Lure of the Lily – A Personal Account

Our half-acre garden has seen many changes over the years we have worked it. When we moved out of the city, our thoughts were much the same as those of other new suburbanites – growing vegetables and letting my wife have her little flower garden near the house.

At first, we attempted everything from radishes to potatoes in the garden without much success. But in succeeding years, as we learned to select varieties for our shaly loam, we had better luck with the kitchen produce.

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The little garden near the house seemed to be moving into the central park. My interest in flowers increased with every growing season, and we planted more new flowers and fewer vegetables each year.

Two unproductive apple trees were removed to make room for the expanding flower garden.

We bought our first lily bulbs about 20 years ago. Some of the bulbs were from the counters of the local home improvement store and were of the usual species offered – Lilium auratum, speciosum, henryi, etc.

No doubt others who had longed for the exotic beauty of the lily when they bought similar bulbs were as discouraged as we, for the plants, either did not show up at all or died before blooming.

However, Lilium henryi did grow well, and I believe I still have progeny of the original bulbs. At about the same time, we purchased a few bulbs of Lilium regale, and my first experience with growing lilies from seed started with the regal.

Cold frames, which had previously been used for starting vegetable plants and later for annual and perennial flowers, were now used more and more to create lily seeds.

They also provided an excellent device for carrying young lily seedlings through to the second Fall, when they could be safely planted out.

Growing Seedlings In The 1990’s

By the late 1990s, we were growing so many seedlings that twelve cold frames were in operation, six for sowing new seeds each spring and six for holding over seedlings raised the previous year.

Some of this seed was saved from my plants, but the greater part was purchased from every available source. The hybrid lily seed was available in many new combinations, and we grew more of these varieties and fewer species.

Some of these are among my garden’s tallest and most hardy lilies today.

FahrenAlthough we still grow seedlings of the more common varieties in cold frames, our main seed planting is handled much more satisfactorily in a greenhouse.

Seeds of quick germinating varieties are sown in flats during the winter and placed in the conservatory with a night temperature of 55° degrees Fahrenheit.

Raising Seedling Hydroponically

All seedlings are raised hydroponically: Waterproof liners are placed in standard flats, and a 3/4″ inch layer of haydite is placed inside for drainage. A 3″ inch flower pot is then set in the center of the flat, which is filled to within ½” inch of the top with vermiculite, concrete aggregate size.

The seed is sown and covered with about 1/4″ inch of vermiculite, watered through the flower pot, and set aside to await germination.

Nutrients are fed through the flower pot soon after the seedlings make their appearance.

A complete soluble liquid fertilizer with trace elements should be used. Care should be taken to keep the seed flat moist, but preferably on the dry side, rather than too wet.

In the four years, I have sown seed in these sterile materials, I have never experienced any damping. If any other fungi appear, they can be quickly eradicated with a fungicide.

You are courting disaster if you plant lilies in soil that is not well-drained. Like most other bulbs, Lilies do not tolerate “wet feet.” And, although the majority of lilies are perfectly hardy, it is wise to mulch the Imlbs the first winter after they are planted.

Are Lilies Difficult To Grow?

There was a time lily were considered a most challenging plant to raise, and very few folks did succeed with them. The lack of success was usually due to no fault of the grower but to the fact that very little high-class stock was available.

Very few lily bulbs were raised in this country. We had to depend almost entirely upon bulbs from the Orient, which after such a long voyage, usually arrived with their vitality significantly impaired.

Many were diseased from long periods of vegetative propagation. Roots were generally removed before shipment, which weakened the bulbs still further.

But now, with new disease-free, seed-grown American bulbs, carefully packed and promptly shipped with cultural instructions and directions for immediate planting, almost any average gardener should have little difficulty with lilies, certainly no more so than with any other properly handled plant material.

The Lily Hunters

Botanists and plant hunters have been searching for lilies in their native haunts for hundreds of years, sometimes in remote parts of the world and sometimes at home. Some 25 distinct species of lilies can be found in the United States.

Most of these occur along the West Coast but do not grow well when domesticated in Eastern gardens. The species that are native in the East seem to fare better in home gardens all over the world.

In the 1950s, the lily was “the most beautiful, but still, the least understood of our flowering plants.” Undoubtedly, this was one of the reasons for forming a lily committee within the American Horticultural Society.

In 1946 the North American Lily Society was organized to make available reliable information on the culture of the most stately of all garden plants.

The lure of growing lilies is just as great, if not greater now than it has been in the past, but the challenge to some of us persistent souls has been partially eliminated.

We know that our chances of success are almost assured with freshly dug, clean seed-grown bulbs.

The thrill of viewing the new hybrids as they bloom for the first time is beyond anything I could put into words, although there are many disappointments. But if only one or two new variations unfurl each year, it is more titan worth the time and effort we have put forth.

4168 by I Warren