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Mother-daugher duo does right by lilies

by: ©2006 JUDITH L. FREEMAN, “Silk Road,” the Lily Garden’s most popular offering, takes color and fragrance to new heights, like about 6 feet.

This summer I kept seeing sumptuous lilies in gardens, 8 feet tall and loaded with flowers. Many were fragrant, but not one was labeled.

Every time I asked where they came from, the answer was the same - the Lily Garden. One gardener gave me an extra catalog, and a quick browse got me even more excited.

Despite good intentions to visit the Lily Garden, my own garden kept me busy. By the time I clicked on its Web site (www.thelilygarden.com), bloom season was over, so I flagged my calendar to go out next summer.

But eager to learn more about the lilies now, I called Catherine van der Salm, who runs the Lily Garden with her mother, Judith Freeman.

Van der Salm is the graphic designer, catalog manager and head of the retail division. A trained geneticist, Freeman hybridizes new lilies; plants, grows and nurtures acres in Brush Praire, north of Vancouver, Wash.; and digs the bulbs for shipping.

She photographs the flowers in the fields during bloom time, and the enticing images in the fall 2006/spring 2007 catalog will tempt you to grow extraordinary lilies.

It reads like a reference guide, with detailed description and cultural information on each lily - height, bloom time, degree of fragrance and lineage. Forty-seven pages show lilies by color groupings - pink, peach, yellow, orange, red and white - and in sequence of bloom. This makes it easy to select your favorite shades and enjoy blooms all summer.

Lilies grown locally are trialed in the same climate and soils that we're all working with. And these are not your ordinary lilies.

'We hybridize, grow and test lilies that are unique. and that will really thrive year after year,' van der Salm says.

Their own introductions are marked 'C-P,' which stands for Columbia-Platte lilies.

Blooms possible all summer

The parade of lilies begins in early June with Asiatics, the only group with little or no perfume. Fragrant Trumpets and Aurelians come next, in July. Orienpets open in July and August, with Orientals overlapping in late July and August - both are strongly scented.

For a beginner, narrowing down the choices can be overwhelming, but the Lily Garden's collections help streamline the process. The Season of Bloom Collection gathers up the widest range of Columbia-Platte varieties, spanning the entire summer. The Popularity Poll Collection showcases lilies that made the top 10 of the North American Lily Society's (www.lilies.org) 2005 Popularity Poll.

I knew it wasn't fair to ask a mother about her favorites, but I did.

'Personally, I love the pendant flowers that recurve, like 'Ariadne,' 'White Butterflies' and 'Silk Road,' ' van der Salm says.

'Ariadne' opens in June with pastel pink petals and creamy peach centers dusted with darker freckles. It's lightly fragrant. Tall stems filled with dangling flowers are delicate and graceful.

By contrast, 'Silk Road,' which blooms in July, is flamboyantly gorgeous. Jumbo flowers, white at the edges and crimson-pink at the throat, waft powerful perfume.

'Silk Road' is an Orienpet, member of a relatively new tribe that marries the showiness of Orientals with the hardiness, heat tolerance and color range of Trumpets and Aurelians.

Orienpets are the lilies that captivated me in gardens this summer. 'Sarabande' was the one I stood in front of with my mouth open for quite some time.

'Rich crimson 'sunburst' flowers with wide white margins and delicate red 'whiskers' that accent its deep red throat and shimmering green nectaries,' the catalog declares. In plain English, the green, red and white hues of 'Sarabande' are electrifying.

Containers work, too

To grow happily, lilies need at least half a day of sunshine, and good drainage. For those of us with clay-based soils, this means amending with compost, pumice or finely crushed rock.

'Raised beds can be a wonderful solution, or even growing in containers,' van der Salm says. Just remember to refresh the soil every other year if you grow lilies in pots.

To help them grow well, she recommends adding a balanced, slow-release, granular fertilizer to the soil in spring, and again at flowering time. Mulching with well-composted manure also is beneficial.

Fall planting gives bulbs a jump start - as soon as the soil warms up in spring, the bulbs will form roots. Order now, since shipping starts in October. Mark the planting spots with stakes or twigs the first year so you don't dig into the lilies by accident. In years to come, after bloom time, cut the stems back only partway to remind you that bulbs are below.

Garden events

• A tour of Northeast Portland gardens, the 2006 Fall Garden Tour, benefiting the Portland Reading Foundation, runs 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30. Tickets ($15) are available at Garden Fever, 3433 N.E. 24th Ave. For information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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