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Let lilies bring warm colors to your May-June garden.

"To paint the lily ... is wasteful and ridiculous excess," said Shakespeare. Western lily growers and gardeners would not agree. Scientific breeding has been improving the lily for many years, and the results--some seen opposite--speak for themselves.

Most of the new lilies are in the class that catalogs and connoisseurs call Asiatic hybrids--May- and June-flowering plants of low or moderate growth with clustered flowers that face upward or outward, or nod only slightly. Their ancestry includes many Asiatic lily species. (Don't confuse them with Oriental hybrids, which have huge, fragrant pink, white, or red flowers and demanding natures.)

These lilies come in a wide range of colors, from crean to maroon. They are relatively trouble-free, quick to multiply, and don't need staking. They are also versatile performers, equally useful as garden ornaments, potted plants, or cut flowers. Cultivated for generations, they have outgrown the quirkiness that many wild lily species show.

Look for lily bulbs in nurseries this month, or order them from one of the sources listed at the end of this article. The colors: pale, warm, and warmer

Early hybrids in this class were orange, yellow, or orange-red, either unspotted or (more commonly) heavily peppered with black or maroon spots. 'Enchantment', a kind with nasturtium-red flowers, was developed by Oregon Bulb Farms founder Jan de Graaf and first bloomed 40 years ago. It still outsells its younger rivals because it is readily available, easily forced (this makes it a year-round florist's plant), and has a compact growth habit. It's shown in color at far left.

Recent breeding has added cream, white, pink, rose, and coral to the palette and has produced lilies with fascinating color blends--orange and yellow, rose and gold, red and yellow. Many of these newer lilies have contrasting colors at the flower centers (eyes), at petal tips, or along petal midribs. Some have brush marks of contrasting color on the petals. Lilies in the garden

Lilies make a great show in the perennial or mixed border, where they follow spring bulbs and precede the wave of summer bloom. Place them in the foreground or toward the rear according to their height (varieties may be 18 inches to as much as 5 feet tall). Plant them among low-growing shrubs or in front of taller shrubs that can create a background for their flowers. Azaleas, camellias, heathers, gardenias, and rhododendrons are especially good companions to all lilies, since all do well in acid soil--though the tolerant Asiatics do not require it. How to plant and care for them

Although lilies are true bulbs, it is helpful to think of them as perennials. They are never fully dormant. The bulbs, although composed of scales like onions, tulips, or daffodils, lack the papery jackets that enable these to resist dehydration during a full dormancy. They also have fleshy roots that should not be allowed to dry out: growth will be seriously delayed if these are lost. (Roots are visible in the photographs on page 66.)

Plant your lily bulbs as soon as you get them, or leave them in their packing material until you are able to plant them. If you must hold off planting because of wet weather, keep bulbs in their packages in the refrigerator (not the freezer). If the bulbs look dry or withered, put them in damp sand or peat moss until they plump up and begin to sprout new roots.

Lilies thrive in full sun in all except the hottest regions; there, they do best with light afternoon shade. They will tolerate such shade--preferably from high trees--anywhere, but will not survive in dense sahde or in competition with greedy surface tree or shrub roots. They absolutely demand good drainage; if this cannot be provided, plant them in raised beds or grow them in containers.

If your garden soil is stiff with clay, blend in 1/4 to 1/3 of its bulk in organic material--compost, ground bark, rotted sawdust, or peat moss. This means tilling or spading in 3 to 4 inches of amendment to a depth of 1 foot. Work in a complete fertilizer at the same time, following recommendations printed on the package.

Dig planting holes deep enough so that you can cover the bulbs with 2 to 4 inches of prepared soil. Spread the roots when you set the bulb, then water thoroughly. Cover planted bulbs with a mulch of loose organic material.

Although these lilies like sunshine, they prefer cool, moist soil around and above their roots. Shallow-rooted groun covers, mulches, or low shrubs can be used to maintain a healthy root environment.

