Tag Archives: tiger lilies

The January Garden

Auratums and pink lobelia

Auratums and pink lobelia

I don’t cut many flowers to bring indoors. It feels a bit like murdering them to sever them in their prime and bring them indoors to die. We were lucky that Mark’s parents had the foresight to plan the garden so there is a different view from every house window and we have plenty of flowers in sight all year round. The lilies are different. In summer I love to bring in huge stems to scent the house. They are big. They are bold. They are beautiful. Lilies define our summers.

You need quite a lot of lilies to justify cutting the entire stem off and, after many decades, we have a few. Mark’s father Felix started breeding auratums maybe four or five decades ago and Mark has continued. This was never for commercial reasons. It was to build up plants for the garden, to extend the colour range and the season and particularly to get outward facing blooms rather than the upward facing ones which are preferred in floristry. Constantly replenishing with newly raised plants is also a safeguard against the potential ravages of lily virus. Not that we have had a problem with lily virus and disease, but if we ever do, we are prepared.

The lily we scorned at Wisley

The lily we scorned at Wisley

We noticed a floriferous new lily at the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Gardens last June. People were admiring it and but Mark took one look and said: “Gross. No good as a garden plant. Look at those upward facing blooms waiting to mark.” Not only are the upward facing blooms more vulnerable to weather damage, but the pollen falls internally and spoils it sooner. So I photographed it, but not for the same reason as the admirers. It was showy but we wouldn’t give it garden space.

Although you can to leave auratum lilies in the ground year after year, lifting and replanting deeper on a regular basis saves having to stake every stem. They work their way upwards over time. In our free draining soil, if I put them anything up to 20cm down, they are much better at holding themselves upright. The other technique to save forever staking (and then de-staking at the end of the season) is to grow them through shrubs which can act as supports. Apple trees and azaleas work well for us. When I do have to stake, I prefer to harvest my own bamboo lengths and leave the leaf axils in place to grip the flower stem. It saves tying to a smooth stake.

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)


Auratum bulbs do not respond well to drying out, even in their dormant season. This is why they are usually sold in bags of sphagnum moss or sawdust. Always try and buy them as soon as they come into garden centres in early winter and get them into the ground as soon as possible.
Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Our lily season starts with what we call the Christmas lily, or Lilium regale from China. It even Others sometimes refer to L. longiflorum as the Christmas lily. It is typically pure white and hails from Japan whereas L. regale has deep pink petal backs fading out to white. The orange tiger lilies with their reflexed petals follow soon after. They lack scent but they are a showy addition to the summer garden and very easy to grow. Next we get the aurelians – scented trumpet lilies in pretty gold and apricot shades. Most of ours have been raised from seed. They have a lovely elegance to them both in the garden and as a cut flower. You will notice their trumpets face outwards and downwards.
Aforementioned JAUS

Aforementioned JAUS

These are all but an overture to the main event – the glory of the auratums which take us through January and well into February. There is nothing subtle or understated about the flower power. Their common name is the “golden rayed lily of Japan”. How lovely is that?

???????????????????????????????First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

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