It's funny to think back about what made you turn into a gardener. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a book in the local library called “Merry Hall', which was written (quite a long time ago!) by Beverley Nichols.
The book tells the story of the stately English manor that Nichols, a lifelong gardener and garden writer, purchased in the years following the second World War. "Merry Hall" had been mistreated inside (bad decorating) and out (bad gardening). Luckily, when Nichols took possession, the garden came complete with an ancient, charmingly stubborn, wise old gardener called Oldfield, who could just occasionally (if you chose the right moment) be persuaded to share his gardening wisdom. Maybe I was the only person in our little town who ever read this book, because soon after I had first read it, the library decided to sell it off, so I took it home to keep and have it still!
Why am I telling your this? Well, I promise we are getting to that! Maybe anyone who has a love of gardening will understand the following passage. Nichols wrote that during their explorations when deciding whether to buy the house, everything they discovered was a nightmare, until ….
“We stepped through the gap...
That was the moment when I first saw the lilies.
And that was the moment when, having seen them, I mentally signed the contract to buy the house. The acres of wilderness behind me were forgotten. The size of the house itself, the cost of repairing it, to say nothing of keeping it up – all these sordid details seemd to have no significance. I had to possess those lilies.”
The lilies Mr Nichols was talking about were Lily Regale, which are also known here as the New Zealand Christmas Lily. Those of you who have grown (or picked) these beautiful lilies will know how fragrant they are, and how beautiful, blooming around Christmas time here in New Zealand. Lilium regale is among the easiest lilies to grow in temperate climates – it can tolerate most soil conditions.
Lilies have a special place here at Kings Seeds too – before they bought Kings Seeds, Gerard and Barbara grew lilies commercially.
Our special blend of lily seed – Lily Pandora's Box – is still grown and harvested in their home garden every year from plants and seeds which they brought with them when they moved.
There is a wonderful mix of different lilies in this selection - a huge variety in a whole rainbow of colours, and with a variety of flowering times so that you can have lilies flowering in your garden throughout the whole summer!
If you would like to grow lilies from seed in your home garden, sow your seeds in a shallow tray filled with good quality seed raising mix when the soil has reached 15-25 °C. Just barely cover the seed. You may see the first seeds germinate in 4-6 weeks but leave your tray undisturbed because although it may appear that some seeds have not germinated, they may in fact be already forming a bulb before sending up a leaf.
You can plant your seedlings out in clumps into the garden – they like to grow in full sun – space them about 15 cm apart. Don't forget to protect the young plants from slugs and aphids, and keep them watered, but well-drained. Lilies like to be cool and well-fed, just like us!
As your lilies grow taller, you may need to stake them to provide some support. They will benefit from a side dressing of fertiliser to assist the development of flower buds.
When you are cutting flowers to take indoors, don't be too heavy-handed. Like other bulb plants, the nutrients from the flowers and stems will return to the bulb to be stored for the following year. If you take only up to 1/3 of the flowers, you will leave enough nutrients for the plant to continue to thrive. You may want to remove the orange pollen-coated stamens when displaying your lilies in the house – the pollen can stain terribly when dropped. When flowering has finished, leave the flower stems on the plant. When the flower stems turn brown, they can be cut off at ground level. This is also to ensure that the plant can store its nutrients for the next year's growth and flowering.
Lilies seeds may make a really thoughtful gift for anyone in your family who has a love for these beautiful flowers .... a gift that they can grow and then enjoy for many years to come...
...and who knows ... maybe one day someone will see their lily display and fall completely in love with it! They might even immortalise the lilies in print!
Kate says ...
Merry Hall was my inspiration too - I discovered it in the school library when I was in my early teens and absolutely loved it. Thanks for the reminder!
Phyl says ...
I love my lilies and was inspired by your blog above re Beverley Nichols - have been lucky enough to find a 2nd hand copy of 'Merry Hall', now just have to track down the other two books in the trilogy.
Heather says ...
Thank you for introducing me to Beverley Nichols - found a copy of Merry Hall in the library - what a gem!
Elizabeth says ...
Hi, I'm desperate to find any helpful information on why my Christmas Lilly flower buds have all turned brown and dried up and dropped off. They are only the size of a kidney bean. Can you help me?
Barbara from Kings Seeds says ...
Hi Elizabeth - after a quick pick of Gerard's brains, he suggests a few things. Perhaps your lily bed is too dry, not enough moisture to keep them developing. Perhaps they have a bacterial infection. They may even be lacking in available fertility. Then there is also the possibility that the bulbs may have basal rot. Are the lower leaves browning off?