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Anna Naeser: Anna’s Garden

Anna Naeser
The Aspen Times
Aspen Co, Colorado

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:27-28).

I had to look up chapter and verse but remembered the words almost perfectly from my childhood. Persian stone reliefs of royal garden banquets from the eighth century B.C. included lilies. (I am uncertain about the pronunciation, but the Persian name for lily is “susan.”) Lilies have been cultivated and revered for a very long time and certainly are glorious, though their ubiquitous appearance in the supermarket floral section has dimmed the gloss of the exotic about them. Moreover, they most certainly do toil, like all plants, working hard to build the strength to flower and reproduce, and competing tirelessly for space, water and nutrients.

In my garden, true lilies (Lilium spp.), like the related tulips, are high-risk plants. One nip from a deer’s lips or one tread from a hoof as the growing point breaks the surface of the soil from the bulb underneath, and there will be no lily, or tulip. This year the unusual weather favored my lilies; by the time they ventured forth, the deer had moved farther up Basalt Mountain, my garden no longer a mandatory stop on their feeding circuit.



I haven’t noticed any harvesting of the bulbs by our exploding small rodent population either, though the tulips, crocuses and grape hyacinths have been decimated. The spring moisture was perfectly timed; I expect to have one variety or another of lily flowering from now until late August. Some of them have even lightly multiplied. Many years of experience with lilies has taught me to keep expectations low and rejoice when they grow well and bloom, and shrug or buy more when they don’t.

My greatest success with lilies has been as container plants, and this year the Oriental-type lilies, which are the earliest to bloom, have put on a spectacular show. A handful planted in a half-barrel will fill it completely in a few years. Mine have lived for years, winter and summer, with only regular watering and a shovel of compost every year or so to encourage them. I have another, identical container with lilies that bloom later. Both kinds were bought as a “bright color mix” so I haven’t a clue what variety they are. Good thing I adore orange lilies, because that’s what they turned out to be ” lilies in a whole range of orange, from deep and reddish to light and yellowish.



In my reading, I’ve found that even grand and famous gardeners have had problems with labeled lily bulbs that suspiciously resemble other named lilies we already have. Never mind; they’re all wonderful. Even after the flowers are gone, they look handsome for the rest of the season, the leaves staying green and dense from top to bottom. I let mine die back naturally in fall and leave the stalks until the new growth is visible. The straw-pale stalks mark the location of the bulb and pull out then with scarcely a tug.

Lilies are elegant in the border and as long-lasting cut flowers, but not at the same time. Again, like a tulip and unlike a daisy or lilac, a lily stem cut long enough for the vase includes most of its foliage, depriving the plant of its means of making a living. If the flowers of seed-producing types are left to set seed ” and the seed capsules are not uninteresting ” the bulb is also depleted. Both mean a small flower, or none at all, the next year, until the bulb fattens up.

I found a wonderful idea for arranging lilies in a book on modern Asian design. In a large, rounded vase resembling a hollowed stone enough to call it a vessel, three or four stems of large, white lilies were bunched together on one side, while several stems of a golden-leaved Japanese maple were gathered on the other. It was standing against a massive stone wall. I could picture my ceramic pickle crock on the fireplace hearth, with supermarket lilies and tree branches from my yard. Maybe those flamboyant hot-pink and white lilies called “Stargazer,” which I love in spite of my determination to dislike their hybrid flashiness, with a bunch of Canada Red chokecherry leaves. Or white and gold lilies with the lovely, oversized maple leaves of box elder that sprout from the base of the old tree.


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