Monthly Archives: July 2016

A lesson learned: why I don’t grow lilies in the ground

I adore lilies of many kinds: true lilies, Day lilies, Peruvian lilies, anything lily-esque, in fact, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I can grow them all reasonably successfully.

But whilst I’ve always been happy to sling most kinds out into the borders to take their chance – especially Day lilies, which are as tough as old boots! – I’ve never felt inclined to do that with true lilies, ie. Lilium species, and have always chosen to grow them in pots.

This is for two main reasons.

Firstly, keeping them in containers allows for precise control of the growing media, which needs to be moist but relatively free-draining. My garden soil, despite improvement over the years, tends to waterlog in winter and dry out too easily in summer, so my assumption has always been that it would not provide reliably favourable conditions for lily cultivation.

Secondly, growing in containers enables me to keep a much closer watch on pests, mainly slugs, snails and lily beetles, all of which are a massive nuisance in most years. Being able to lift and turn the pots means that I can inspect them from all angles, which would be extremely awkward if they were planted in the ground. Also, I am prepared to use slug pellets in containers since the victims do not travel far and I can dispose of them without hedgehogs, birds etc. coming into contact with them, which means that I can effectively protect the succulent new shoots of lilies at their most vulnerable time. I prefer not to use metaldehyde pellets on the ground, so anything planted in the borders has to survive without that protection, and I’ve always assumed lilies would struggle with that.

But this spring, having some spare lily bulbs to hand, I decided to try a little experiment.

The previous summer I foolishly purchased 10 lily bulbs (from a shopping channel, as it happens) which had supposedly been held back so that when planted, would flower in October/November time and provide a most unusual and unseasonal display.

Of course, they did nothing of the sort, and not one flower deigned to appear before the first frost in November cut them down, so I then had to decide what to do with them – they would likely flower at the normal time in the next year (June/July), so they were definitely worth keeping.

Having weighed up my options for a while, I chose to re-plant 5 in a large pot and put the other 5 out into the ground to see how they would do.

I duly prepared the soil by digging in compost and manure, along with a handful of granular feed for good measure, planted the bulbs at twice their depth, and crossed my fingers.

Both sets were delayed by the low temperatures we experienced in the early part of the season, but eventually they got going, and initially there was little difference between them.

However, as soon as the slugs and snails began to be active, it became apparent that emerging lily stems are every bit as appealing to them as I thought they would be. Those in the pot, which I pelleted, remained unharmed, but I quickly lost 4 out of the 5 in the ground, eaten to nothing more or less overnight. Whether they have completely given up the ghost or will try to re-grow next year, I don’t know – I might have a dig around and see if there’s anything left that I can salvage.

As for the survivor, even though it has grown, it doesn’t look at all healthy:


It is small, and the yellowing of the leaves suggests a deficiency to me, possibly iron. My soil is mildly alkaline, and this might be a more acid-loving species – I don’t actually know which one it is, unfortunately.

The lack of vitality is especially obvious when compared to the pampered pot-grown specimens:


No contest, really. The plants are much taller, the foliage is a rich green and the flowerbuds are much larger and fatter.

So it would appear that in my garden, lilies in pots are definitely the way to go if I want to avoid massive losses and produce healthy plants, which, of course, I do!

A lesson learned, indeed.


Propagating lilies: 6th update

I thought it might be time once again to show my motley collection of tree lilies, originally propagated from a handful of scales back in September 2014.

Though they were all started at the same time from a single bulb, they vary considerably in their development: some are only a few inches high, whilst others are much taller and about to bear a flower for the first time!

Here they are as a group:


And here are some closer shots:

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The bulblets all seemed to be of very similar size when I potted them on into their current containers, so how they’ve ended up like this I’ve no idea. They all had the same compost and feed and spent the winter/spring lined up next to one another against a south-facing fence, so I wasn’t expecting quite such a difference between individuals – the shortest measures a mere 4 inches (10cm) and the tallest 24 inches (60cm). I can’t even blame pests or disease because none of the plants have been attacked by anything as far as I’m aware.

If I were being practical and space-conscious I suppose I would ditch the weakest ones, but, of course, I want to know if they eventually catch up and make garden-worthy plants, so I’m keeping them all – for now, at least.

My next update will hopefully include flowers – can’t wait!

Better late than never!

It’s been a while!

