Plant lilies for summer garden drama

Lilium 'Forever Susan,' asiatic Susan.

Want some drama in the summer garden? Why don’t you plant some lilies this year? You say you’re scared of lilies?

Don’t be.

'Amarossi' Orienpet lily
‘Amarossi’ Orienpet lily
Though they look exotic, lilies are pretty easy to grow.

In Oklahoma, the genus Lilium is almost foolproof grown in sandy soil. If you have clay, amend it to the max with compost, or leaf mold, or some other soil amendments that break up clay. Or, you can dig out the clay and purchase at least eight inches of good soil to place on top of the nasty stuff. If you have sandy soil, just add compost or other organic matter for better drainage. Compost and other soil amendments make clay soil less glue-like and retain moisture in sandy soil so nutrients don’t wash away. It’s almost like magic.

Lilium 'Golden Splendor Strain' trumpet lily.
Lilium ‘Golden Splendor Strain’ trumpet lily.

We Oklahomans know all about nutrients, soil and mulch washing away this year, don’t we? Even my paths have washed out numerous times with our spring storms. Not that I’m complaining or anything. I would never complain about rain.

Asiatic lily 'Lionheart'
Asiatic lily ‘Lionheart’ was wonderful, but I planted him in an area that didn’t drain well. He quit coming back. Lilies want good drainage. See, I make mistakes too.
I am no expert on lily bulbs, but I grow a lot of them.

Lilies are my recompense for before and after the June daylily season. Like some daylilies, many lilies come in the rich dark colors I favor.

It works like this. In May, we have roses and peonies. Right after they finish, asiatic lilies start blooming. Asiatic lilies have smaller horizontal foliage stacked all the way up the stem, and they tend to be on the shorter side.

You’ll see a lot of asiatic lilies in full, glorious bloom at the box stores each May because they are short and easy to transport on large trucks. I saw some last week. Often they are orange or yellow, or sometimes, a dusty pink, but note that asiatic lilies can be exquisitely colored. The ones you see for sale were brought to full bloom in a wholesale greenhouse. By the time you buy them, the blooms won’t last more than a week or two. They may return next year if planted in the right place, but they are only party favor flowers this year.

Lilium 'Forever Susan' planted in front of a red Japanese maple.
Lilium ‘Forever Susan’ planted in front of a red Japanese maple.

Yes, I see your sad faces. I’m sad you bought those too. Consider this post your fair warning for next time.

Lilium Asiatic 'Royal Sunset' which is one of the finest asiatic lilies out there.
Lilium Asiatic ‘Royal Sunset’ which is one of the finest asiatic lilies out there.
Don't buy anything in full flower at the garden nursery or the box stores. You'll often be… Click To Tweet

You could wait and buy these same lilies on the dollar rack after they bloom. Just kidding. Buying stuff on the $1.00 rack at the box store is like gambling at an Oklahoma casino. You may win big, but you may also lose your rent check. Unless you know what you’re doing, please avoid the $1.00 rack.

Instead, bite the bullet and order your bulbs from a reputable online nursery and pay for shipping.

You’ll receive your bulbs at the correct time for planting–often in October here–and you’ll start a beautiful bulb relationship that will last for years.

So where were we? Oh yes, the asiatics start. Then, come daylilies which aren’t lilies at all, but they do still have trumpet-shaped blooms. While the daylilies are often still blooming, the trumpet lilies and the interspecific hybrids begin their show, and what a show it is. There’s been a lot of breeding being done between species. Hybridizers are trying to get the best qualities of each. For example, the Orienpets or OT Hybrid lilies are the last blooming in my garden and among the strongest. They have wonderful fragrance along with really strong and tall stems. I have better luck with the Orienpets than with traditional Oriental lilies. Orienpets, like ‘Conca d’Or’–one of my favorites–, make quite the exclamation point in the July garden when little else is blooming. I buy most of my lilies from B&D Lilies, Brent & Becky’s Bulbs or Old House Gardens. My ‘Black Beauty’ lilies are from Old House Gardens. You can also find ‘Black Beauty’ from B&D Lilies. My ‘Kaveri’ lily was a gift from Longfield Gardens a couple of years ago.


Last year, I bought ‘Corsini,’ ‘Morini’ and ‘African Queen’ to add to my collection of lily bulbs. The first two are Orienpets, and the last is a trumpet strain. This year, I’ll get to see them bloom for the first time. I’m extremely excited. I grow most of my lilies along my garage in a border that faces east and gets morning sun, but I grow them in other parts of the garden too. Lilies are imbricate bulbs which have separate layers and should stay barely moist during shipment. In other words, lily bulbs are more delicate than say, a tulip or daffodil. You should plant your lily bulbs as soon as you receive them. Do not let them sit in your garage for a week or so, or they will rot, and you will be sad.

'Casa Blanca' is a pure white oriental lily. It has very fine petals and is quite beautiful. It's also been hard to get started in the best border in my garden. It is not that easy to grow here.
‘Casa Blanca’ is a pure white oriental lily. It has very fine petals and is quite beautiful. It’s also been hard to get started in the best border in my garden. It is not that easy to grow here.
I don’t want you to be sad.

