As a kid, when I saw the naked ladies pop up in the yard, it was always bittersweet. Their bold presence always made me smile, but I also knew it was almost time to go back to school. The ever-present surprise lilies, also known as spider lilies, naked ladies or naked lilies, were a sad reminder that summer was coming to an end. They are “naked” because the blooms arrive before the foliage and their stems are bare.
In the spring, there seems to be no shortage of branches that need to be pruned from trees and shrubs. Before you toss them away, use these bendy, whip-like branches to”twig-up” heavy summer blooms.
This old idea fits well with the desire to recycle rather than send garden trimmings to the landfill. For centuries, English gardeners have been weaving large panels of interlaced branches into fencing known as wattles or hurdles. Decorative variations of these plant supports have found their place in today’s cottage garden. Supple lengths of wood and bamboo have been creatively fashioned into woven borders. The shorter panels make the perfect edging for flower and vegetable beds, larger sections offer quick and economical screening, trellises and fencing options. As these wattles age, they take on a faded patina that almost disappears into the plants they support.
A great way to revive the art of woven supports is to add them to a container of lilies. Tall Asiatic lilies, easy to grow from bulbs, make care-free additions to the garden, yielding long-lasting cut flowers that return from year to year. In my zone 7 garden. lilies usually begin opening up in early summer and continue to flower for about 2 to 3 weeks.
I pack my lilies into containers to create a bold splash of color. Once the large, heavy, chalice-shaped flowers open, their long stalks can tip forward, so a little support helps hold those gorgeous flowers aloft.
I used ‘Chianti’ lilies in my container because I’m completely knocked out by their rich pink color. I can’t help but smile every time I walk by them. Try a pair on either side of your entry or create a focal point by dropping an oversized, lily-stuffed container into a sunny flower border.
Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the bulbs to grow. You’ll know that once those flowers open, their blooms will be held upright for all to see.
- Fill a 24-inch terra cotta pot about 2/3 full with commercial soil mix. Be sure the container has a drainage hole. Soggy soil is the kiss of death for Asiatic lilies. Arrange 12 or so Asiatic hybrid lily bulbs over the surface 4 to 6 inches apart, and cover the bulbs with 6-inches or so of soil mix. Gently tamp the soil in place and water well.
- I pruned my crabapple tree and found 6 limbs that were ideal for the vertical supports. Be sure the diameter of these stakes is at least twice as thick as the stems woven around them. Cut the vertical supports so they will rest on the bottom and extend about 18 inches above the top of the pot.
- For the sidewalls, choose long, limber shoots to weave around the stakes. I’ve found that such plants as such willows, elaeagnus and forsythia are ideal, but any pliable branch will work. Cut the branches to about 30 inches in length, and then strip away the leaves.
You’re done! Asiatic lilies in full bloom held by a woven wattle are the amazing reward you receive for your work. The wattle should last several seasons.
Have you ever heard of a plant called surprise lily. It looks like a lily plant. I first saw this plant when I was in Georgia and found it in S. Carolina also, however I could not find it for sale or find its correct name.
The surprise lily that I know is lycoris. There are two popular forms: Lycoris squamigeria, naked lady, and Lycoris radiata, spider lily. Naked ladies have pink trumpet shaped blooms and spider lilies have a red, delicate, spider-like flower. Lycoris’ blooms appear long after the foliage dies back in early summer, hence the name surprise lily. If you are like me, you’ll forget they are there until the flower stalk emerges in late summer.
Surprise lilies grow in a broad section of the country, only the coldest regions challenge their hardiness. But even in these areas, if you plant them a little deeper, against a south facing wall, many times you can bring them through.
If you decide to plant some of these in a flowerbed, make sure it’s in an area where you don’t work the soil up too much because you can damage and destroy the bulbs. I actually like to plant them under ground cover, so they’ll come up through a carpet of green and give it a nice sparkle.
Lycoris are versatile and tough. They’ll grow in both full sun and light shade and you will often see them growing alone on old home sites or where the garden has long since disappeared.
You’ll find the bulbs for purchase in most bulb company’s fall catalog, but some companies include them in their spring inventory for summer planting.
Don’t be disappointed if they don’t bloom the first year. It sometimes takes a year of two for them to get settled, but then that will only add to the surprise!
Lilies are one of those plants that offer a big return on your investment. Just a little effort in planting the bulbs will reap years of fragrant, colorful blooms. Lilium is a large family of plants and some are easier to grow than others. Three common types are Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet.
Asiatic Hybrids — One of the most carefree summer bulbs that I grow in my garden are Asiatic lilies. They are perfect for cutting gardens and containers. I like to add five to 10 bulbs to my raised vegetable garden so I will have plenty on hand to use as cut flowers later in the summer. Asiatics are early to bloom and easy to grow. They don’t have much fragrance but they make up for it in color.
Oriental Hybrids — Like a Southern grand dame dressed in her Sunday best, Oriental lilies are bright, flamboyant and heavily perfumed! I can’t imagine my garden without these royal beauties. They will perform well in partial shade.
Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids — The lilies in this group tend to bear striking trumpet-shaped blooms on tall stalks. Many are quite fragrant too. The flowers are so large the plant may require staking.
Planting Lily Bulbs
Lilies are planted as bulbs in fall or early spring. If you plant in fall be sure to mark the area so you’ll know to look out for emerging growth. I’ve unknowingly stepped on the tender shoots more than once and it’s completely devastating.
When you pick out bulbs at the garden center look for ones that are fresh and firm with plenty of white roots. Lily bulbs never go completely dormant like daffodil and tulip bulbs so you should handle them with more care.
Select a spot that receives the right amount of sunlight for the type of lily you are planting. For instance, an Asiatic lily appreciates full sun while an Oriental lily can take partial shade.
All lilies need good drainage. Wet, soggy soils are the kiss of death. To ensure good drainage I pour a little sand in the bottom of the planting hole. You can also get around heavy soil by planting lilies in containers or raised beds.
Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the bulb and roots. Plant small bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep, and larger bulbs 4 to 6 inches deep. Gently place the bulb in the hole, cover with soil and water in. That’s it!
After your lilies bloom, just cut off the top of the stalk. Also when you cut blooms for using in arrangements, take no more than one third of the stem. The idea is to leave enough foliage so the plant can build up energy in the bulb for next year’s blooms.
For more information on growing lilies, check out the video below!