Friday, 16 January 2015

Cherry Pink Lilies

`If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily’ – Chinese proverb.
Or in my case, if you are down to $2 at the Melbourne Flower Show with your sister and she is buying a packet of deep cherry-pink perfumed oriental lilies – you beg one bulb. (I’m joking of course; it’s just that it gets to a point where it feels unseemly to buy another bulb or plant as if, Cleese-like, with one more wafer-thin chocolate, one will explode...mentally. Or maybe the purse will go on strike. Or the conscience leaves forever.)
And now that wheedled cherry-pink lily is flowering. Swoon.
This large, lustrous lily has just unfurled into a fragrant nonpareil. Yes, it beats even the pure whites I love so much – for now. (I wish I knew her cultivar name.) And why do I love this deep cherry-pink when I detest her neon-lit carmine cousins so?
Later in the season I’ll be tempted to dig up the bulb and twist off a couple of scales to get some identical – if small – bulbs growing; or maybe the underground stem (above the bulb) has some bulblets – perfectly formed little bulbs – growing along it. (If I had deep mountain soil I could plant deep for a long stalk and this would produce many bulblets along it each year, so the books tell me. But I’ll keep mine shallower in my Lysterfield clay to keep it from rotting. Slow increasing is just fine by me.)
She (this bulb seems very feminine) would survive better in the garden, and would look sensational amongst the silver foliage of my silver and raspberry-coloured bed – a bed grown, alas, to comprise not just plum as well and some deep pink but some near-reds as well and odd-pinks that only a blind nurseryman could call raspberry.
As  this bed develops I’m learning that any plant called `Ruby something’ (and some `Rasberry ...’s too) will have too much red – the pinks and reds clash and swear and fight – so despite any avarice and misplaced optimism I must resist buying these plants. A raspberry to the nurserymen who name these plants so poorly. I can see why silver and purple gardens are becoming popular; they look a lot easier to make. Purple, mauve, violet and amethyst don’t clash at all; it seems almost effortlessly beautiful.
I remember well this bulb-hunting plant-laden sojourn at MIFGS, last autumn. It’s enormously fun with a sister (`buy this crocus, it flowers in winter!’), but last year, anyhow, mutually exclusive from slowly photographing the show gardens. Back I went, very early, on the last Sunday morning when it was still quiet. The garden I remember best was suitable unattainable and called, I think, The Gardener’s Library. The garden ended with a large room, all windows, and filled gloriously with botanical paintings, books I remember a large old fashioned globe? Elegant wooden table and chairs loaded with ancient tomes completed the enviable picture. Outside were hedges to imply perfect peace, some lawn, enough to feel restful; flowers, enough to give interest, seasonal, changing and pretty (I remember purple flowers and dark-leafed hellebores); and still water, enough for glamour. I wonder if my photos will bear this out. Does this matter? No.
My own study feels one step closer this week (and I can dream of a wall of books to add to my grandfather’s antique desk with his (very English) water colours along another wall; two other sides have windows and a door to the balcony with views to our bushland). At Christmas I received a wonderful gift: a botanical illustration of Cyclamen by my friend, painter Kay Craig. Then last week we had air conditioning installed into our 2 hot upstairs rooms – one is our study - my future study. We just have to decide where J’s study/office will go.
I have a lot of books – true riches – so will my large bookcase have room for a stand-up botanical painting (or two – like in The Gardener’s Library)? Is there any point trying to emulate such elegance? Heck, yes. That’s why it was there, to inspire. I’ll give it a shot.
So back to the cherry-pink oriental lily which will enrich the garden of silver and raspberry in January, a difficult month. I am wondering if the addition of plum was a mistake; but at least it all sounds delicious, pie-like.
And those ruby flowers – shall I grit my teeth and pull them out and fling them on a sacrificial pyre? (Hardly – it’s bushfire season. Let’s not get carried away.) Where else could they go? Friends or compost?
Along with those dirty mauve pentstemons of the rose circle, now that we have roses, pink salvias and nicer pentstemons blooming, it’s time to be ruthless, particularly as they clash with all the pinks. The compost bins are going to get very full.
Miracle-like, the David Austin roses are flowering for a third successive month. For about four wonderful months no munching marsupials have leapt the fence to devour them so despite the season - it is mid-summer in a Mediterranean climate - it’s still so exciting to see all those flowers blooming. As my sister kindly says (so they remain too heavy to jump and too fat to squeeze through the circles in our purple gate): “may your wallabies remain pregnant”. Yes, indeed.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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