Flower Forecast: Lilies

Funeral spray with white lilies, echinops, larkspur and fern by Woodbine Flowers in Centralia Washington

Dear all:

It’s Valentine’s weekend, and while I arrange roses from the Portland wholesale market I’m daydreaming about my own spring cut flower crops. (If you’re looking for last-minute Valentine’s flowers, jump to the end of this post to read about my offerings.)

Every year I tinker with the year’s line up, adding and dropping flowers and deciding whether to keep this or that flower if it really adds to the line up. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be mulling over some of the flowers I trialed last year. First up – LA hybrid and oriental lilies. In the next few weeks I’ll revisit my notes about calla lilies, freesias, and pansies.

Lilies: Such a polarizing flower! And in some ways, such a forgotten flower. For years, lilies have languished out of favor; some see them as old-fashioned and over-priced, and many people are convinced that all lilies have overpowering fragrance, to the point that most hospitals (including Providence here in Centralia) just ban them outright. Your classic oriental lily and many oriental lily hybrids can definitely be overpowering indoors.

I’ve always planted a few dozen lilies each year just to have their drama around. Last year, however, I listened to my wholesale bulb supplier’s urging and invested in a few hundred Asiatic/LA hybrid lilies, and I don’t think I’ll ever be without them again. Now I just need to convince all of you how wonderful they are.

lilies delphiniums and cosmos bouquet in purple and pink for Woodbine Flowers, Centralia Washington

First, they’re easy-going: With a high tunnel, bulb crates and drip irrigation tubing, they couldn’t be simpler or more cooperative to grow. Six months or so before I want to plant them I’ve learned that I should place my lily bulb order with the wholesaler to ensure I get the varieties I want. I’ve also learned to break my order up into multiple deliveries so I can succession plant the lilies for a long harvest window; the bulbs ship frozen but they can’t be re-frozen once they thaw in transit. If they can be received in waves, I can succession plant and harvest lilies for 6 months if I want to, as long as I protect them from freezing.  Lilies are so amazingly straightforward – once I invest in the soil mix and time to plant a bulb crate densely with lilies (about 30 in a crate), and set up the drip irrigation, I can count on cutting lilies in 3 to 3-1/2 months.

Second, they’re impressive flowers, as tall and imposing as you want them to be. I don’t usually grow the massive multi-headed Oriental lily specimens, up to 5+ feet tall with angular trumpets shouting their fragrance with a complete lack of embarrassment – but that’s an option if you need a statuesque attention-getter. And one of my new lily favorites is an oriental hybrid called Zelmira. She features that shade of peach I can’t resist, staining the center of each petal and fading to gold then white at petal edge; and she has a soft manageable fragrance. And, like most lilies, she’s got that dramatic starry shapes and thick, satiny petals.

Zelmira lily growing at Woodbine Flowers
‘Zelmira’ lily in the high tunnel

I’ve also annually planted a few dozen bulbs of double oriental lily hybrids. Called “rose lilies;” these are as as tall and dramatic as the more traditional oriental lilies, but in place of staining pollen-laden anthers the flowers have a starburst of doubled petals and no center to speak of.  The scent is also tamed or even gone completely.

Third, lilies come in a rainbow of colors, everything but blue. This is especially true with the other major lily group, Asiatic or “LA hybrid” lilies.  I especially love the newer ‘Easy’ series in a range of ombre colors from blush to flame orange, ‘easy’ because they lack both pollen and fragrance, and are a manageable size to feature in a hand-held bouquet. Actually, generally I prefer fragrant anything, but I know how problematic it can be for some, and  using unscented lilies allows me to make really nice bouquets for people who have had to forgo lilies for years.

Autumn floral arrangement with orange lilies at Woodbine Flowers, Centralia WA

And finally, fourth – by growing my own lilies, I can use a premium flower that normally wholesales for $3-5 per stem, in much more affordable arrangements and bouquets. If you order an arrangement or pick up a bouquet this year, watch for some of the lilies pictured here; and let me know what you think.

For Valentine’s, I’ve bought in wholesale flowers so I can put together three sizes of floral arrangements in a nice selection of special vases; plus I’ve got some handsome cream ceramic compotes for a grand size arrangement on request. Everything can be locally delivered.

I’ve also just brought into flower some very sweet potted crimson-red double primroses – like little rose bouquets – in cream ceramic pots with winky messages and included saucers.  

Finally, Valentine’s rose bouquets will be on hand at Fiddler’s on Mellen Street in Centralia Saturday through Monday. These are nicely wrapped in white paper with white grosgrain ribbon and start at $19.95, up to $45.

In response to Pantone’s Color of the Year, Magenta, the trendy folks are enjoying a huge variety of pink, purple, and magenta Valentine’s flowers in addition to the classic reds this year, so when you stop by Fiddler’s you will find roses in a rainbow of pinks and reds. If you like, grab a complimentary blank Valentine’s card to personalize and tuck into the top of each bouquet.

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