LILIES HAVE two big moments. The first and finest happens July into August when their voluptuous, fragrant flowers define the garden. That is, if you were prescient enough to plant plenty of them last fall.
Which brings us to the second big moment, which oddly enough is coming right up. November is the time to get outdoors, in the dying light of a pre-Thanksgiving day, and plant lily bulbs. You still have time to order some; most lily dealers don’t ship to the Northwest until early next month.
But what type of lilies to plant, and how many? The latter question has an easy answer: as many as you can afford and have the energy to get into the ground. Because they are tall and slender, you can pretty much find room for a stand of lilies in even the smallest garden. Or plant them in big containers, where they’ll bloom happily for years.
First, be sure to consider the conditions your garden has to offer. Dianna Gibson, proprietor of B&D Lilies in Port Townsend, ticks off the three vital conditions for growing healthy lilies: well-drained soil, half day of sun to full sun, and good air circulation. “Lilies do not swim well,” Gibson cautions. “They can take winter rainfall, but go easy on mulch so the soil has a chance to dry out.”
Deciding which lilies to order is a pleasant dilemma. Asiatic lilies bloom first and multiply fastest. Their flowers are large, often speckled, up-facing and mostly scentless. So although I sometimes fall for a stunner like the two-tone ‘Lionheart,’ I mostly save my garden space for the highly perfumed types. Of which there are a great many.
Trumpet lilies are heavily, deliciously scented, can grow 6 feet tall and may need staking, particularly if you grow them in partial shade. My hands-down favorite is ‘Golden Splendor,’ an heirloom with elongated maroon buds opening to a perfection of a golden flower. Gibson recommends a new series of trumpet lilies called ‘Angels’ that have stouter stems and less droopy flowers than the more old-fashioned trumpets.
The pure white ‘Casablanca’ has come to characterize Oriental lilies with its huge, sweet-smelling August flowers. I prefer the deep pink ‘Sorbonne,’ which has a spicier, less Hawaiian fragrance, but any Oriental lily is downright spectacular. They bloom well into August and over time will spread into a big, beautiful clump.
The last few years, all I’ve planted are Orienpet lilies, bred to combine the best characteristics of trumpets and Orientals. They’ve proven to have a strong, sweet scent with flowers as gorgeous as any of the Orientals. They multiply faithfully and can take light shade. The stems are stout, need little staking, and even though Gibson says the average height is 4 feet, I haven’t had a clump that hasn’t towered well over my head.
And here’s the most beguiling reason to fall in love with lilies: They seem to draw in sunshine during the day, then as dusk gathers, release that energy in a torrent of fragrance to scent the long July and August twilights. That’s a memory to get us down on our knees digging nice deep holes for new lily bulbs in November. Happy planting.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Her latest book is “Petal & Twig.” Easton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.