Lilies in January

For many years lilies grew in the wild of Asia, Europe and North America. These species were known for being difficult to grow. Around 1925, lily growers bred new hybrids from species with desirable qualities. These hybrids were healthier, hardier, and easier to grow. It is especially simple to force bulbs in the winter, which I attempted to do this past season.

Forcing bulbs to bloom in winter is a trick that gardeners play on Mother Nature. In October, I put the bulbs in a brown paper bag and set them in the refrigerator to force them into hibernation. After they’ve spent six weeks in the cool temperatures, I place the bulbs in a terra cotta pot with rich potting soil. I plant the bulbs closely together, leaving little room in between. They are covered with soil at least four inches deep and topped with moss to keep moisture in. I water them three times a week or as needed.

During the month of November there is no life to be seen – just moss to the rim of the pot. At this stage, the bulbs are concentrating on establishing their roots. I peek under the moss every day to check and see if the bulbs have germinated. I water them day after cold, chilly day, but no buds appear.

Toward the end of December, the days begin to grow longer. Finally, plenty of light warms the bay window and heats up the bulbs. I was once told, by my father in-law, to place a heating pad underneath the pot to warm the bulbs if they don’t start to germinate within a month. They also need a place where they will receive at least three hours of direct sunlight. Placing the pot in the most strategic spot will help the lilies form into full blossoms.

It is January, and a stalk of summertime lilies stands before the bay window against the cool backdrop of winter. The white lollypop hybrid flaunts a touch of pink at the flower’s heart. The anther’s pollen stains my fingers at the slightest touch. There is a faint fragrance as I draw the flower close to my nose. It is upliftingto have flowers in winter. They brighten up the room and can cheer a dreary, cold day. When I look at the blossoming lilies first thing in the morning, they immediately give me joy. Each flower has a life span of at least seven days, which is enough time for me to enjoy their splendor. When one lily closes, the next blossom opens. Sometimes there’s a cluster of four blooms that open simultaneously. The strength and energy of the bulb can nurture one to four flowers at a time.

Lilies have long, thin leaves that climb all the way up their stalks. When the stalk reaches one-and-a-half to two feet, tiny buds appear, usually two to four florets. In due time, the buds grow longer and fuller, and pink begins to show through the green flesh. Before the birth of the lily, the green becomes a cellophane film and the pink turns more brilliant. The bud unravels slowly and gradually until the petals spread wide open to the sun. The petals flicker in the filtered light from the window and pink shimmers from the heart of the lily. There are specks of rust sparsely spaced in the pink areas of the petals. Eventually, stakes are needed to keep the flowers from leaning over too far. The stalks can become top-heavy if all four flowers bloom at once.

The decaying process can be just as beautiful as a fresh blossom. The lilies grow tired after a few days. Then they wilt, and finally, their petals fold in around the stamens. The stalks are discarded after the flowers are finished blooming. I dig up the bulbs and re-bag them for next season, placing them in a cool, dark closet until the following October, when I will set them in the refrigerator once again.