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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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