk around the garden. While hosting these tours takes a bit of work and a surprisingly large amount of mental energy, the visitors often repay the efforts in more than money.  Being able to share the garden with appreciative visitors who have a fairly high degree of knowledge themselves – albeit with an entirely different range of plants – is what it is all about really. We don’t garden on this scale just for ourselves and it can be extremely affirming to share it with a group like this one. I have to report that the lilies in the garden did not flower as hoped but we have enough lilies planted “out the back” as we say for me to pick an impressive display for vases indoors and they did not go unnoticed.

img_3900img_3902Also putting on the very best display we have ever seen here is Tecomanthe venusta.  Other plants here may be more floriferous. Indeed there are some years that T. venusta doesn’t actually flower at all, but it is lovely when it does.

img_3784Finally, a few snapshots of summer flowers I liked this weekend. I called in to Joy Plants to check out their perennials and the kniphofia in the gardens were looking marvellous.



There are times we get distinctly sniffy about both agapanthus and red hot pokers in this country but look at this scene – it was simple but lovely.


Auckland Botanic Gardens have some excellent, large scale perennial plantings which are well worth a visit at this time of the year. This yellow achillea with a compact, very dark foliaged dahlia which is opening yellow flowers was a striking combination.

Fingers crossed here for some more sun this week and it really would be awfully nice if the temperature rose a few degrees more so we were in the mid twenties, rather than barely breaking into the early twenties.

Summer is for lilies

Auratum lilies in the summer border

Auratum lilies in the summer border

Flowers mark the seasons for gardeners. To us, autumn means nerines. Winter is for camellias, late winter brings snowdrops, bluebells and magnolias. Spring means rhododendrons and cherry trees. And summer? Lilies are the flowers of summer.

Not roses. They look wonderful in late spring but by the time summer arrives, the roses are past their best. They tend to be happier in drier climates with low humidity, often with the advantage of cold winters to kill greeblies and fungi. To keep them looking good in warm, moist climates with high humidity requires a rigorous spray programme and good management. It can be done but we don’t do it.

But the lilies need no such fuss and they reward us with masses of blooms throughout the summer season, though to have a succession of them, you need to grow a range of different types. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from. There are well over 100 different species and that does not include the hybrids. Nor will I sidetrack onto plants that are referred to as lilies by name but are not lilies by nature – zantedeschia or arum lily, gloriosa or climbing lily, let alone daylilies and waterlilies.

We start with what we call the Christmas lily which is Lilium regale. It is a fragrant trumpet lily from China which is flushed deep red on the backs of the petals and is usually in flower for me to pick for the Christmas table. If you are thinking of a pure white Christmas lily (much favoured by florists), you are probably referring to Lilium longiflorum which hails from Japan. The renowned madonna lily, with its pure white trumpets, is yet another species (candidum) from southern Europe but it is distressingly prone to virus.

The Aurelian lilies are an earlier flowering favourite

The Aurelian lilies are an earlier flowering favourite

Dovetailing with the Christmas lily, we have some lovely, sweetly scented trumpet lilies of the Aurelian type. These are a personal favourite. I love the soft honey apricot and lemon colours of the ones we have here and they are easy to grow in a garden border. Like most lilies, they pick well.

The tiger lilies lack scent but are easy to grow

The tiger lilies lack scent but are easy to grow

The tiger lilies are pretty common and dead easy to grow but they lack scent, which can be a bit of a disappointment. If you can overlook that deficiency and you garden with orange tones, these lilies are perfect in mixed plantings. They rarely need staking and after flowering, the foliage dies down pretty quickly. The petals are described as reflex – in other words they curve backwards, not unlike a crown. There are a number of other lilies with this flower form (referred to as Turk’s cap lilies because they resemble a Turkish headpiece), but the tiger lily is in fact Lilium lancifolium, sometimes referred to as Lilium tigrinum. We don’t find the proper Turk’s caps (being L. martagon) anywhere near as easy to grow. If you know someone with tiger lilies, they produce masses of tiny bulbs (called bulbils) on the lower stem and these will reach flowering size in a couple of years.

