lilies again (and time to order tulips!)

Improbable mashup of agave, castor bean, Sonchus palmensis and possibly Lily ‘Eurydice’ — the color is right, though the bloom habit is supposed to be drooping, pendant, not outward facing. Maybe that habit develops as the bulb matures? Whichever way it hangs, the scent is incredible

Here in dry frost-free zone 10b, grow lilies in containers. That’s what I’ve been admonishing myself for years. And that’s what I’ve been doing, without much noticeable benefit, because the bulbs rarely return a second year whether in the ground or containers. It could be the lack of winter chill and/or me falling down on watering duties after they bloom. But in the housebound August of 2020, late summer being when the selection is best, I deliriously ordered over a dozen lilies; and upon their arrival in October/November I planted them in the ground. Potato/potatuh, right? If success in containers is minimal, it’s back to the garden for the bulbs. At the very least, there wasn’t an extra dozen containers underfoot all winter/spring.

unlike other bulbs, lilies never go dormant, and they require even moisture year-round. And when an Oriental lily bud unfurls and throws its scent…ooh la la!

At twilight just these two lilies in bloom wafted scent strong enough to fill the entire back garden. Even when it’s too dark to see, it’s hard to leave that scent behind and head indoors at the end of the day. I ordered my lilies from B&D Lilies and the Lily Garden, and both companies are highly recommended for selection and service. Be warned that not all lilies are scented; the colorful, earlier blooming Asiatic lilies bear no scent.

no ID — my lily bulb binge garnered a bonus unnamed orienpet from B&D Lilies

So this year I mostly skipped the tulip rigamarole but went in a big way for lilies, and there are a half dozen stalks with buds forming in pockets throughout the garden.

Move over, aloes and agaves. Even a garden as small and densely planted as mine can squeeze in some lilies.

Treating them both as expensive annuals, I find lilies actually easier to manage than tulips. There are no pests like the lily beetle here waiting to ravage the flowers, and so far no creature disturbs or attempts to dig up the bulbs. However, the tulip rigamarole will be back for 2022 — some pandemic habits, like heavy catalogue use, will be difficult to break!

a good one for forcing/prechilling, Tulip ‘Queen of the Night’ March 2011. The Triumph and Single Early varieties are generally good bets for prechilling, which is how frost-free zones like mine must handle the bulbs

Once again I ordered early for the best selection, and the bulbs will come this fall 2021 prechilled. Incorrigible is the word that best describes this bulb habit, a peculiar form of zonal denial. And this cool spring I’m enviously reading reports of how long the tulips are lasting.

handled prechill regime well — Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’ February 2011

With their mysterious bulbous nature, hidden underground like Persephone for much of the year, I find them the ultimate garden tease. Delivery devices of rich, complex colors suspended on slim green stems, their appearance searingly intense but brief. In a condensed performance, bulbs enact a preview of the transformations a garden will make spring through fall.

Tulip ‘Double Beauty of Apeldoorn’ March 2011

I suppose it’s because they are so difficult here that I find them perversely irresistible. I don’t dream of large municipal plantings of tulips in spring, just a few pots on my back steps to celebrate Persephone’s triumphant reemergence as captured in the fleeting drama of ‘Gavota‘ — and maybe next year ‘Bastogne‘ and ‘Amber Glow‘ too if the prechill rigamorale is a success.

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7 Responses to lilies again (and time to order tulips!)

  1. Gerhard Bock says:

    This post made me laugh because I’m all too familiar with the strange pull of bulbs that are so common elsewhere.

    I’ve given up on tulips, too, except species tulips. They seem to be return far more reliably than hybrids. But of course they don’t look as alluring either…

  2. Elaine says:

    Grass is always greener. While you dream of lilies and tulips I dream of agaves and aloes. A trick you could try with your lilies is to pop them in the fridge in small bags of potting soil to give them the chill they need. Kind of like us northerners bringing our tender southern plants indoors for the winter.

  3. Denise says:

    @Gerhard, I think I’ve been binging too much on Gardeners’ World 😉
    @Elaine, I wouldn’t be without my agaves and aloes. These bulbs are my version of exotics!

  4. Kris P says:

    The lilies are beautiful, Denise, whatever their names. I also bought some lily bulbs on a whim last year. I didn’t even record their names or exactly when I planted them, such was my assessment of the likelihood they’d grow, much less bloom. I think they were the so-called “tree lilies,” the ones shown in photos towering above a small child with flowers the size of the child’s head. Somewhat to my amazement, all the lilies sprouted and have buds, if not yet any open flowers. I also have a nondescript pink lily I received many years ago as a gift with purchase that blooms reliably each year, despite heat, drought, gophers, and utter neglect.

  5. hb says:

    ‘Euyrdice’ is gorgeous–made more so by the collaboration with her neighbors.

    The Lilium lancifolium has come back for me for years and years. Apparently a weed in other climates, but perfectly well behaved here. Not nearly as fabulous as the cultivars, but there’s something to be said for reliable.

  6. ks says:

    I have just gone all in on lilies-they are just so easy to pop in anywhere with such a discreet footprint. Some don’t do well and some just disappear over winter but I’m ok with that. Since I dug up much of my front garden in fall I skipped the tulips this year. I missed them , but didn’t miss the lack of fridge space . I’m experimenting this fall with Daffs in containers and Ranunculus in place of tulips. No chill or digging up required.

  7. Denise says:

    @Kris, that’s amazing that you have a lily returning for years!
    @Kathy, so glad you’re on board with lilies too — remember that golden lily Deanne grew with dozens of stems? I wish I could find a source for the the burnt orange, peach and other florist colors of ranunculus,

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