Monday, February 22, 2010

Consider the Lilies

Lilies and lily-like plants deserve more respect.  On the Oregon coast, there are climate-specific limits to which flowering herbaceous perennials and annuals we can successfully grow.  The group of plants formerly known as the family Liliaceae, and those left in the family, includes real treasures and prizes for coastal gardeners.

Among the more well-known lily-like plants is the common daylily, or Hemerocallis, now classified in a different family thanks to enthusiastic taxonomists.  A nice guide to this massive genus is The Color Encyclopedia of Daylilies, which provides history, cultivation and great pictures of the many varieties.  Daylilies are popular for a reason, with extended bloom, compact habit, many colors, and easy growing requirements.  They tolerate little or extra water, poor soil and tolerate wind.  If anything is needed for best performance, it's full sun exposure-- though they will tolerate much less and simply bloom less.  For a bonus, these clumping plants are easy to divide and share with your friends or spread to new parts of your garden.  As if that wasn't enough, daylily flowers are edible too-- a quick search will yield dozens of recipes.

Agapanthus is a coastal favorite, commonly known as Lily of the Nile, and again reclassified (this one belongs with onions apparently).  There are few plants on the coast that can tolerate direct exposure to wind, salt and poor soil as the Agapanthus does.  The main limitation is few color choices, but the later-blooming period than most bulbs and spring flowers is a nice feature, holding striking globe-shaped flowers on tall stalks above strappy green leaves.  Most are shades of blue-violet (pictured above) or white, with the standard variety quite tall at 2-3' or more.  Newer varieties offer new shades of bloom and more compact habit/height.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is one of my favorites for mid-summer outstanding focal color.  The true red of this clumping flower, with multiples on long arching stems, makes a stunning splash in any perennial bed.  The tall spiky green foliage before the bloom, and sometime after, is additionally handsome and lends a textural accent to our common framework shrubs.  This lovely perennial is easily dividable from offset bulbs around the clumps, or thinning, and is much better behaved than the similar Montbretia that is very common in older coastal gardens.  Seems there was quite the rage for these shorter, orange-blooming relatives on the coast and they continue to plague with their rampant spreading (click on the map shown to activate video).  They are extremely difficult to eradicate once started, as they propagate by chaining bulbs one on top of the last season.  You dig and dig forever!

If you are truly lucky, you might find your coastal landscape sporting a few native western lilies, like the Trout Lily, the Fawn Lily or the False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilitatum).  The latter will often carpet the ground under trees and other shady places on the coast, if the understory has been left undisturbed.  More than once a client has asked me to eradicate these lovely no-trouble groundcover plants, to which I have generally asked "why?"  They fill empty spaces, need no water or fertilizer, the leaves alone make a beautiful shiny green carpet of heart-shaped leaves that only reach 10" or so, then send up delicate spikes of white flowers.  There's nothing better under the inhospitable canopy of the ever-present Shore Pines, so why remove them?  What else is willing to grow in that dark, acidic, dry environment?

As you plan your coastal-adapted perennial bed this spring, remember to consider the lilies.  This passage from the Sermon on the Mount says it well:  "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

(Agapanthus photo credit to Sir Peter Smithers of

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