Friday, July 26, 2013

When the Oriental Lilies Rule!

Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor

As retirees, Rick and I travel in the early spring and fall when prices are lower and crowds are thinner. Another great advantage of this: I don’t miss my beloved lilies.

True, a short trip like our trip to Chicago over 4th of July weekend can mean that we miss peak blooming period. We caught a glimpse of the Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor, just emerging the day we left and when we returned 6 days later it was on its way out. Although we missed peak bloom, we did see it and did smell that intoxicating fragrance.

The tall Orientals begin the first weeks of July. First comes the amazing hybrid of Oriental Lilies and Chinese Trumpet, known as Orienpets. Their fragrance is weaker than the Orientals but their flowers are the largest and most spectacular of all.

Orienpet lily, Conca d'Oro

What I love most of all are the mid-July orientals with their musky fragrance I can’t get enough of.

Stargazer Lily

Casa Blanca Lily

I’m sure that Casa Blanca is the lily DH Lawrence had in mind when in Sons and Lovers he described a pregnant Mrs. Morel pushed out of her house after an ugly fight with her husband:

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight. and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing- pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

When I first read Lawrence I wasn't a gardener and didn't pay much attention to the way Lawrence often used his characters’ reactions to flowers and trees as a way of probing their emotional states. But when I re-read Sons and Lovers years later, after I became hooked on gardening, I appreciated this dimension of Lawrence. And I was convinced that the lily described in this passage this was Casa Blanca—or more likely an earlier less hybridized version.

When the Orientals fade in late July/early August, the heirloom species lilies emerge. The first-- usually in the last week of July-- is Black Beauty. It has the tremendous virtue of being disease free and able to bloom in deep shade, but unfortunately has little fragrance. You just can’t have it all in one flower!

Black beauty

So the lily season is coming to an end, but there are two more to look forward to in mid-August: lilium speciosum album and lilium speciosum rubrum. They are nowhere near as tough and reliable as Black Beauty but they are fragrant—-although not that powerful musky fragrance that made Ms. Morel swoon.

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