What’s Blooming Now?

Last night, the first Asiatic lily bloomed.     

Asiatic lily

By morning, three yellow lily blooms had appeared behind the old millstone in the sunny cottage garden section of the backyard. Such a beautiful, complicated thing, I thought–it should take longer than a single night to take shape. I wonder: if I had the patience, would I be able to sit up all night and watch the petals and stamens actually move and unfurl? As yet, I have not managed this feat. 

I can never remember the difference between Oriental and Asiatic lilies.  Why can’t I retain this information? Every year, I ask my mom which is which. So I called her.

Transcript of phone conversation with Mom:

Mom: Hello?

Me: Hi, Mom, I still can’t remember the difference between Asiatic and Oriental lilies. What was it again?

Mom: OK! I remember it like this: they bloom in alphabetical order. Asiatics bloom in spring, tend to be shorter, and have no fragrance. Remember that mnemonic! A’s bloom first. (I swear I am not making this comment up. She is a retired English teacher.)

Me: So the yellow ones blooming right now are Asiatics…

Mom: Right! And Orientals have spots on ’em, like “Stargazers,” they have fragrance, and they bloom in the summer. And they can get really big.

Me: The ones that get huge and flop over because they’re too heavy are Orientals?

Mom: Right.

Me: I think I finally get it.

Mom: Thank God.

OK, I did make that last part up. Really, what she said at the end was, “By the way, I found you some Japanese painted ferns at Lowe’s for a dollar!…”

Stargazer oriental lily--summer bloomer

Stargazer oriental lily--summer bloomer


Consider the lilies: Asiatics or Orientals? No matter, because I love the payoff either way. Both grow best in full sun, but they can tolerate part sun or even part shade, especially here in the blasting Southern sunlight. Incorporate them as a medium to tall tier in a cottage garden, in clusters of 5 to 7, planted 8-10″ apart. (I also planted them amongst variegated sedge grasses surrounding the fantastic garden-art fire hydrant our friend Kenny gave me.)

Lilies will reward you with every color imaginable except blue. And they’re virtually trouble-free–a trait we lazy gardeners love.

Knockout roseSpeaking of virtually trouble-free, whose idea was it to introduce a rose that doesn’t require constant spraying for black spot and aphids? I gave up on roses long ago, but I’ve made an exception for Knockout rose. You’ll see them blooming everywhere in Nashville now, illuminating yards and campuses with brilliant pinks and reds. I planted one last spring (also by the old millstone from Hal’s family farm), and I do not regret it. It was at its best about a week ago, when I took this photo.

After the last week-and-a-half of rain, the poet William Carlos Williams best describes the appearance of my lone Knockout rose plant:

“A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring.” ~The Collected Later Poems of William Carlos Williams


And soon, we’ll say goodbye to that most regal of Tennessee bloomers, our state flower: the iris. Bearded irises (especially the deep, velvety purple varieties) rival lilies as the perennial bloomer closest to my heart. I love walking around 12South in early May, just to see all the color combinations. Have a look up close to see what color the furry “falls” are–that’s the strip of beardlike fuzz on the iris’s drooping sepals. Some are deep purple, some white, some pink…the variety is endless. And my Siberian irises are just staring to bloom.

I never noticed the many different “falls” colors before, but aiming my new Canon Rebel at blooms in the yard and neighborhood has trained my eye to see details I’d previously missed. I’m enjoying flowers as never before. As if that were even possible.


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