Imagine the most luxurious display of flowers ever: vibrant colour, enormous blooms, so over the top that 10 of them is almost too much, flowers that will last a fortnight in a vase even if you forget to change their water and leave them by a hot window.
Now imagine picking them in your backyard. Imagine mid-summer too, a sun delivering actual heat, cicadas yelling, the scent of sunscreen and bushfire smoke with a tinge of salt and sea. That's what you'll be growing if you plant lilies now.
The best lilies for cut flowers may be Asiatic lilies, with short, sturdy stems and no fragrance to upset sensitive noses. They bloom around Christmas time. Orientals are some of the most flamboyantly flowered and fragrant of all lilies, blooming January-February on strong, tall multi-flowered stems. Orientals are also the most heat tolerant of all lilies.
If you want totally over-the-top blooms, go for the double oriental lilies, ostentatiously petalled and bred to have no stamens - stamens can stain a tablecloth or any cloth that brushes by, so otherwise need to be snipped from bunches of liliums. 'Orienpet' are hybrids between Oriental Lilies and the hardy Christmas Lily, Lilium longiflorum - and an excellent garden and cut flower choice.
You'll recoup the investment with the first bunch of stunning blooms, whether they go in your own vase, or to a friend.
Actually the best 'cut flower' lily is the one that will actually survive in your garden. You may be better off with the less spectacular Trumpet Lilies, thinner stemmed, with up to 20 blooms per stem - though in dry conditions here ours bloom with only 3-4 flowers per stem. But they do tend to survive droughts - and even bloom - where Asiatic Lilies may die if they are unhappy.
Christmas Lilies are hardy too - the pure white trumpet lilies that fill florist shops during December - they are easily grown, quick to increase and fragrant, or look for the new varieties of the old-fashioned garden staple tiger lilies. The new ones come in reds and pinks and not just tiger orange, and they don't demand perfect garden skills, or any skill at all if planted in the right place.
What is the right place for a lily? Think lush forest understory, all rich, moist, humus-rich soil where their roots are in shade but the heads can reach up to dappled morning sunlight. The best lilies I have ever seen grow in the southern temperate rainforest soils near here. If you lack your own rainforest, add mulch, mulch, and mulch, and water at least twice a week.
Plant your liliums in dappled shade, with a touch of fertiliser in late winter and after flowering, which is also the time to cut the tops off so the plants don't waste strength maturing seed. Bulbs should be planted now i.e. this weekend until the weather warms, which given climate changes might be next weekend or early January.
If you are industrious and extravagant, plant a few lily bulbs every week till late winter. They'll bloom 8-14 weeks from planting, thus giving you spectacular flowers from before Christmas to late summer. Plant lots, so your garden glows but you also have plenty to give away.
You'll recoup the investment with the first bunch of stunning blooms, whether they go in your own vase, or to a friend. No need add anything else; no way to adorn them without looking tacky. Just 10 glorious clusters of lilies. Tend them just a little, and every year you will get more ... and more.
Lilies do far more than double in number every year. Thin them out at least every four years, till finally one winter you begin giving away lily starter kits to friends, to chase away the winter glooms with visions of mid-summer.
This week I am not:
- Planting liliums, strawberries or anything - I am post-surgery so gardening is off the table, er, off the spade, for a while.
- Picking the hard fruit of Himalayan Pears (usually regarded just as ornamental) to boil for hours till soft enough to release the juice to make a golden version of quince jelly.
- Or doing the same to the quinces and medlars.
But I am:
- Watching the parrots tuck into the cumquats.
- Watching the wallabies tuck into everything from the pelargoniums to the low hanging lemons.
- Glad I planted 6 nerines 10 years ago, because they and their progeny are blooming, and it's wonderful.