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The Garden Doctor

Consider the lilies of the Florida field

The state has two native species, both endangered, but there are a few other varieties that can be grown here.

Published November 15, 2003

[Photos by John A. Starnes Jr]
The gloriosa lily has brilliant, orchidlike blooms. True lilies are toxic, and this one is especially so; avoid planting it in yards where toddlers play.

Most of the Easter lilies seen in grocery stores were grown in Florida.

Many flowers are called lily, but in Florida, the classic grace of the true lily - those that belong to the Lilium family - is rare. For example, daylilies are not true lilies, they belong to the Hemerocallis family, so they lack the sultry perfume and elegant stature we expect from lilies. Most true lilies need more winter dormancy than our balmy climate provides, but a few stunners thrive in our landscapes.

Scan your yard for a spot with light or dappled shade, or a spot that gets only morning sun. Top dress your soil with a couple of inches of bagged or homemade compost, add a generous sprinkling of dog-food nuggets to feed the earthworms (the bone meal in the nuggets will provide calcium and lessen the excess soil acid), then turn it under with a shovel.

Once your bulbs are planted, put down a thick layer of mulch to keep the soil moist and cool; plus it adds organic matter as it decays. My favorite is the chipped mulch from a tree-trimming service, but oak leaves work well, as does a bale of coastal hay from a feed store. Water deeply to settle the mulch and bulbs in place and to release the nutrients in the dog food.

Most of the Easter lilies we see in grocery stores were grown in Florida and are varieties that need the least amount of winter chill (as a tightwad gardener I keep my eyes peeled for the discounted ones sold after Easter. Cut off the spent blooms and plant the rest about 4 inches apart. Within a few years, you should have several luscious clumps).

Similar to the Easter lily are the Formosa and Philippine lilies. They adapt readily to our climate while offering elegant white trumpets that can used for amazing dinner bouquets. Although the Formosa and Philippine are pricey and hard to find, they are masters of multiplication, and one bulb can provide a clump that can be divided.

The madonna lily hails from mild regions of southeastern Europe and would also do well in our climate. The fragrant white blooms may have a touch of pink and yellow, and their shape is more flat than tapered.

The gloriosa lily, (also known as L. gloriosa or Gloriosa superba or G. rothschildiana) has brilliant, red-and-yellow orchidlike blooms that are up to 4 inches across with emerald green vines that grow lavishly in summer. Florists charge $10 per stem for this easy-to-grow perennial that thrives in sun or light shade. All true lilies are toxic, but this one is especially so; avoid planting it in yards where toddlers play.

All lilies need a rest, usually in autumn and winter, so don't panic when you see them going from yellow to brown. This means the bulb is building reserves so it can astound you once spring returns.

Florida can boast of two native lily species, the salmon-red pine lily (L. catesbaeii) that you may have noticed thriving along rural roads, and the gold-speckled-with-brown Panhandle lily (L. Iridollae). Both are endangered because of relentless expansion into native habitat, but buying them from a native plants nursery will let you create a safe haven in your garden to help prevent their extinction.

I am going to try growing the regal lily (L. regale) because it most closely resembles, in form and fragrance, the trumpet lilies that are grown in the north. I suspect it'll want more winter than Tampa has or that I like, but I'll keep you posted on my results.

- John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for the diverse regions of Florida. He can be reached at his new e-mail address: JohnAStarnes@aol.com

- Sources: Ty Ty Nursery, call 1-800-972-2101 for the madonna and Formosa lilies; and try local garden shops for the gloriosa lily.

[Last modified November 14, 2003, 09:30:37]

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