[Foremost I should record my gratitude to my parents, grandmother, and a number of village friends for imparting gardening skills and practical knowledge. In the village and later in big cities I acquired a vast array of techniques related to horticulture, water conservation, and propagation. Real gardening involves growing from cuttings, seed gathering, and pest control. Of course such matters can be learnt in classes or green houses, but many master gardeners in India mastered such skills through the “borderless open universities” spread across farms under the vast skies. They may not have any diplomas to display their proud achievements, but I’ve seen them raise prized gardens with vibrant flowers, tasty vegetables, and fruits. I bow with reverence to all such gardeners in India and across the world. My affection is always biased towards India and other developing countries because there they have to work with the real life constraints of water, fertilizer, weather, and other resources.]
It has always been our constant focus to produce reasonably good yields with minimal inputs. Thus whenever possible we resort to obtaining high quality compost, organic manure, or coffee grinds from local recycling centers, farmers, or Starbucks. There are some outrageous cranky experiments of producing a $ 100 dollar tomato or splurging hundreds of dollars for a raised patch of vegetable garden. But in most cases we have refrained from such wastage of resources. Our motto is always – simple living but high thinking. You can produce extraordinary results in gardening through careful observation, patience, and timely hard work.
Now coming to these stargazer lilies, it has been a wonderful experience working with these bulbous plants. Right from childhood I have been exposed to colorful sweet fragrant flowers and tasty fruits (chakkar-keli Banana), thanks to mom. That sensuous memory remained with me intact throughout life. Thus I am always partial to aromatic flowers. Sadly some people cannot bear intensely fragrant flowers due to allergies. These stargazer lilies (also known as oriental lilies) are perennial plants. Originally we had planted half a dozen lilies but only three got established – two stargazers and one white lily.
Here, in the northeast due to heavy annual snowfall much of the garden soil gets quite compacted. The soil is good for strong native trees (honey locust, hawthorn, maple, and oak, etc.) but for most garden plants and roses the soil needs improvement. Before planting the lily bulbs, I add a bit of compost, leaf mold and fresh topsoil. Basically the lilies, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, gladioli, cannas and narcissuses all love loose soil with good drainage. The soil needs to be highly fertile too because they need to manufacture extra energy for producing large flowers with vivid colors. And our flower patch is in a shaded area due to large trees with outstretched canopies. Perhaps part of the nutrients is regularly washed away due to heavy downpours or taken up by nearby trees and lawn. Thus we have to periodically replenish the soil system. Otherwise the bulbs eventually diminish in their output (flowers) and we have sterile standing gladiolus blades or forlorn daffodil grassy leaves without flowers.
We must have lost more than half a dozen lilies over the years. They just disappear in the soil. Some years the rabbits nibbled away at the new sprouts in spring. We lost a prized sweet scented Hosta thus. Once a deer has munched on the fresh flower buds early in the morning. You lose the entire year’s worth of priceless sweet aromatic flowers and of course priceless labor. We’ve learnt our lesson and immediately erected a 4 feet plastic tall fence around the lilies. Some times we put physical obstacles (like big pots with bananas) around the lilies to discourage the deer. That worked. So now we’ve been getting a good crop of these stargazer lilies regularly. They are giving slender side offshoots too. These plants are actually in the shade of large pine and magnolia trees. So they get only partial sun and of course plenty of diffuse light. One lily plant is almost 6 feet tall and has yielded fifteen flowers. Just with two stargazer lily plants, the garden was full of sweet aroma for more than a month. A total of twenty-five colorful sweet scented flowers decorated the front yard during the early summer. This seems to be a reasonable (rather the best) record for stargazer lilies seen in any prized garden. We may have to dig up the bulb in spring and replant with fresh loose soil sprinkled with bone meal, compost, and slow releasing fertilizer.
Normally we leave these bulbs in the ground for the entire year. They sprout in spring, give flowers in summer, and the leaves stay green till late fall. Before the snow, I cut the long stems. I leave about 4-6 inches above ground for easy identification in the spring. Both the gladioli and lilies get thick layer of mulch for protection from the sub-zero temperatures during chilly sub-zero winters. Some years I have used the loose dry birch leaves for cover. I also utilize pine needles and straw. Maple leaves tend to form soggy heavy buildup, so mostly I avoid maple leaves as mulch. As it warms in spring, slowly I remove the mulch (top cover) little by little and start watering the sprouting bulbs. Once or twice during the growing season, I add fresh compost, topsoil, and bone meal. A general-purpose lawn fertilizer is also useful for these lilies and other bulbous plants. The only pest we’ve encountered is the lily leaf beetle. The beetle looks almost like ladybug but with a bit elongated body. You can just pick them off of the leaf and drop in a coke bottle. Neem oil spray does wonders in pest control. Some times I just dislodge the sticky larvae with gentle water spray. In an earlier gardening post I’ve given details about preparing neem oil emulsion for spray.
The flowers stay fresh for a week in cool indoors. The whole room gets filled with its scent. Certainly my mother would have enjoyed it. Once I came across a big spherical cut flower arrangement in a hotel lobby with stargazer lilies, ferns, large magnolia leaves, and other seasonal flowers. These lilies make a bold statement and of course they make my head turn in appreciation every time.