Plant lily bulbs in fertile, well-drained soil and your lilies will bloom the following year. If they are happy, they will grow bigger and better, often multiplying year after year. You can dig up and transplant the small plants as they come up in spring once you have an established stand of lilies. You can also give them away to your friends. Asiatic lilies really multiply if happy. You’ll have plenty to share in a few years.

'Conca d' Or' - Orienpet Hybrid Lilies are much more beautiful in person than online.
‘Conca d’ Or’ – Orienpet Hybrid Lilies are much more beautiful in person than online. I think that’s true of all lilies really.

The one culprit to lily joy is the scarlet lily beetle, but I’ve never seen the little creeps in Oklahoma. I hope they never come here either. We have enough problems without them.

I hope I’ve enticed you to grow a few lilies in your garden. It’s almost daylily season. I’ll do my best to allure you to these non-lily perennials too, but now, it’s the start of lily season, and my garden rejoices at each open bloom.

Plant lily bulbs and plant happiness. Drama too. It’s a win-win.

Fall flower garden dance

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

A week ago, when I started this post, it was cold, bitterly so, after a very long and warm fall. Any tropical I didn’t get moved into the greenhouse froze. Deciduous trees and shrubs started their leaf fall and began pulling in their sap to wait until spring to rise again. The asters, garden mums and other flowers are all finished too, but they had their moment of glory. Let’s look back at their reign.

Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam.
Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam. It does bloom school bus yellow, but the smaller pollinators love it so much, and it’s great for fall color. Plus, the leaves taste good, like tarragon.

Summer in Oklahoma is hot and usually dry. The sun bakes the sky until it’s only a soft and hazy blue. In fall, that same sky is the most glorious color. Fall reminds me that God loves us. Autumn color is astounding against the green grass and blue sky.

It's not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a 'Viridis' Japanese maple and 'Cherokee Chief' dogwood behind.
It’s not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple and ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood behind.

I can’t get enough of fall. It’s when I enjoy the garden most of all. I don’t worry too much about garden chores or spend my time working. Instead, I take my time walking around and gazing at the flowers and foliage before everything dies back to become one with the ground once more.

Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don't know why.
Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don’t know why. I probably won’t plant it next year.

Fall is usually balm to my weary nerves. It’s been hot this year all the way into November. I’m ready for hot chocolate or tea, cookies and sitting around the fire. Instead, temperatures remained in the mid-80s, and I had the air conditioning on in the house as late as two weeks ago. When I heard it was going to be a hard freeze last week, I thought, finally!

'Jessica Louise' mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I'm trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I'll update it.
‘Jessica Louise’ mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I’m trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I’ll update it. I bought them at the same time, but I don’t remember where. I should keep better records.

I never wish for winter, but if I wanted summer temperatures for Christmas, I would head to Australia. Rather, my winter heart resides in Vermont. I’ve not been to Vermont. Never been to Australia either, but there are other places I would go first, like Italy. We plan to go there in March.

Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers.
Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers. This is a photo from 2015, but it’s representative of what’s blooming in my garden until the freeze.

Back to the fall floral display. All of my gardens are designed with fall flowers in mind. If we get a hot summer, there won’t be much blooming then so I choose tropical plants to fill in those empty spaces. Then, I plan and plant for fall.

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.
Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

When I spoke last spring in Sugar Land and Tomball, I spent time with my friend, Cindy From My Corner of Katy. Cindy and I have been friends for almost nine years, and she never lets me leave her home without giving me some wonderful plant. This year, it was Brazilian button flower, a/k/a Brazilian bachelor’s button. My plant grew to be about two feet tall and wide, and I have it planted in clay. It simply shrugged off the terrible dirt and began blooming in mid-summer. Then, in fall it really hit its stride. I love this tender perennial which isn’t hardy in Oklahoma, but I’m sure it will deposit plenty of seeds for next year. Cindy says it can be a bit of a thug.

“Bring it,” I say. Not many plants are thuggish in Oklahoma. Garlic chives and autumn clematis are two thugs I can think of off the top of my head, but not many others.

Symphyotrichum laeve 'Bluebird' with a small bee.
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ with a small bee. One of the best “asters” I have in the garden.

In past years, I’ve written several times about favorite fall flowers and trees. You can plant fall-blooming flowers for pollinators like the Mexican tarragon, above. Remember, simple flowers are always best. That way, small insects can really get their nectar fix. You can also plant fall eye candy for yourself. Mums and asters make good companions. And, while you’re going around admiring your gardens, don’t forget that planting bulbs is an act of faith. I’ll be outside on Friday planting the rest of mine, 200 or so. I planted some tulips, but I waited for a couple of cold snaps to let foliage die back and give me space to work. It also helps cool the ground off. We had a very warm fall, and we’ve had to wait. Wait no longer. Get your bulb on now so you’ll have a beautiful spring. Remember that good gardens take planning, and bulbs are part of that too.

'Emperor of China' mum in the border along the garage.
‘Emperor of China’ mum in the border along the garage.

Much love to all of you. Thank you for reading my blog in this, its ninth year. You don’t know how much I appreciate you still stopping by and leaving a comment. It makes the writing and photography worth it.