Bulbs are most effective if planted in groups of three or more of a single variety. Individual bulbs should be planted 6 to 12 inches apart. These lilies multiply quickly and will usually form big clumps the second year; the first year, each bulb produces a single flower stalk. If gophers or field mice are a problem in your area, plant bulbs inside cages of 1/4-inch galvanized wire mesh. Finally, don't forget to mark the planting site; errant spades destroy many a bulk that is just beginning to make its way in the world.

Control snails and slugs, which can disfigure emerging shoots, and watch for aphids, which distort growth and transmit disease. Keep plants adequately supplied with water, but done't let soil become soggy. If the soil has been well prepared and fertilized, additional fertilizer will not be needed the first year. In later years, feed once before stems emerge and again several months later. If you can provide a good mulch of compost or well-rotted manure each year, additional fertilizing will not be needed.

Clumps need not be disturbed until bloom production begins t decrease. Then, as leaves yellow in the fall, dig clumps, divide, and replant in freshly prepared soil. Container culture

Lilies grow and bloom well in pots or other containers, and sometimes you will be able to buy them this way. Plant them in a good planting mix or in a mixture of 2 parts good garden soil, 1 part sand, and 1 part peat moss. Cover bulbs with at least 2 inches of mix. A 5- to 7-inch pot will hold a single bulb; 9- or 10 inch pots can hold three. Larger tubs or boxes can, of course, hold many more, and they make a dramatically effective deck or patio display (see the picture at lower left on page 64).

Protect newly planted containers from freezing by using a mulch of sawdust or similar material. Because containers limit roots' range and watering leaches nutrients, plants should be given light feedings several weeks apart after growth has begun. After bloom, plants can remain in pots or can be carefully turned out and set out in the garden. When flowers appear

Enjoy flowers on the plant or cut them for indoor arangements. They last beautifully--up to a couple of weeks--if you cut when the first bud opens, then recut stem bases from time to time and remove faded flowers. Don't remove too much foliage when you cut flower spikes or you will weaken the bulb. Cut only half the stem or less. Beware of the pollen; it smudges. Size, flower form: kinds to look for

Under the formal system adopted by the North American Lily Society, Asiatics are divided into three classes.

Division 1-A consists of upright-flowering varieties. These average out as the shortest kinds, from 18 inches to 4 feet tall. Division 1-B has outward-facing flowers, and plants tend to be slightly taller. Division 1-C, with pendant flowers, includes plants that grow 3 to 5 feet tall.

Because of supply difficulties and prior sales, you may not be able to get precisely the variety you choose, but any Asiatic you buy will be worthwhile. Of the scores available, here are a few of the choicest varieties:

White. 'Avalon', 'Juliana'.

Yellow. 'Connecticut King', 'Edith', 'Gold-medal', 'Ming Yello', 'Nova', 'Sunray'.

Pink. 'Gypsy', 'Twilight', 'Zephyr'.

Orange. 'Cherub', 'Matchless', and 'Orangewood'.

Red. 'Firebrand', 'Firecracker', 'Fire King', 'Scarlet Emperor'.

Bicolor and blends. 'Bravo, 'Impact', 'Jaunty', 'Picasso', 'Rosefire'. Where can you get lilies?

Bulbs are widely available at nurseries or garden centers from fall well into spring. Most seed catalogs also offer a fairly wide selection of varieties. If you want the widest selection possible, check the catalogs of two Western specialists: Oregon Bulb Farms, 39391 S.E. Lusted Rd., Sandy, Ore. 97055 (free); and Rex Bulb Farms, Box 774, Port Townsend, Wash. 98368 ($1). Prices range upward from about $1.75 per bulb, depending on size of the bulb and the scarcity of the variety.

Potted plants in bud or bloom are available most of the year, especially around holidays; their prices also vary, depending on the size of the pot and the number of bulbs and bloom stalks.
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Date:Jan 1, 1984
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