Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lily Bulbs for Sensitive Noses

'Tessala' - Beautiful & Oh, so warmly scented.

In the lily world, the gardening trend over the last 25+ years has been to favor fragrance, and for those fortunate gardeners without allergies, the heavier the scent the better.  

However, for those of us who are chemical sensitive—me included—an overload of fragrance in personal care products, cleaners, stores, banks, etc. can be too much throughout the year, even before the garden comes into bloom.

During holidays, and especially before Valentine's Day, I avoid getting anywhere near the smiling demonstrators with the perfume bottle.  Even having my hair done in a salon can be torture during selected times of the year, especially if I'm not able to snag the first appointment of the day, before the perms and tints begin.

'Ormea' OT (Orienpet)

Don't get me wrong though, I love the whiff of a spicy-scented Oriental lily in full bloom, but it must be outside in the garden, not in an enclosed space such as a car or small room.  

Spring flower shows with potted Daffodils or Hyacinths, Daphne and other flower shrubs in the display gardens are pretty, but a little too overwhelming for my senses as well.

So if you are like me, there are ways to enjoy all the later-blooming lilies in your garden, and not limit yourself only to early Asiatics.


During flower shows we place large bouquets of lilies along the perimeter of our booth, with tiny fans to gently dissipate the fragrance into the open isles, plus we generally choose open space, rather than a wall location, so there is naturally increased air circulation. 

Years ago, when we used to exhibit lilies in competition, our old blue station wagon had no air conditioning, but the back window could be rolled down.  On the freeway, there wasn't a problem, because with the front vents open, air would remove fragrance out the back window.  However, waiting at a traffic light was another matter, so as the car slowed and filled up with fragrance, the front windows were quickly rolled down.  

There are differing types and degrees of lily fragrance.

'Antequera', plus an unidentified white Asiatic.
Unscented Asiatics
(Including some Lilium species)

Burdened with no fragrance at all, these lilies are the workhorses of the early lily garden, sporting the widest range of colors.  No fear of a headache or stuffy nose here, just remember to pick off the pollen before bringing them indoors to avoid spilling pollen on tablecloths or clothing.  

People will still tend to give them the "sniff test", so picking pollen will also prevent guests leaving with orange noses.  (On the other hand, leaving the pollen on could hold entertainment value for you, wink wink!)  Lily pollen is large and "sticky" so is rarely a problem with allergies because it is not generally breathed into the lungs. 

'Indian Summerset'

Lightly Scented Asiatics
(Lilium longiflorum x Asiatic, also called LA Hybrids)

The inclusion of the familiar, white trumpet Easter Lily found in the stores during Lent is highly scented.  Plant breeders originally crossed them with brightly colored Asiatic lilies to introduce pastel colored "Easter Lilies".  Many of the early crosses did have a trumpet shape, but they would not force in time for Easter in the greenhouses, plus the public generally preferred the traditional white.  Later generations of crosses were producing flowers that looked like Asiatic lilies, but forced more quickly and had larger flowers with a slight fragrance.  These traits opened a whole new market, and savings in the greenhouse, for the cut flower producers. 

Upon first opening, these Asiatic hybrids of two different divisions of lilies appear to be unscented, but after the blooms have matured a light fragrance can be detected in a vase indoors or when viewed up close on a windless day in the garden.  Gardeners with more sensitive noses can happily grow them outdoors, or potted on a patio, but they probably should avoid using LA Hybrids as cut flowers indoors.

'Golden Splendor' Strain
Trumpet Lilies 
(Including the traditional Easter Lily and the Chinese species Lilium regale)

These lilies generally grow tall and have large, funnel shaped flowers that are difficult to include in floral arrangements unless you are creating something really massive, such as for a lobby.   The fragrance can best be described as what I remember as "Grandma's Perfume", heady, strong and heavily floral - no undertones of spice or wood.  When our Trumpets bloom in the propagation field, I stay upwind until the blooms are removed - after the label and inventory map are checked for accuracy.  In the garden, a nice triangle of three stems can be located so fragrance naturally blows away from any open windows or doors, not into them.   If you want the heaviest scent of all the lilies, choose these and place next to a door, but if you are sensitive to fragrance, placing them downwind will be much safer.


L. auratum platyphyllum
Lilium auratum viginale - unspotted varient of 'Yami Yuri'
Oriental Lilies

Purebred Oriental lilies are derived mostly from Lilium auratum playphyllum.  The best known is the "Golden Ray Lily', called Yami Yuri in Japan, and is a beautiful species of pure white with lemon yellow bands down the center of each petal, usually with a varying number of speckles.  Flower are large and the bulbs need better drained soil than most hybrid Orientals.   The scent can become a bit heady as the fragrance oils age, so it might not be a good choice for bringing indoors.