I normally start feeling the urge to blog some time in February/March, but 2016 has seen such a dismal start to the growing season here in my corner of the UK that I simply couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it.

The year began promisingly enough. We had a mild January following on from a very mild December, and it looked at that point as if we were destined for a pleasant, early spring, but it wasn’t to be. Without ever being especially harsh – we had no snow to speak of – the cold temperatures arrived in February and proceeded to roll all the way through March, April and May leaving the garden more or less in a state of suspended animation. Plants that had started to stir in January, mainly clematis and roses in my garden, were stopped in their tracks almost until June. Daffodils that should have been flowering in March didn’t make an appearance until almost the end of April; brunnera and pulmonarias, usually in full bloom here in April, didn’t really hit their stride until May. As for my Flagpole Cherry tree (Prunus amanogawa), the blossom on that was the latest I’ve ever seen it in the 16 years since I planted it, more or less coinciding with the unfurling of its leaves in mid-May rather than April.

So spring barely happened, and there has been little respite since then. I don’t know what the records say, but to me this has felt like the coldest, dampest June ever. Plants have grown, but oh, so slowly, because there’s been so little warmth and sun to fuel them.

And then there have been the pests. Winter and spring might have been cold for plants (and humans!) but not cold enough to see off the slugs and snails, whose numbers have been truly epic this year. I lost several emerging perennials before I’d even seen they were on their way, and it’s been a battle to keep seedlings and young plants from being decimated.

All things considered, I’m glad I decided not to grow any veg this year other than a few tomatoes – watching them struggle to get anywhere would have been too disheartening.

Still, enough moaning!

The calendar says that it is summer, and I do have some pretty things to look at, so I dusted off my camera and took a few photos yesterday.

Firstly, there are the remnants of my foxgloves:


I believe they are Candy Mountain Mixed, though as it’s a year since I sowed them and I disposed of the packet, I’m not 100% sure! (note to self: labels!) Whatever they are, they’ve been gorgeous, rising to a stately 5 feet or so and persisting for many weeks. They are also a magnet for bumble bees, which is nice to see.

Then there are the alstroemerias – or what’s left of them after repeated slug/snail attacks:


They’ve probably come in for the worst mauling of any of my plants this year – from afar they look good, but up close the foliage looks distinctly tatty, and I’ve more or less lost a couple of clumps. At least some have survived, though.

Next is a grouping consisting of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Wave’ (which is pink because of my mildly alkaline soil, but still pretty!), Lysimachia punctata (Yellow Loosestrife), Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (heavily munched by slugs, sadly),  and the golden-leaved Heuchera ‘Marmalade’:


The heuchera and brunnera were new last year and are slowly establishing themselves, not helped, it has to be said by the cold spring. I was hoping to propagate them this year, but they’ve taken forever to get going, so I think I’ll leave them for now.

Another new acquisition from last year is the pretty blue hardy geranium ‘Rozanne’ which is seen threading its way through some yet-to-flower hemerocallis and crocosmia:


It’s supposed to have a long flowering season, and as I’d like it to be a foil for other flowers (when they finally arrive!), I hope this is so. I certainly like it in association with the golden spiraea to the right, so that’s a good start!

My hanging baskets are gradually filling up:

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They’re just my usual mix of fuchsias, petunias, verbenas, impatiens, helichrysum and begonias planted in 12″ Easy Fill baskets. They can require rather a lot of watering on hot days, but thus far we’ve not had any of those, so I suppose I should be thankful for that, if nothing else!

Last but not least is a new plant to this establishment, a dahlia called ‘Ambition’:

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I am in love with this colour, especially of an evening when the setting sun slants across the garden and catches it alight:


My grandfather grew wonderful dahlias when I was a child, but I’ve never grown one myself, so this is something of a challenge for me. I bought it as a tuber in March and started it off indoors in a tray of compost (no heat, other than ambient), eventually potting it on and hardening it off outdoors in May. I couldn’t think where to plant it out in the ground, so in the end I put it in a large pot and it seems quite happy, producing a number of flower buds on its 3 stout stems. I’m under the impression that they are greedy feeders, so I added a handful of Vitax Q4 to the potting mix of bought multipurpose compost and well-rotted garden compost, and will give it a weekly liquid feed of Phostrogen throughout the growing season. Come autumn, I will probably have to think about giving it some protection over winter, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

In the meantime, let’s hope there’s a glorious summer waiting in the wings to surprise us all…