Lily Gluttony

– Posted in: Bulbs, Garden Design

I got “the look” tonight. It was delivered by the lady who walks here somethingorother-poo and it’s given to all of us who have too many lilies in life. You know “the look.” It combines a stare of disbelief, a roll of the eyes, a covetous sigh, and the growl of sheer, unabashed envy (the growl might have come from the dog). For a few fleeting minutes, I felt a whole lot like Marie Antoinette. But then I got over it.  And I fell back into wallowing in my lilies, the hell with the fact that the rest of the world was drooling. Let them eat hemerocallis.


I must say that I richly deserved “the look.” I was asking for it when I planted all those Tangos by the road. I’ve never been one to dabble in out-of-control consumerism per se, but this was a blatant case of conspicuous consumption.

Neighbors are philosophical about most flowers, I’ve found. Put your echinaceas along the road and everyone just thinks that you’re the neighborhood wild child. But there’s something over the top about lilies in general. It’s like they’re the orchids of the outdoor world. And Tangos are particularly immodest.

'Pup Art'

What is it about Tangos, you’re wondering? Well, it’s their galaxy of black speckles in the center. That’s their hallmark. Like the Milky Way in reverse, the shiny black accent serves as a stunning contrast to the petal colors. It pulls your eye to the center like mascara sends your gaze straight to eye . There’s a whole group of these beauts created by Mak Breeding in the Netherlands. And I confess, I met several of them in Holland before they were officially released. Some are semi-neon in color. And you guessed it — those were the ones that I sprang for. In quantity.

'Pup Art'

‘Graffiti’ is all well and good with its tiger-like configuration of black dots against a school bus yellow field. But my heartthrob is ‘Pup Art’ (I suspect they meant ‘Pop Art’, but the correct spelling was apparently lost in translation from the Dutch). We’re talking seething saffron red with shimmering black freckles. It opens later than ‘Graffiti’ and its the fashion statement that’s caused the stir on the street. Especially with the poo crowd.

Because these are Asiatics, they miss the boat on fragrance. And I must say, that “swoony” fragrance (I’m borrowing a phrase from Anna Pavord here, from her new book, Bulb) can be more than slightly overwhelming when your garden is within reach out the window from your office. Granted, I gratefully send the scent of heliotrope wafting inward to mask the odor of girl-slaving-over-computer, but lily aroma would leave me panting and fanning myself on the floor. Thus more sweat.

'Royal Sunset'

The Tangos aren’t the only game in town. I also do other Asiatics and they fill a hiccup in the garden that would otherwise be relatively boring. I give a lot of the other perennials a midsummer crewcut hoping for a second flush. Meanwhile, the lilies entertain during the intermission. The trick lies in surrounding them with perennials that work up to their height. And I can’t quite gather the height necessary to surround the Trumpets. So that explains why they’re not in residence. I used to have a slew of Orientals, but the chipmunks shared my admiration. Now I surround all my lily bulbs in a nest of oyster shells. It works (so far). But there’s another issue that’s even more of a problem for lilies.

Anybody else battling lily beetle out there? This is a bright red varmint who makes King Kong seem tame. This culprit never sleeps. They start in earliest spring, occur all summer, they have sex continually, their larvae is smeared wall-to-wall and the grossest mass of black goop, and they require around the clock vigilance. They also decimate fritillarias and Solomon seal. I have to devote half an hour daily to their eradication (I just pick them off and watch with glee as they drown in my handy can of oil, I’m organic here).

Another issue with lilies is that they’re purportedly poisonous to cats. I don’t say that from personal experience — Einstein is such a hellcat that he’s kept indoors, safe from cars and coyotes. But the lilies are also safe from him and vice versa.

'Black Out'

So I guess that you can say these divas are high maintenance. But nobody ever claimed that looking absolutely ravishing is easy. Maybe… just maybe… that’s why the neighbors walk over here to get their lily fix.

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