'Before the feet of the dew There came a call I knew, Luring me into the garden Where the tall white lilies grew.'
Charles G. D. Roberts.
THE Madonna Lily is a feature of the garden we ill could spare; the perfume is as healthy as seductive in the open air, the way the petals glisten makes the flower appear luminous by night, positively brilliant under the moon, and there seems a marvellous spirit-touching peace about the snowy spires. Yet there are many other Lilies quite as fair and as hardy, non-expensive, permanent, easy to manage, that we seldom find in any but great gardens; simply, no doubt, because amateurs, and their homely country gardeners, do not realize their chances.
At a Village Flower Show I overheard a lady of importance telling visitor after visitor, 'Yes, those are the Greenhouse Lilies, you know,' while standing in front of a group of the white, pink, and crimson spotted Liliums Speciosum.
In a sense Greenhouse Lilies they are, but they attain greater perfection in a deep, rich, sunny border.
That is one secret - give Lilies deeply dug ground; pulverize the soil a yard down, lay 6 inches of old cow-manure on a base 18 inches deep, then put in equal mixed quantities of loam, peat, leaf-mould, absolutely dried-up old manure, pulled into little pieces, and coarse roadside sand. If the land is damp and not particularly well drained, raise the bed or border 3 or 4 inches above the ordinary level: in which case lay the manure 14 inches deep, instead of 18, lest the roots fail to reach it. Plant Hardy Lilies in October, or November if unavoidably delayed. The one exception is that familiar kind, the Madonna Lily, or St. Joseph's Lily, Lilium candidum, which requires installing in August, whether by division of existing clumps or introduction of new bulbs. It may be some trouble to make a Lily bed, but once it is accomplished there is scarcely any work for years, except the weeding that any ground must receive. Be sure to cut down the yellowed stems after the blossoms and leaves of the flower stem have faded, water in times of drought only, lay a few inches of old strawy manure over the beds or borders each November, and give liquid manure every week when buds have formed if you wish for extra fine blooms.
No great labour, surely, considering that Lilies may be a magnificent show every summer.
Never fill a pot for a Lily more than two-thirds, then place the bulb or bulbs and cover them in 1 inch. The rest of the space in the pot is needed for top-dressing as the growth reaches a height of a few inches, and then more a little later. This is because Lilium roots come to the surface and require covering in. Place one bulb of a big Lily, such as Lilium Auratum, or Harrisii, in a six-inch pot, or a five-inch if greatly preferred, or three in an eight-inch or a ten-inch. Plunge the pots in cinder-ash, etc., as for other bulbous plants, out of doors or in cold frames; or else use baked moss, made damp. In any case, damp the material occasionally so that it never dries up, but give ample air to prevent any danger of the bulbs rotting.
Lilies in pots should be allowed to die down as naturally as those in the garden, after which the yellowed flower-stem and foliage must be twisted off, and the bulb or bulbs can be shifted into a larger pot, or similar-sized one, care being taken not to lay them bare by shaking all the old compost off them in the process. Let them stand out in sunshine while they are dying down, and - though they must never actually dry up - slant tiles over the compost to keep excessive rains from it. Or lay the pot-plants on their sides, upon gravel or pavement, out of doors.
It is good to give weak doses of liquid manures, fertilizers, soot water, or guano solution, as buds form.
When Lily clumps have been undisturbed for four years it is probable that the next blooms will be poor, unless the space between the bulbs originally was much greater than the ordinary. As mentioned earlier, Lilium candidum suffers when this is not discovered till autumn, root disturbance then often resulting in the death of a whole group: August is the month for dividing and replanting this Lily - October for others.
Sometimes there are objections to giving Liliums fresh sites every four years; if so the stale earth should be carted away, perhaps to top-dress the Herbaceous Border, and the old site made up with quite new material, as recommended for the making of Lily beds.
The complaint is often made that Lilies of some sorts, as well as candidum, miss a year in blooming. Examination of gardens generally proves that these have been growing where hot sunshine has failed to reach the soil above their bulbs during summer. The finest Madonna Lily displays are those in hot places, where artificial feeding is given, and the soil is deep and good. But there is a great deal to be said in favour of using these Lilies to adorn semi-shady borders, because when they do blossom they are extra precious in the less floral districts of the garden. Consequently I believe in flowering them once in shady spots, moving them to sunny ones directly afterwards, and planting newly obtained bulbs, or bulbs from overcrowded clumps in sunshine, in the positions left vacant.
There is no need to go into details here about diseases that attack the Lily, but the amateur grower would do well to water his, say once a month in the warm months, with water in which a pint (dry measure) of charcoal and a quarter ounce of carbolic powder have been steeped for twelve hours in every gallon.
When offsets are taken from large bulbs of Lilies the wounds left, even if they do not look like wounds, should be rubbed with wetted clay, just to make a thin paste over them, before they are replanted. Offsets can be put 2 to 3 inches deep, in sandy ground, and, after their first leaf production and dying down of leafage, may be added to the outskirts of the plantations of their kinsfolk.
All the Lilies of the garden that relish peat-mould may be grown among Rhododendrons and Hardy Azaleas, with a foreground of heathers, the Auratums and Tiger Lilies suiting especially well with the rich hues of the shrub blossoms.
Where slugs abound the Lily beds are best made safe by being strewn with sharp cinders when young growth is expected. Supposing Lilium bulbs to be over-dry when bought, let them lie, not quite covered, in moistened coco-nut-fibre refuse for a few days or a week, to swell up before they are planted. Needless to say Lilies are suitable lawn ornaments, indeed a group in a bed just large enough to contain them might admirably replace many a commonplace specimen shrub, or mangy clump of Pampas Grass.
One of the grandest borders I ever saw was flanked on each side by gravel walks, had turf strips marking out geometrical patterns along its whole length and for edging, with Lilies and Dahlias used alternately as furnishing for the principal centre spaces.