Grow your own: Lilies

Monday, May 3, 2010
This undated photo provided by The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center shows a Roselily Lilium "Belonica" variety of a Double Oriental Lilly. Dutch hybridizers are gilding the lily, upgrading the cut flower favorite that also brings long-lasting beauty to gardens. New varieties with deeper tints, stronger stems and softer fragrances are entering the market, prompting retailers to frequently update their web sites and catalogs. (AP Photo/The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

(AP) -- Dutch hybridizers are gilding the lily, upgrading the cut flower favorite that also brings such long-lasting beauty to gardens. New varieties with deeper tints, stronger stems and softer fragrances are entering the market, prompting retailers to frequently update their websites and catalogs. "Our customers seem very interested in new lily varieties and they are selling well," said Becky Heath. She and her husband own and operate Brent and Becky's Bulbs near Gloucester, Va.

Breeders like lilies because the hybrids can be crossed and their progeny sold more quickly than other bulb flowers, like tulips, that may require a decade or better to develop. Gardeners like lilies because the bulbs are so easy to grow. "They bloom for a long time," said Sally Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center. "As perennials, they're troupers, providing years and years of pleasure. They're colorful and often exquisitely fragrant. They have height [and] excel at blooming above other perennials. Shorter varieties are well suited to containers or patio pots."

Lilies are unusual in that they can be planted in fall or spring, she said. "Being hardy, they thrive either way."

It wasn't so long ago that lilies came only in four types: Asiatic, Oriental, Longiflorum and Trumpet (garden-only varieties with tremendous strength). Dutch breeders have been actively crossing those types, producing an average 60 to 70 new varieties each year. Most are developed to boost quality and make shipping easier for the cut flower industry. "Although the real focus isn't always on container or garden versions, many often wind up there," says Miek Stap, an independent consultant for the Dutch bulb trade.

Names of the new types point to their parentage. "LO" hybrids, for example, are derived from Longiflorum-Oriental varieties and carry traits of both -- notably large blooms and heavy fragrance. That also goes for the "OA" or Oriental-Asiatics, with their bright colors, shiny foliage and softer scent.

Then there's the "LA" grouping, or Longiflorum-Asiatic, which exhibit a brightly colored, trumpet-shaped bloom. Add the double-petal and spider varieties and it's easy to understand why flower fanciers are calling this the new golden age of the lily. "It's a high point," Stap says. "Really good things are being introduced."

ABOUT GROWN YOUR OWN: Grow Your Own is a new gardening feature found monthly in TBY magazine. If you have story ideas or would like to submit photos of the fruits (or flowers) of your labor, e-mail cmiller@semissourian.com.

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