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A flower fantasy in summer garden

The amazing lily tree blooms each summer, each time a little taller. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Gigantic lily tree lives up to its mail order billing

It takes an incredible beauty to upstage Marilyn Monroe. But right now, that’s what’s happening in my front yard.

“Marilyn” is a hybrid tea that once won Queen of Show at the Sacramento Rose Show. She looks her best in spring and fall.

The lily tree reaches the roof line at 8 feet.
Towering over that large, lush rose bush right now is a midsummer spectacular: A lily tree.

It’s no tree but a lily with stems as thick as my arm and loaded with fragrant trumpets that dangle over my head. Each trumpet is 6 inches long (at least) and as big across. Standing 8 feet tall, the lily tree is a true scene stealer.

This is one of those rare plants that lived up to its mail order billing. Now in its second decade, this amazing lily sprouts reliably every May. It then grows and grows and grows, each year seemingly a little taller. By July Fourth, it reaches the roof line.

Many tulips ago, this lily tree was purchased as a bare bulb from
Breck’s , the Dutch mail order giant. Founded in 1818, Breck’s is now celebrating its 201st year in the bulb business.

I admit I bought the lily tree on impulse. I couldn’t resist this description:

“A floral fantasy come true! … Our magical Lily Trees are the breathtaking result from years of selective breeding. They offer you all the advantages of the finest hybrid lilies — massive, upward-facing trumpets of vivid color, delicate fragrance and exceptional reliability. Every plant bears four to five flowers the very first year and 20 to 30 after three years!

“All this on incredibly sturdy stems that reach up 3 to 4 feet the first year, 5 to 6 feet the next year and upwards to 6 to 8 feet in three years!”

I had to see that!

Also marketed as Orienpet lilies, lily trees are a cross between oriental and trumpet varieties. I picked a three-bulb special of unnamed varieties and planted them among the roses and perennials. Two lily trees grew for several seasons before disappearing, crowded out by other plants.

But this one giant has become more eye-popping every year. It’s never been dug up, and rarely fed. It just wakes up in late spring to put on its show. The blooms start pale yellow and fade to creamy white as they open. (It’s similar to Breck’s current Pretty Woman variety.) In my flower bed, it’s my summer star.

Some like it hot.
The trumpet flowers are 6 inches long and as big across.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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