Summer Oasis

Bulb: The Oriental lily, a picture of color, retains its elegant flamboyance while summer wilts its floral brethren.

In the garden

May 14, 2000|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It is easy to be dazzled by the flats of bright annuals and flaming azaleas on sale at local garden centers now, but the shrewd and skillful gardener has an eye out for other things as well.

One of these is the Oriental lily, a mainstay of the summer garden. These flowers add flash and sparkle when others are left gasping in the heat. And they're available now, either container grown or still dormant in plastic bags.

Flamboyant and elegant at once, Oriental lilies are 3- to 5-foot tall charmers that arise like Venus from the lush foliage of the midsummer garden. They bestow the fresh, crisp color notes we long for in the wilting heat of late July and August.

"Orientals bloom later than Asiatic lilies [their smaller flowered cousins]," says Renee Beaulieu, spokeswoman for White Flower Farms in Litchfield, Conn. "And they're great to have in the garden, because so little else is really flowering then."

Ranging from purest white to deep fuchsia, Oriental lilies are able to fit into almost any garden scheme and play many parts, from coolly muted supporting actor to radiant star. All have a characteristic light spotting or freckling of color toward the center of the petals.

Their magnificent flowers, rarely less than 6 inches across, often boast exotic blends of white, raspberry and yellow. High bud counts -- from eight to 12 flowers per bulb -- ensure a varied and long-lasting display.

Oriental lilies also are very fragrant. While lovely during the day, their scent is strongest at night, and it is a delight to lose oneself among these stately blossoms, grown luminous in the twilight, while basking in their delicious perfume. This also makes them attractive to other nocturnal creatures, such as hawk and hummingbird moths. Be sure to plant them where you will pass by often.

Jan Gannon, from the perennial department at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, gives high marks to the classic, pure white Casa Blanca. Much in demand, this stunning 5-footer is frequently the standard by which other lilies are judged.

Other popular varieties are fuchsia brushed Hot Lips and the brilliant, Crimson-rose Star Gazer, which top out at 3 to 5 feet and are excellent in the back of the border.

Shorter varieties can be used at the front of perennial beds or grown in containers to be moved about at will. The new dwarf varieties on the market are superb for this, making it "a snap to have [the fragrant blossoms] close at hand where they can be enjoyed on a patio, balcony or deck," says Gannon.

Sans Souci (spotted rose color with white margins), Dwarf Garden Party (white petals with a rose stripe and yellow center) and Miss Burma (rosy pink) all grow to about 24 inches tall.

Oriental lilies make excellent and long-lasting cut flowers of great style and substance, too. Star Gazer is especially prized by florists for its sturdy stems.

A true bulb, Oriental lilies have become more accessible in recent years through intensive hybridizing to improve the species. Many are grown in the Netherlands for the global market; Oregon is the leading U.S. producer. Gannon notes that the lilies sold at Valley View are grown and bought locally, to ensure that they will do well in this area.

The lilies are all easy to grow, and take up little space in the garden, says Beaulieu of White Flower Farms. "Just plant them and stand back. That's basically it. Make sure to plant them deep enough, about 8 to 10 inches, since Oriental lilies also root along the stem underground. They seldom need dividing, and they keep getting better with age."

Their favorite habitat is one where their heads are in sun and their feet in shade. This makes them ideal in a border of mixed flowers with lower growing perennials. Any loose, well-drained garden soil in which perennials thrive will do nicely for them.

Groups of three to five bulbs of a single variety are most attractive planted together in clumps. Individual bulbs should be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart, because of the large bloom size, and to allow room for growth. Tall varieties will need to be staked.

The ideal time to plant lilies is early spring or fall, as late as you would crocus or daffodils. Beaulieu offers reassurance drawn from personal experience on planting time.

"If you plant lilies in the spring, some of them may not reach their full height the first year, because they don't have as much time to form roots. But they will still flower, and in following years will grow as tall as they're supposed to, so don't worry," she says.

Oriental lilies are hardy in our area, and can be left in the ground year-round. However, Gannon recommends that if you are growing the lilies in containers that the bulbs should be taken up and stored in a frost-free location after they have finished flowering and go dormant.

"Or you can plant them in the garden in the fall [after growing them in pots for the summer] and they'll be fine," she says.

When the plants have finished flowering, pinch off the seed pods and flower heads to encourage more flowers the following year.

So in sultry July and August, when roses and irises are but fading memories, when autumn perennials have weeks to go before making an appearance, and even the most stalwart annuals are looking tired, let Oriental lilies bloom for you, delivering brilliant color and fragrance when you need it most.

Mail-order sources for Oriental lilies

Dutch Gardens

P.O. Box 200

Adelphia, N.J. 07710-0200

800-775-2852

www.dutchgardens.nl

Gilbert H. Wild & Son

P.O. Box 338

State Highway 37

Sarcoxie, Mo. 64862-0338

888-449-4537

VanDyck's

P.O. Box 430

Brightwaters, N.Y. 11718-0430

800-248-2852

www.vandycks.com

Wayside Gardens

1 Garden Lane

Hodges, S.C. 29695-0001

800-845-1124

www.waysidegardens.com

White Flower Farm P.O. Box 50

Litchfield, Conn. 06759-0050

800-503-9624

www.whiteflowerfarm.com

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