It’s flower fortnight once again and we’re taking a look at lilies. This guide will give you all you need to know about these beautiful flowers.
We talked to Interflora florist David Ragg, of Lansdowne Florists in Bournemouth, to find out more…
There are between 80 and 100 species of lilies (Liliaceae). Most are native to Europe, Asia and North America. In ancient Greek mythology, the lily was the flower of Hera, wife of Zeus. In Roman mythology, Venus – the goddess of love and beauty – was so jealous of the lily’s loveliness that she caused a great pistil to grow from its centre.
The lily is also mentioned in the Bible’s old and new Testaments. It became a symbol of purity and was often associated with the Virgin Mary. It was also a representation of death and symbolised the loss of innocent children and the martyrdom of saints.
During Victorian times, European plant explorers scoured the globe for new plant species. One of the first was an Irish doctor, Augustine Henry, who became captivated by lilies when trying to find medicinal plants in the Orient. The orange Lilium Henryii, or Henry’s lily, is named after him.
The Easter lily (Lilium Longiflorum) is a native of Japan. It became popular in the United States when a soldier named Louis Houghton returned home from the First World War with some of the bulbs and gave them to fellow gardeners. When the Second World War broke out, Asian sources of bulbs were cut off, so by 1945 there were 1,200 lily growers in business along the West Coast.
Before hybridisation – the process of combining different species - lilies were rare and very difficult to grow. Jan de Graaff, a native of Holland who started Oregon Bulb Farms in 1934, was responsible for the easy to grow hybrids we know today.
David Ragg says: “The most popular varieties are the Orientals and we sell a lot of pink and white. We usually stock the Caroline Tense and the Sorbonne. They both have strong scents and excellent vase life.
“Lilies make great cut flowers and garden plants. Famed for their scent, especially the Oriental and Longiflorum varieties, lilies are popular in a lot of gift work.
“Some people find the scent a little over powering and often a few stems is enough to create a dramatic effect.”
During the middle ages the lily was a big part of religious imagery. The lily represented the Virgin Mary, the white colour representing purity of thought and action, as well as innocence.
The lily has also been a very popular part of folklore. It is said that one should approach an expectant mother with a lily and a rose. If she chooses the rose the baby will be a girl and if she chooses the lily it will be a boy.
Peruvian lilies represent friendship and devotion; the Pink Stargazer lily represents wealth and prosperity and the White Stargazer lily represents peace and purity.
Generally, lilies represent majesty, wealth, pride innocence and purity.
Lilies as food and medicine
Most lily bulbs are edible, while some can be quite bitter and unpleasant there are a few that make great potato substitutes and can also be used to thicken soups. Also the Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and the Turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum) provide very tasty stems and leaves, which can be boiled like green vegetables and served with butter.
Lilies are a very popular element of Chinese medicine. As far back as the second century BC, lily bulbs have been used to treat all sorts of ailments. Lily bulbs contain proteins, starches, calcium, iron, phosphorous and vitamins B1, B2 and C. All of these can help to promote health and wellbeing.
They are often boiled into a tea and used to treat coughs and colds. They are said to lower fevers, help with insomnia and reduce irritability. The usual dosage is 10g-30g of the bulb, but sometimes Chinese health practitioners may prescribe more.
Types of lily
There are many different species of lilies, here are just a few of the more popular varieties.
The Japanese golden rayed lily (Lilium Auratum). This lily from Japan has while bowl-shaped flowers covered in crimson spots. It’s fragrant and makes a fantastic cut flower.
The Orange Lily (Lilium Bulbiferum) is grown mainly for its bulbs, which make a fantastic substitute for potato. They are sweet and mealy.
The Tiger lily (Lilium Tigrinum) originated in China and has orange coloured flowers with black spots and protruding stamens. It tends to flower late in the season.
The Easter lily (Lilium Longiflorum) is perhaps the most popular of the lilies. It has trumpet-shaped, white flowers and flowers early. It can be used in flowerbeds and pots but also makes lovely cut flowers.
The Calla lily (Zantedeschia) is also very popular, despite the fact that it is not a true lily. It is a member of the Araceae family while true lilies are of the family Liliaceae.
How to grow and care for lilies.
As cut flowers, lilies should last around 10 days. David Ragg says: “ Lilies are usually sold in bud and will take two to three days to flower. They will usually reach maturity by the end of the first week. The water needs to be changed every other day and it’s best to add flower food too.
“Any leaves below the water should be removed. As flower heads fade, remove them at the stem to encourage other buds to open.”
In the garden lilies can be very rewarding plants to grow as they are relatively easy to look after while giving your garden a gorgeous fragrance.
David Ragg says: “Lilies are easy to grow from bulb and enjoy fertile well drained soil. Planting in October should produce a flowering crop for the following summer and established plants can be left to die back naturally.
“Plant bulbs in November if the ground is still workable, otherwise plant in containers and keep in a frost-free shed or greenhouse. Plant the bulbs out in early spring, but watch out for the slugs!”
When planting, choose a spot with well-drained soil that gets at least half a day of sunshine, lilies love full sun. But make sure the bulbs are planted deep enough that they keep cool when temperatures soar, about 10cm deep should be fine.
Look for a spot that is the first to dry out after rain. Lilies can be bothered by fungus that appears when the lilies don’t get a chance to dry out during cool, wet periods. If you see brown spots on the leaves of your lilies use a fungicide recommended for roses and it should clear up.
Because lilies come from hot countries they are well adapted to the heat as long as there is enough rain. Summer mulches will keep the bulbs cool.
Lilies that grow above 60cm should be supported. Do this using canes before the flowering begins.
Lilies will gradually increase as their bulbs divide. This leads to the plants growing in clumps in following years. If you want to avoid this dig up some of the bulbs and divide them around September or October.
After flowering, remove the heads so no energy is wasted. Let the leaves die down naturally as they will provide food for the bulbs so you get beautiful, large flowers the following year. If possible, you should wait until the leaves are brown and dried, when you should be able to pull them off easily.
Watch out because lilies can be bad for cats. David Ragg says: “Most lilies are considered toxic to cats and caution should be taken.
“Certainly the following varieties are known to be poisonous: The Easter Lily (Lilium Longiflorum), Tiger Lily (Lilium Tigrinum), Rubrum Lily (Lilium Speciosum) and the Japanese Show Lily (Lilium Lancifolium).
“Also the stamens will fill with pollen as they mature and it is a good idea to remove these from the flower before this happens. Should pollen come into contact with clothing or furniture do not try to rub it off. Instead gently dab the pollen with some Sellotape to remove it.”
David Ragg was the floral designer behind Interflora’s ‘Progression’ exhibit at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The piece won a gold medal, adding to David’s three previous gold medals from other RHS shows.
He has been trading as Lansdowne Florists in Bournemouth since 1991 and has been involved in all sorts of competitions and awards since then. In 2000 he won the Interflora florist of the year and represented the UK in the Europa Cup in 2003.
For more information on David visit www.davidraggflorist.com or call Lansdowne Florists on 01202 553318.
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