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Grow a touch of the exotic

Red lily beetle
These lilies planted in the border are a target for red lily beetles

Any member of the lily family is guaranteed to give your garden a touch of the exotic but where do you start?

A lot of people are wary about growing bulbs, etc, but most lilies are relatively easy. It’s also worth remembering they are poisonous to pets, although my cat avoids them like the plague.

Here’s my selection of the best:

Thompson & Morgan’s Bouquet Collection Asiatic lilies were 2015’s trial subjects – they were great, but over by the second half of July.

They produced up to 20 clustered blooms per stem, so are ideal for cut flowers. As they work well in pots, here’s how to plant them:

In spring or early autumn, place a 5cm (2in) layer of crocks at the bottom of the pot. Plant single large bulbs (10-12cm (4-5in) diameter) into 20-23cm (8-9in) pot, or plant three to four smaller bulbs (5-8cm (2-3in) diameter) into 23-25cm (9-10in) containers.

Allow 5cm (2in) between bulbs and use only deep pots. Asiatic hybrids, like mine, root from the base of the bulb only – plant at a depth equal to the height of the bulb.

L. formosanum, L. lancifolium, and L. longiflorum produce roots from the stems, so plant these two-and-a-half times the height of the bulb.

 

Multipurpose compost is OK, as is John Innes No 3, with a handful of horticultural grit added. Add granules of a controlled-release fertiliser.

Lime-hating L. auratum and L. speciosum need ericaceous compost.

Feed with a tomato fertiliser every fortnight during summer.

In larger containers, lilies can be grown on for a second season in the same pot, but refresh the top 5cm (2in) of compost and feed well.

In milder areas, many lilies will be hardy and can be left outside, but wrap the containers in bubble wrap in colder areas. In very cold areas, keep containers in frost-free sheds until spring.


Fritillaries (crown imperials)

Red crown fritillaries in bloom in late April
Red crown fritillaries in late April

Such stately spring flowers, which sadly smell like foxes, dope and/or cat’s wee, depending on who you listen to.

Thanks to red lily beetles in the garden, it’s curtailed where I grow my crown imperials (fritillaries) – they eat them too. As I don’t want to encourage the little red perils and their excrement-covered larvae, one tip was to grow lilies and fritillaries in pots, changing the soil every winter.

Fritillaria imperialis Red blooms from March-April, on tall stems 3ft high, with showy, exotic flowers and a green pineapple-like topknot.

Crown imperials are tall plants for bulbs at a metre, so need to be planted deeply – a good six inches down.

The bulb is formed with the stem emerging from a depression, so some people advise planting it on its side, to prevent water causing rot at the top.

They require full sun for best growth, and sandy, well-drained soil.

After flowering and complete drying of the leaves, the stems should be cut off just above the ground. The only downside is the smell. You can’t have everything…


Tuberose – strongest perfume ever

Eye-watering strong but fabulous - tuberose perfume
Fabulous tuberose

Love the original Chloe perfume? Dior’s 1980s favourite Poison or Juicy Couture’s eponymous scent? Then you need to grow tuberoses.

They’re not roses – they’re part of the lily family and have white, waxy stems of blooms that produce the most intoxicating fragrance.

I spent months touring around beauty departments and perfumeries, to buy something that captured that scent in my conservatory.

However, tuberose can’t be synthesised successfully and is notoriously difficult to wear. It needs to be moderated by other things on the skin.

I nearly succumbed to Fracas, when Madonna’s Truth or Dare was recommended. I usually hate celebrity perfumes, but this one’s worth looking out for – a white floral with a balance of gardenia, neroli, tuberose and vanilla – and a good price.


Sky-high flower for vertical designing

Kit Strange putting the finishing touches to her Eremurus display in 2012. Picture; RHS/Mike Moore
Kit Strange putting the finishing touches to her Eremurus display in 2012. Picture; RHS/Mike Moore

Foxtail lilies (Eremurus) are always a reminder of RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

They’re a mainstay of designers who want vertical accents in white or copper (Cleopatra) – slender spikes of pale orange flowers above strap-shaped, bluish-green leaves.

Each flower spike has hundreds of flowers which open from the bottom upwards.

They thrive in the sunniest spots, especially if the base of the plant isn’t shaded. They’re hardy, but poor-draining soil will finish them off. Add organic material and grit to improve the drainage.

They will grow in light shade but need the sun to develop strong stems – and try and avoid a windy area. Cleopatra grows to 1.5m, but white Eremurus robustus reaches 3m, so shelter is a good idea.

Caring for foxtail lilies

  • When flowering has finished, trim off the flower spikes but leave the foliage in place, like most bulbs, to fatten up for next season. Water well once a week in spring/summer until established.
  • By midsummer, the leaves will yellow and die back as the plant becomes dormant when it can be removed. Fresh growth will appear again in autumn or spring, depending on your climate.
  • In September every three to five years, carefully lift and divide congested clumps. Replant the strongest crown on a layer of sharp grit, spreading out the roots and covering them with a thin (5cm/2in) layer of soil.
  • If you live in a frost-prone area, cover with a dry mulch of fern leaves.