All these lilies are but the prelude to the extended display we get from the astounding auratums. I wrote about these in Plant Collector over a month ago, the wonderful golden rayed lilies of Japan. They are still in full flight here and a major feature of the summer garden. They are big. They are beautiful. They are very fragrant. One might consider they are a bit over the top – but never vulgar. If planted by a path, they will need staking to stop every passerby being touched with golden pollen. Similarly, when a clump gets too congested, they will be inclined to fall over, unless staked. In garden borders or beds of tidy, compact little plants, the auratums will look out of place. But in big borders with big plants, they are superb. For us, they are the number one flower of summer.

The final flurry for the season comes from the late summer Lilium formasanum, which geographically inclined readers will understand means that these are indigenous to Taiwan. This is another scented trumpet type, predominantly white often flushed rosy pink on the petal backs, generally unfussy and commonly seen in gardens. Formasanum will seed down readily (too readily, some say, but we have never found it a problem) and grow even in semi shade and open woodland areas of the garden. It will flower in just its second year from seed. It makes a particularly good garden subject because its foliage is light and fine so it is not too intrusive in the dying down stages and it does not usually need staking.

I pick lilies to bring indoors. I love the way just one stem can scent an entire room for many days on end. Lilies produce the leaves and the flowering stem all on the same spike. It is important to remember when picking that you must leave sufficient stem and foliage for the bulb to continue photosynthesizing. This is how it builds up enough strength for it to flower again next year.

Lily pollen can stain badly. I am guessing florists carefully brush the pollen from each stamen, being careful not to allow any to fall and mark the petals. I nip off the pollen coated tips, leaving the central stamen. It seems a shame but I know from experience that I do not want to be trying to get pollen stains off carpet and upholstery. You have to keep doing it as buds open in the vase but it is a small price to pay for one of the very best cut flowers I can think of. (See comment below – rethinking these actions now.)

First published by the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Auratum lilies with lobelias

Auratum lilies with lobelias

Plant Collector: The golden-rayed lily of Japan (Lilium auratum)

The wonderfully fragrant auratum lily hybrids - hybridising and raising from seed keeps the plants healthy and reduces problems with virus

The wonderfully fragrant auratum lily hybrids - hybridising and raising from seed keeps the plants healthy and reduces problems with virus

The golden-rayed lily of Japan – what a beautifully evocative common name. We grow quite a few lilies here but it is the auratum hybrids that are the mainstay of our summer garden. These are the results of decades of breeding, first by Felix Jury and now by Mark. This particular pink one is a pleasing new selection from that breeding programme. There is no commercial gain in breeding these auratums. The aim is to extend the colour range and vigour so they perform better as plants in our own garden as well as keeping them free of virus, which is common. We also prefer outward facing flowers (rather than the upward facing blooms used in floristry) because that gives more protection from the weather.

The hybrids are bigger and showier than the species. This flower is over 30cm across so not for the shy or retiring gardener. The species are predominantly white with yellow or red streaks and crimson spotting. Hybridising extends that colour range into pure whites, white with dominant yellow markings, reds and pinks. We also want strong growing plants that can hold themselves up without needing to be staked every year and which will keep performing under a regime of benign neglect (which means digging and dividing every decade, not every second year). We grow them both in sun and on the woodland margins – wherever there are reasonable light levels, good drainage and soil rich in humus.

Auratums are offered for sale as dormant bulbs from time to time but they don’t like being dried out and dessicated so try and find ones which are plump and firm.

Saving the best for last: oh, the fragrance. The auratum lilies are one of the flowers I cut to bring indoors. A single stem has multiple blooms and can scent a large room all by itself. I remove the pollen which will stain everything it falls upon.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.