I’m in a kind of melt over Lilium formosanum. I’ve known it for 30 years, from gardening around it at Ripponlea, but have never (inexpicably) grown it myself until now.
It is a truly remarkable plant. The purple-striped green buds, held vertically, are magical, appearing to pull their chins back into the main stem like a cobra preparing to strike. They open to purple-striped white blooms of the most fabulous slow taper, with a dramatic flaring at the mouth. I can’t imagine how this arrangement of lines – how this inherent design – could be improved in any way. The flowers are scented, though I can’t decide if the perfume is of lily-of-the-valley-type quality, or something a little soapier. Either way, its lovely. Flowers eventually drop clean, and the seed head swells and stands vertically, drying into an ornamental structure worth picking for dried flower arrangements. All this happens at about 1.5 – 1.8m (except in the variety ‘pricei’ which only gets to 60cm – who’d bother?).
One of the most notable things about it is that it can be grown from seed and flowered in its first year. Theoretically at least. It usually takes me about twice as long to flower any bulb from seed than what the books tell us it should. I expect that’s because they’re always quoting optimum conditions (which my conditions and care never, ever are), and that I’m a chronic underfeeder. These took me a little over two years – I think (by then the plastic labels have faded too much to read).
To top it off, it’s very tolerant of both sun and a fair bit of heat.
What more could you ask for?
Actually, it’s less we want from Lilium formosanum. It’s kind of disappointing when you find, after harbouring a deep longing for it for several decades, that it’s a weed. I remember the thrill of seeing it along roadsides in the far east of Victoria about twenty-five years ago. Then I remember hearing that Don Burke had said on his show that it’s a serious weed and we shouldn’t be growing it. Like all weed advice, this can be adopted (albeit with great caution) according to your climate, as so far its escape into the wild has been limited to frost free, high rainfall areas.
But it really shakes up the idea of a weed. Everything about this plant is elegant and refined. There may be very few weeds that can boast of those characteristics, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t dwell in the same plant.
Question: Is this possibly the plant most successful at hiding its weed potential behind elegance and/or visual appeal? Any others you can think of?