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Lilies Add a Variety of Colors to the Garden

July 14, 1990|HENRY MITCHELL | Distributed by the Washington Post .

WASHINGTON — One of the good standard lilies is "Black Dragon," which produces, from a mature bulb, a stem six feet or so with 10 or 15 white trumpets well spaced in a circular pattern, the outside of the flowers flushed with a more or less dark color.

Sometimes the outside color is simply dirty-looking, sometimes reddish, but variable, as these lilies are seedlings, not raised from offsets or scales. The original plant had a decidedly dark exterior, but I noticed 25 years ago that some of its seedlings were handsomer than the original clone.

A clone, by the way, is simply a group of plants identical in genetic makeup, whereas seedlings all vary in their genes. That is because seedlings are sexually produced (male pollen on female pistil) and result from a combination of two sets of genes. Even if a flower is fertilized with its own pollen, the resulting seedlings will (or may) vary widely.

But if the plant is propagated by cuttings, offsets from the parent plant, or layers (part of the plant is rooted while still attached to the parent plant), or grown from tissue of the original plant, then the resulting plants will be identical.

In lilies, or indeed any other plant, only the non-sexually propagated offspring are properly called by the original parental name, since they alone have no new genetic material introduced into them. The sexually produced offspring (that is, from seeds) should not really be called "Black Dragon," but "Black Dragon" Strain, and often such seedling strains are quite uniform provided the seedlings are culled--the ones not resembling the original parent closely are discarded.

Another common trumpet lily is a strain of beautiful canary yellow or deeper yellow flowers lumped together as "Golden Clarion" Strain. Both strains are excellent garden plants. The bulbs may be planted in November or April.

Varieties of day lilies are endless, and a beginner with them should consult a good catalogue and choose the cheapest. The most expensive ones are all very well for fanatical fanciers but are quite similar to cheap varieties. Tremendous improvements were made in the decades following World War II, but advances have been less startling in recent years.

The beginner will certainly want to plant a few pink and cantaloupe-colored varieties. My own preference is for those along with light lemon-colored kinds, but the buffs, canaries and chromes are beautiful, and so are some of the near-whites. The purples are admired by many gardeners and are handy for contrast, but as a group they are dull in effect. The reds, by contrast, are striking in brilliance, especially in warm climates, but in cool foggy places they usually are muddy-looking. They do well in the lovely warm summers of Washington.

I am lost in admiration again at the pink forms of a native waterlily, Nymphaea odorata . Of the hardy waterlilies I have tried, my favorite is one collected (and presumably a wild plant) by a friend in the Midwest and called "Shupac Pink." Today mine had six open flowers of rich sparkling pure pink, unclouded and vibrant. From time to time I prod my friend to introduce this plant commercially. There are other pink variants of the wild odorata that are almost as beautiful.

For the second year an allegedly hardy palm, said to pull through winters in Zone 6, has begun flowering with me. It is Rhapidophyllym histrix, with fan-shaped leaves. My plant is about waist high, and I am cautious when weeding near it, as the trunk has sharp spines. The flowers resemble a fist-size fuzzy grayish-tan mop, starting almost at ground level. Later the pea-size seeds are borne in a densely fuzzy cluster about a foot high. I have had no success growing any from seed. I gave some to another palm enthusiast and hope he has had good results.

For the past five or six weeks my favorite large-flowered clematis has been blooming, "Perle d'Or." It has only four petals, or segments, and is not very large as clematis go, just covering the palm of the hand. They are lavender-blue, and in the garden a sheet of these flowers will give a distinctly blue effect. I saw this clematis once in a village garden in East Anglia, and was not surprised that one of the world's leading commercial growers used that particular plant on the cover of his catalogue. I now know that "Perle d'Azur" naturally makes sheets of bloom. It does not repeat in late summer or fall. It blooms once a year and shuts up shop.

From the commercial grower I received a few plants of petunias called "Primetime" and have found them exceptionally good-natured and showy. My own favorites are the virtually wild petunias in off-white, off-pink and off-lavender that you find growing sometimes in alleys or in cracks in a sidewalk or curb. Those are beautifully perfumed at night.

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