In The Gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Steven Des­mond Steven Des­mond is a free­lance land­scape con­sul­tant, spe­cial­is­ing in the con­ser­va­tion of his­toric gar­dens

Steven Des­mond plans sum­mer’s most vi­brant blooms

MOST of our bulb and tu­ber plant­ing in the gar­den is done in the cool mists of au­tumn, but there are al­ways some spe­cial du­ties re­served for the spring. For that rea­son, they often get over­looked in the gen­eral call to arms as ev­ery­thing in the gar­den leaps for­ward on a daily ba­sis. Let us turn ad­vis­edly to the plant­ing of dahlias and lilies as a de­lib­er­ate act rather than a last-minute bodge.

The dahlia, hav­ing gone from no-no to must-have in mod­ern times, is sim­ple enough to cul­ti­vate. We all thumb the lurid pages of cat­a­logues in search of suitable cul­ti­vars. This can be a vis­ually shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but steel your­self to the task, as for­tune favours the brave. Each to their own, of course, but I do favour big groups of some­thing mag­nif­i­cent like Karma La­goon, tall and richly vi­o­let, at in­ter­vals across the sight­line.

If flo­ral size beck­ons, but you wish to re­tain your eye­sight, I pro­pose Café au Lait, a fluffy mon­ster in fawny pink. Should monochrome dis­ci­pline ap­peal, try Twyn­ing’s Af­ter Eight, which has noth­ing to do with ei­ther tea or choco­lates, but is a very good sin­gle-flow­ered doer.

This be­ing the busy time, I keep to a sim­ple rou­tine. Those bunches of tu­bers that were dried off at the end of last sea­son and stuck in a bucket in a shed are now brought forth and sim­ply pot­ted up in a gen­eral-pur­pose medium and wa­tered. The ob­ject of this is to get the shoots grow­ing, which will hap­pen soon enough.

It’s best to keep the plants in a frost-free glasshouse. Once the shoots are 4in high, you can ei­ther di­vide the clump by neatly sev­er­ing it into sec­tions of tu­ber and root and re­pot in­di­vid­u­ally or take the new shoots off as cut­tings. They’re very will­ing to root. Be strict with your la­belling or you’ll soon be in a mud­dle. And don’t keep them too warm or you’ll en­ter the dark tun­nel of pest con­trol.

Lilies seem al­ways to have main­tained their so­cial po­si­tion. This has noth­ing to do with the chal­lenge of grow­ing them, as it’s sim­ple enough. I’m often sur­prised at how few peo­ple do it. Grow­ing them in pots is a lit­tle more labour-in­ten­sive than gaz­ing at their beauty in a wood­land gar­den, but no more so than any other out­door pot­ted plant. Again, the first task is se­lec­tion, in which ex­er­cise the only dif­fi­culty is the wide range that spreads across the pages of ev­ery brochure.

I like lily flow­ers to be but lit­tle re­moved from their wild an­ces­tors, so I have a few favourites to sug­gest. Among these is Lil­ium re­gale, that Ed­war­dian sen­sa­tion the plant hunter ‘Chi­nese’ Wil­son thought worth break­ing his leg for to in­tro­duce to us. An­other from that heroic age is L. au­ra­tum, the ‘golden-rayed lily of Ja­pan’, for my money far more im­pres­sive than any num­ber of mod­ern dwarf nov­el­ties. As scent is a pri­or­ity for me, L. longi­flo­rum is a must with its de­li­cious morn­ing per­fume.

To grow these big lilies in pots, we must start with a con­tainer of suf­fi­cient size. I favour big ter­ra­cotta pots, against which white lilies look so well. I put some lumps of stone in the bot­tom, not for drainage, but for a bit of ex­tra sta­bil­ity. Three bulbs in a 10in pot al­ways seems about right: I want the flow­ers to hang a lit­tle around the edge to­wards my nose. Use John Innes No. 3 com­post to keep them go­ing through the sea­son.

Lil­ium longi­flo­rum will need to be planted good and deep in the pot as it’s a stem-rooter. L. au­ra­tum needs acid soil, so use the er­i­ca­ceous ver­sion of the same com­post. A layer of grit across the sur­face neat­ens things up and keeps them that way. When the green shoots are a few inches tall, bring the pots to their in­tended quar­ters and con­struct a sim­ple frame­work of canes and raf­fia for non­in­tru­sive sup­port.

L. longi­flo­rum is a bit on the del­i­cate side, so watch out for cold nights and take pre­cau­tions, al­though there’s no need for the shroud of white fleece.

All these tall fel­lows are nat­u­rally a bit rick­ety in windy weather, so choose your site with care: a shel­tered cor­ner is ideal, with sev­eral hours of sun dur­ing the day. The ef­fect is the­atri­cal when they come into flower, so put them some­where near an el­e­gant seat to al­low your­self an Alma-tadema af­ter­noon.

‘Lilies seem al­ways to have kept their so­cial po­si­tion’

Pale and in­ter­est­ing: the Ed­war­dian clas­sic Lil­ium re­gale is sure to en­hance any gar­den and is a good sub­ject for pots

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