I’m sometimes hesitant to appreciate double flowers, especially if the additional petals make the flower unrecognizable for what it is. But I’m pleasantly surprised with double Oriental lilies grown from hardy bulbs (botanus.com, gardenimport.com, veseys.com) that are all the more beautiful with additional petals, and still look like themselves. I especially like ‘Sweet Rosy’, a lily with three full tiers of pink-and-white petals. ‘Lodewijk’ is another bloom that appeals with its elegant, wavy white petals flushed with chartreuse in the throat and sprinkled with a few orange spots.
The process of breeding double flowers usually involves converting sexual reproductive parts (such as stamens) into petals. This conversion isn’t achieved in one breeding cycle, and may require several generations before stamens are first converted to petaloids (sort of a quill-like petal form), and then finally into petals. The result is a larger, fuller blossom, but the downside may be a sterile flower without sexual parts — unable to produce seed — and no fragrance.
Fortunately, these double Oriental lilies have retained their strong perfume, certainly a good reason to grow them. Is there any scent so intoxicating as the clouds of perfume Oriental lilies puff out just after sunset in summer? It’s no surprise that the double lilies are sterile, with an absence of stamens. I’m of two minds about this. Stamens of Oriental lilies are appealing, thrusting up and forward, and make a dangling show as ornamental features. But if you’ve had any experience with lily pollen, you know how it stains fabric. Stick your nose into a lily for the heady fragrance and you might emerge with permanent orange smears on your collar. However, the absence of pollen lengthens the life of the blooms, eliminating the rapid senescence of lily flowers once their pollen capsules have opened and spilled.
These double Oriental lilies get full marks for intelligent breeding. They’re beautiful, have a lovely fragrance and are hardy to Zone 4. They can be planted in the ground, but if those devastating red lily beetles are a problem in your garden (as they are in mine), the lilies can grow in large containers and that may prevent the beetles from finding them. It’s fun to plant lily bulbs into pots with foliage plants like coleus in complementary colours. What a sweet surprise you’ll enjoy as they peek up and out from their companion plants in midsummer.