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African Queen, Part 2: Passion


OK. If you read the first part of this post, now you know some of the African Queen’s family. But family, while always first, may not be the most urgent force in some relationships.

What you need to know is this: African Queen lilies are beautiful, and they smell like heaven. (“They smell like melon,” a friend of mine said. Not to me. But I get the fruitiness. There’s something fresh and earthy in the sweetness.)

Intoxication is only one of African Queen’s virtues. She has practical qualities as well. African Queen blooms in semishade, although the sunnier that semishade is, the more flowers you tend to get. They bloom for weeks, since each stem has at least a few buds, which open one at a time and last awhile. They grew like this for me in pots, even while wildfires filled our sky with smoke that was like cloudy weather–we didn’t see the sun (or much of anything) for three weeks.

Mine showed variations this year: you can see the deep purple outline on the anthers. (They might have had this variation before, but I didn’t have them propped up in a place where it was easy to see it.)


And then there are the variations through the day, as the light changes.


And the variations of the lilies as they age: the coloring changes, and they go from “please pollinate me” to slaked sated blooms that develop fat, incandescent seed pods.


If you want your bulbs to get bigger and produce more blooms, you should really deadhead the pods. But I keep a couple of the fattest, nicest-looking ones on. Partly because I want to try my hand at lily seeds and see what I can get. (So far I’ve managed to kill off my lily seedlings while they still looked like blades of grass. But hope springs eternal. And, after all, Debras got pretty good mileage out of one seedling.)

But a secret reason I keep the seed pods on is that I like the way they look.

There’s a secret reason I chose African Queen, too. I knew I wanted an orange trumpet lily. (I didn’t know yet that the more correct term for these trumpet/L. henryii crosses is Aurelian lily.)

But why did I choose African Queen, instead of Copper King or Anaconda? Because I saw the movie “The African Queen” at a film festival with my high school boyfriend, who was often more generous to me than I deserved. And I loved the film. And even though I haven’t seen it in years, I still do. Thus are garden decisions made.

But I do make garden decisions based on logic sometimes. For instance, here’s my opinion about lily bulbs: buy expensive ones.

I don’t mean expensive strains, particularly. But when I buy lily bulbs from less expensive providers, they (the bulbs, not the providers–although, now I come to think of it, I haven’t met the providers in person) are smaller and drier and have a tendency to fall apart. I plant them with hopes, but I tend not to see lilies in the growing season. Sometimes I don’t even see lily foliage.

Since lily bulbs (unlike most other types) are never really dormant, they are more sensitive to shipping conditions that don’t bother other bulbs. My theory is that the larger, more expensive bulb grades do better in storage and shipping just because they are bigger: they have more moisture and nutrients to draw on during the stressful period out of the ground. It might also be true that the more expensive bulb places know more about lilies and take better care of their bulbs.

I’m a little afraid to venture into the world of lily specialists. I’ve already got a serious bulb habit to support. But expensive and frustrating as they can be, there is just nothing like lilies. And if I grow the right varieties, I can have lilies in bloom for a lot of the summer…


F.F. Rockwell and Esther C. Grayson and Jan de Graaff, The Complete Book of Lilies, Doubleday & Co., 1961

Jan de Graaff and Edward Hyams, Lilies, Funk & Wagnalls, 1968

Places to get African Queen:

Brent & Becky’s

Places to get Copper King:

Old House Gardens

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Northern Shade September 8, 2008, 8:44 pm

    Your photo of the lily , backlit by the sun is lovely. very radiant. The African Queen sounds good, including a great scent, and a good movie reference.
    Good luck with the seed collecting for next year. Perhaps you’ll grow an interesting variation.

  • Pomona Belvedere September 9, 2008, 9:21 am

    Yes, I think good movie (or literary) references are necessary gardening equipment. It’s occuring to me to wonder now: I wonder if the lily was named after the movie? They might have come out at the same time.

    Thanks for the good wishes on lily seeds. We live in hope.

  • Barbee' September 9, 2008, 10:00 am

    How interesting, Pomona. I have never grown lilies, but I think they are beautiful. One tiger lily comes up among the peonies here in this garden, but I didn’t plant it. It just came up by itself. I guess the previous owner had them and there was still some root or a bulbil seed left in the soil when she moved her favorite plants with her to the farm. Your photos are lovely, as usual :)

  • Pomona Belvedere September 10, 2008, 2:53 pm

    How lucky you are to get the tiger lilies as a gift! I love tiger lilies and have had only intermittent success growing them (even though we have native ones here).

    Many thanks on the photo compliment. I secretly (well, now it’s on the web, so I don’t know how secret that is) wonder if others will see the beautiful or interesting things I see, whether I’ve gotten them in the picture. It’s always gratifying to know when it works!

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