In early summer, and in my mind, the lily still reigns. I look up my hill to stands of tall hybrids in cream, magenta and yellow, dancing with the coneflowers and Russian sage. In the long evenings of June and July, their sweet scent wafts down to the porch and announces the season.
A century ago, American gardeners were intoxicated by the arrival of new lilies from China and Japan, and the trade east across the Pacific was phenomenal. The market in lily bulbs from Japan was more than three times that of all other garden plants put together.
Today, lily fanciers must politely point out that the lily is not a daylily, or a calla, or a lycoris or any other lily lookalike. The need to explain this is a little bit sad, because the true lily is statuesque and lends character to any garden bed (or to big pots on the patio). I anticipate the arrival of the lilies every bit as much as the first daffodils, perhaps more so. They suggest that the heat of summer is worth it.
In search of a lily fix, I went recently to the statewide lily show put on by the Garden Club of Virginia, where cut flowers on a display bench stared you in the face and demanded your attention, if not affection. The show, hosted by the Garden Club of Fairfax and staged at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, is sort of a throwback to the pre-digital age, when folks amused themselves with objects rather than screens. I commend it. Some of the varieties were thrilling.
Even Kentucky looks exotic
Candy Club has an exotic trumpet, impossibly long, thick-petaled and full of smoky magenta coloration. The bloom seems reluctant to unfurl, but when it does, it is fully peeled back, “reflexed” in lilyspeak, and quite happy to reveal the six anthers that hover about the central pistil. They quiver in the breeze, gyrate really, and it’s all rather bacchanalian.
Royal Sunset is much more demure, smaller and upfaced and painted in vibrant pink and tangerine, which sounds like a clashy combination but isn’t. I love Orania, which would pair nicely with dark-stemmed dahlias. This blowzy lily is described in one catalogue as “butterscotch with a raspberry swirl, strong statuesque appearance.” Who with a pulse could resist that? With its brooding plum black stems, it has come to define the modern out-there lily, waiting to be discovered.
Kentucky is the name of another lily on show, a soft orange thing with dramatic maroon flecking that seems highly variable but rises to a dramatic stain on some blooms. And who wouldn’t want Eyeliner for its name alone? The flower is even better, a freckled white with the daintiest purple black edge.
Holland Beauty caught my eye: It is big with broad, reflexed petals, and my sort of lily, bold and with thick petal substance (resistant to the summer sun) and fragrant. It has those rose-colored broad petal bands reminiscent of the ubiquitous florist’s Star Gazer.