Flowers with a colourful past ... and future.
Their scent is powerful enough to make you weak at the knees.
To find a bulb that is easy to cultivate and reliably produces such spectacular results - often going on year after year, bringing a touch of mystery and exoticism wherever it is grown - is horticultural happiness.
People have been growing lilies for thousands of years. There are images of Lilium candidum in the art of many ancient civilisations, including in Assyrian bas reliefs.
This lily figures in Christian art, too, in many Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary and is known as the Madonna lily. It is associated with purity.
It is grown here but has fallen out of favour since it is not commercially viable. It is unusual in making a tuft of leaves in autumn that stay all winter and from which the flower stems arise, sometimes reaching two metres tall.
It is unusual in other ways too, in that it loves to be baked and thrives in alkaline soils. A true cottage garden plant - if you can grow it, do.
Despite our best attempts, it will not grow at Glebe Cottage. If you are lucky enough to find it, plant it only a couple of inches deep.
Once upon a time, apart from Lilium candidum, lilies were seldom seen anywhere but the gardens of the wealthy. It is only in the last 50 years that they have become popular.
During the past few decades, the lily world has been revolutionised with the breeding of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new hybrids aimed both at the cut-flower trade and at their cultivation as garden bulbs.
Now new varieties are introduced constantly by lily specialists - commercial and amateur. As their starting point, they have lilies from all over the world to help them come up with new colours, patterns, habits and perfumes.
Some of these breeding programmes have strange aims - there are attempts to produce double lilies now, but to me the beauty is in the shape of its flowers.
Work is being done to breed lilies that have no pollen - it's true it's a nuisance if you get pollen on your clothes and it can be a killer for cats, but the way in which pollen-laden anthers protrude is part of the lily's personality and its grace. Just don't touch them and keep them out of the way of cats.
Why try to produce stumpy lilies, often with upturned flowers, for the small garden? Most lilies are grown in pots and since lilies tend to be vertical, why shouldn't we grow taller, elegant varieties that respect and cherish what a lily is? To me, it is always a mistake to assume small gardens must have dwarf plants.
Some of the lilies available are truly breathtaking. To wander around the stands of lily specialists at the big flower shows is a rapturous experience.
Lilies can make a splash from June through to October. My favourites are oriental hybrids, once or twice removed from the graceful species of Japan and China. Most have overpowering perfume and graceful, long trumpet flowers.
Some gardeners like the stocky stems and upturned flowers of certain modern hybrids but they cannot compare with the elegance of taller Asiatic lilies or with the simplicity of Lilium regale - perhaps the best all-rounder, with tall, strong stems and large white trumpets, heavenly scented especially in the evening.
Lilium regale is one of the most reliable and accommodating of all. It puts on a good performance even in my heavy clay, although I love to grow it in big terracotta pots. They are half-filled with loam-based compost and as the lilies put down roots and begin to shoot, I add more compost.
Pots full of lilies add a splash of fresh colour to July and August borders. If you plant in good-looking pots they can stand directly in the borders to mask the demise of early performer, oriental poppies perhaps or aquilegias. Or grow them in big plastic pots and drop into a decorative outer pot when they are ready to take up their final positions.
Try this with autumn-flowering lilies such as l.speciosum, whose pink spotted flowers with reflexed perfumed petals come into their own in September.
my favourite Lady's slipper is a rare find and a touch Flash WHILE I was at the Hampton Court Flower Show recently, I was lucky enough to come face to face with a rare and incredibly exciting tropical lady's slipper orchid - Paphiopedilum St Swithin.
In addition to its other sepals, petals and pouch, it had long, pendulous petals drooping down on either side.
My director Mark, who absolutely loves orchids, thought it looked like Emperor Ming of Flash Gordon fame.
ask Carol QI HAVE a beautiful blue mophead hydrangea but for some reason this year the flowers are small. Why is this? And how should I prune it? - Maureen Durrant AIT SOUNDS as though it has been too dry. Perhaps something has been competing with it? Water it regularly, feed with liquid seaweed fertiliser and mulch well. Leave flower heads on over winter then in April cut flowered shoots back to the next pair of buds down.
QIS THERE a good time to move an established camellia? I'm changing my garden's layout and mine has been in the same spot for eight years.
- Sylvia Dodd AOCTOBER or March/ April is the best time with evergreens. Autumn might be best so you don't interfere with flowering too much. Plant out of the morning sun, lift as big a root ball as you can and slide on to plastic to make it more mobile. Plant to the same depth and water well.
Sci-fi resemblance... - Paphiopedilum St Swithin
Asiatic... |The gorgeous Lilium 'Nerone'
Elegant... The ever-reliable Lilium regale |MAIN PICTURES BY JONATHAN BUCKLEY
Bloom... |Mophead hydrangea