I have a lily in my refrigerator.
A lily bulb, anyway. I’ve finally gotten Lilium auratum, also known as the lily of Japan, the gold-band lily, and many other aliases. (The Latin name means “gold lily”, too.)
It’s a mountain lily from Japan, a species that has a lot of variation, and has been involved in many breeding programs.The first mention of it I’ve seen from the U.S. was in a garden book from Philadelphia in the 1840s. Though L. auratum is a species, don’t think small and quiet. It’s a white lily about 10 inches across, highly fragrant, and in the platyphyllum (that means broad-leaved) variety, it can be several feet tall. Flowers can have gold bands with crimson speckles, cream bands without speckles, or crimson bands and speckles with no gold or cream. I’m sure there are more varieties, and that’s not even getting into the hybrids.
I’ve been wanting to grow it for years. (In case you’re wondering why the bulb is in my refrigerator: lilies never really go dormant, so if they’re not in the ground, they should be someplace cool and moist. A refrigerator does nicely.) I wanted to get the species most like what I imagined did come to this country in the 1840s: a species with the plain gold band coloring. I decided to look up some cultural instructions. And that’s when I ran into a dilemma.
For those of you who think gardening is a peaceful, harmonious activity-well, you are obviously people who haven’t done much gardening. Or read many garden experts. When it comes to the fertilization of lilies, one book said, despite the rumor that they don’t like manure, they thrive on well-rotted manure added to the soil.
The second book said, L. auratum definitely needs a light hand on the fertilizer-overfertilizing contributes to quick, soft growth that leads to diseases. And here’s the kicker: both books were written by the same author! I grant you there were different co-authors in the second one, but still. (Note: I’m dissing Jan de Graaff here, but just for the record, he’s probably the most single influential lily breeder and grower the twentieth century knew. Certainly in the U.S. he was, and he came up with some gorgeous varieties which are unfortunately no longer easy to find.)
What to do? Like Goldilocks, I found the third choice hit the happy medium. Don’t put the fertilizer in the soil, it said. If you use manure as a mulch, the feeding will be just right. An old trick is to dig away the top couple of inches of soil and put on well-rotted manure. I’m also going to give my Lilium auratum the same foliar feed I give to almost all my plants, a blend that encourages flowering as well as healthy plant growth. Time will tell.
I hope my next Lilium auratum photograph will be outside of the icebox.
F.F. Rockwell, Esther C. Grayson, and Jan de Graaff, The Complete Book of Lilies, Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1961
Jan de Graaff and Edward Hyams, Lilies, Funk & Wagnalls, 1968
Edward Austin McRae, Lilies, Timber Press, 1998