by BRIAN MINTER
April 1st, 2004
Easter lilies are very much a part of the Easter season, not only for their serene beauty, but also for their enticing fragrance. One whiff of their perfume, and you just know it's Easter!
I have been unable to find exactly when lilies were first grown commercially for the Easter season, but old growers’ records from the 1920's indicate that, at that time, they were in production in North America. The lily was chosen because of its long, pure white trumpets, enticing perfume, and its ability to be forced into bloom for a specific season. 'Croft' was one of the first varieties selected, and I can remember my father growing them back in the early 50's. They were lovely but, very much like early poinsettias, it was a trick to keep the foliage on until Easter. In the 60's the 'Ace Lily' was introduced, and later 'Nellie White', which is one of the finest longiflorum varieties.
Today, virtually all Easter lily bulbs are grown in Oregon. Quality bulbs make the difference between success and failure for many lily growers, so it is always a mad scramble to harvest the bulbs at the right time and have them shipped immediately to the growers’ cold storage facilities to begin a pre-cooling process.
The forcing period for lilies is about 100 days, and timing is everything. There is not a huge demand for Easter lilies on Easter Monday. With the Easter season changing each year and with variable weather factors, it is a tricky business.
Because of the many temperature fluctuations during the forcing period, it is important to keep your lily as cool as possible in your home. They love a cool east or north window. Water them thoroughly, then let them dry out only slightly before you water again. If you keep them too wet or too dry, the bottom leaves will yellow and fall off.
As each flower finishes, cut it off to keep the plant looking fresh. It's also a good idea to pick out the yellow anthers as each blossom opens to prevent them discolouring the pure white blooms and to protect all those noses that venture near to smell the lovely perfume from getting a dusting of yellow pollen. More importantly, it saves a dry cleaning bill if the pollen gets on your clothes.
Easter lilies are not true hardy bulbs, but they can be planted outside in a protected area to build up the bulbs for next year. If you are lucky, you will often be treated to a second flowering this fall.
Oriental lilies, like ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Stargazer’, are beautiful alternatives to Easter lilies. They both come in lovely shades of pink and are highly perfumed. After flowering, they can be planted in your garden with your other hardy lilies for a beautiful display year after year.