The unspotted version, L. auratum virginale, along with Lilium nobelissium gave us pure white lilies.  Over the years, other wild lilies, such as Lilium rubellum, were added to create modern hybrids of pink and red. (See our Lilium Knowledge Base for more information on some of these rarer species.)

The scent of Hybrid Oriental lilies, like the famous 'Casablanca', 'Star Gazer',  'Rio Negro' and 'Miss Lucy' are reminiscent of the fragrance of old fashioned carnations and are a nice surprise in the garden.  A stem of Orientals lilies can easily be "picked out" among a group of other fragrant flowers.

'Rio Negro' - Purbred Oriental

Many people who are sensitive to the heavy scent of Trumpet lilies are able to enjoy these spicier lilies in the garden, and perhaps even enjoy a single blossom indoors for a few days before the fragrance becomes too intense.

'Miss Lucy' - Purebred Oriental

Did you know—fragrance oils are mostly on the petal tips?

When checking the scent of a lily blossom, there's no need to bury your nose inside the bloom and risk dusting your face with orange pollen. Wait until the flowers have been open a day or two, to give the fragrance oils time to mature, and just sniff the petal tips for the best effect. Lilies are pollinated by bees that are attracted to the sweet fragrance, so nature placed the scent on the outer portion of the petals so it can be snatched away in a breeze.

Closeup of 'Bonbini' - OT Hybrid

Orienpet Lilies
(OT or Oriental-Trumpet Hybrids)

Sporting the best of both divisions of lilies, OT Hybrids tend to more resemble an Oriental in looks and growth habit, but the fragrance varies from light to heavy with no spicy overtones.

'Eudoxia' - OT Hybrid

Colors are more diverse than the purebred Orientals, bringing gold and melon tones from the inclusion of Lilium henryi and orange Trumpet lilies.  Gardeners in warmer climates like the OT hybrids because they are more heat tolerant than purebred Orientals and thus can take sunnier areas.

'Scarlet Delight' - OT

Lilies that have the variety 'Black Beauty' in its breeding background, such as 'Schereherazade', 'Scarlet Delight' or 'LeVern Freimann' tend to only have a bit of light fragrance, which is not overpowering in the garden.  Clones, such as 'Candy Club', 'Zambesi', 'Conca d'Or', 'Amarossi' and 'Eudoxia' have more fragrance.

If you are not sure which ones will work for you, place an order in spring for several different types, and plant them in containers.  That way, you can move the lilies around like furniture as they begin to bloom, and find where the various types of fragrances works best in your garden.  When you discover a pleasing arrangement, slip them out of their pots and plant into a permanent spot in October. 

Other Interspecific Crosses, plus Lilium species

A few wild lilies, such as Lilium pumilum and Lilium lankongense are very strongly scented, and hybrids with these in their background do tend to pack a wallop in the garden.  When we grew lilies in a field with less water, Lilium pumilum had to have the flowers removed before anyone would weed it -  when kneeling, the flowers were always at nose level and the weeder's entire face would end up covered in pollen.  We switched from blocks of L. pumilum to a long single row for comfort.

'Lankon' (shown on right) is a cross between both L. Lankongese and L. longiflorum, and the resulting perfume is "different" than either parent, but still makes its presence known in the garden.  I tend to group 'Lankon' with the Trumpet lilies for garden use.  They grow 4 to 5 feet tall on sturdy stems, so they can go towards the middle of a bed, out of range of my nose, but still close enough to enjoy their bell-shaped pendant flowers.

'Prince Promise'

OA (Oriental-Asiatic crosses) tend of have either very light fragrance or no fragrance at all.  They vary greatly and while one person may decide a particular variety is unscented, another might detect a slight fragrance.  These are best planted in pots so you can decide for yourself.  Most tend to resemble Asiatic lilies and are not as often found, but they do tend to bloom a bit later than mainstream Asiatics.

LO (L. longiforum-Oriental Hybrid crosses) tend towards large, perfumed flowers that are very heat resistant with no spicy overtone.  Use them as a background plant if your nose is sensitive because the larger flowers show up very well from a distance.

Final Advice:
  • For those with super-sensitive noses, only grow the unscented Asiatics near outdoor living areas or to bring indoors as a cut flower. 
  • Position the highly fragrant lilies away from open windows or doors, using the more brightly colored or larger flowered varieties to enjoy from a distance.  
  • Do you have windows that are generally not opened, but have a wonderful view of the garden?  Place scented lilies in full view to enjoy from the house interior.  
  • Grow lilies in pots and move them around like furniture, closer to outdoor living areas during cooler windy weather, or further away during hot, muggy days with little airflow.  
  • Experiment with different varieties in pots; the spicy Orientals or lightly scented 'Black Beauty' hybrids and LA (Scented Asiatics) may not be a fragrance issue for you outdoors. 
  • If your garden has a predictable wind pattern, try to locate the strongly scented ones as "downwind" as possible and into the neighbor's garden.


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