Lilies are true delights of the summer ornamental garden. All of them, the Asiatic and Oriental lilies and their allies add a stately presence that no other flowers can. Old favorites continue to amaze with their big blooms and sweet fragrance for garden elegance and for cut flowers as well. But when it comes to lilies, it would seem there is always room for “gilding,” and that is just what plant developers in Holland are doing.

“Armed with tiny paintbrushes tipped with pollen, an elite cadre of skilled Dutch hybridizers is reinventing the lily,” says Sally Fergusen of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center. “Their new interspecific hybrids have stunned and delighted the cut flower trade, caught the eager eye of floral designers, and inspired awe among cut flower lovers and gardeners. If all you know of lilies stops and starts with ‘Stargazer’, you’re in for a treat.

“Using a combination of old-world skill and cutting edge technology, these horticultural wizards are combining the most successful new lily varieties of the last half century to create an alphabet soup of new lily types which are now hurtling onto the international lily market at a mind-boggling pace,” she adds.

The new lilies include types not even imagined 20 years ago. They are divided into groups, each named with the initials of its parentage. Among the newest groups of lilies for both the cut flower trade and garden are:

OT hybrids, which marry the shape and fragrance of Oriental hybrids with the red-yellow-orange color range and vigor of Trumpet lilies. These hybrids have larger new Oriental-looking flowers in a full range of colors, while achieving impressive heat tolerance in the garden (something the original Oriental hybrids never had) thus dramatically expanding the climate ranges where Oriental-looking lilies can be grown.

LO hybrids, which meld the color of Oriental lilies with the elegant elongated flower shape of Longiflorum lilies, while gaining lovely new scents all their own that are “just right, like Goldilocks” (not too faint, not too strong).

OA hybrids, a cross between hybrid Orientals with hybrid Asiatic lilies that achieves larger flowers with Asiatic color influences on upward facing flowers without fragrance.

“Only 12 Dutch lily hybridizers work at the highest levels today. They are collegial and share information and ideas, but they are also secretive, working in small teams for different breeding houses,” Fergusen says. “The search for new flower varieties is a quest, often solitary, single-minded pursuit that requires skill, patience and passion.”

One of these masters, Arie Peterse, a Dec. 2010 recipient of the Dixpenning (Dix medal), the ultimate hybridizing honor awarded by the Royal General Bulb Growers Association (KAVB) in Hillegom, the Netherlands, shared his thoughts on the new world of lilies.

“I’ve heard this called the new golden age of Dutch lily hybridizing but, to us, it’s just what we do every day,” said Peterse, one of four breeders at the Dutch lily breeding house, Gebr. Vletter and Den Haan, Rijnsburg, the Netherlands, “To be a hybridizer, first you must be mad about plants. It’s a thrill to create new flowers, there’s mystery, excitement. But most of all it’s fun!”

Fergusen explains that hybridizing is the process of crossing the pollen of different parent flowers to create new types. Birds and bees are nature’s hybridizers. For humans, hybridizing is an ancient skill, still fueled by artistic vision, scientific knowledge, commercial recall and, today, just a vital dash of high technology. The last great golden age in lily hybridizing was more than 70 years ago when famed Dutch-born breeder Jan de Graaff of Oregon Bulb Farms in Gresham, Ore., began introducing his ‘Mid Century Hybrids.’ These beautifully colorful, easy-to-grow hybrids dominated the market for decades.

“De Graaff was a pioneer of modern breeding techniques, but he would be bowled over by the boost technology is giving breeding today,” Fergusen says. “Dutch hybridizers have devised new techniques that allow them to crossbreed interspecific hybrids, essentially crossbreeding hybrids of unrelated, and normally incompatible, species of the same genus. In the past, the offspring of such crosses were impossible as, at their youngest stages, the seeds were unable to store the nutritional energy needed to thrive. Today, lily hybridizers step into the laboratory where they can manually provide nutrition to the young seeds at the petri dish stage, thereby rescuing those that might otherwise fail. Once an appealing new variety is established, it is propagated like any other.”

The result is new crosses between different types of lilies to create entirely new lily lines with desirable traits. For example, in OT hybrids, the cross between Orientals (O) and Trumpets (T), not only offers new color ranges and fragrance, but the hybrids enjoy incredible substance, vigor, and larger flowers.

“Arie Peterse was drawn to OT hybrids early on,” Fergusen says. “His Lilium ‘Robina’ is the most famous. Its intense purplish-rose color reminiscent of crushed berries was a breakthrough in Oriental-looking flowers. It caused a sensation in the cut lily trade and had the added feature of color-holding heat resistance in the garden. Then there were its buds! With ‘Robina’ Peterse introduced the attribute of tightly closed buds that were fully colored on the outside to match the flower’s coloration when open. That bud’s color was vivid and could hold for up to a week prior to the flower opening.”

“Suddenly, the look of lily buds soared in importance. Plump, elongated and beautiful, the buds now also revealed the full true flower color. It was a game changer. ‘Robina’ was ahead of its time when it burst onto the market in 2004,” Peterse stated.

“Everyone wanted that cool, colorful bud. Now this look is seen in many new introductions, though it took my hybridizing competitors six years to emulate the look,” he adds.

In sheer numbers, Asiatics and Orientals continue to account for most lilies found at market in North America. But Peterse said he believes that this will change as first floral designers, and then consumers discover the possibilities of the new hybrids. Different flower shapes, combinations of color, softer scents and other attributes will be too tempting to resist.

“While he believes there will be demand for older types, especially Orientals, well into the future, he feels sure that the new varieties will dominate,” Fergusen states. “Just as the Longiflorum Asiatic (LA) hybrids, first introduced in 1992, have gained incredible popularity, he sees the same trajectory for the OT hybrids, also known as Orienpets, and the newest kid on the block, the Longiflorum Oriental (LO).

“As for the future, the scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands are redefining ambition with their attempts to create the new LAOT hybrid. This flower will be a four way cross between all flower lily classics, the Longiflorum, Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet. For the new golden age of lilies, the sky is the limit, and flower lovers everywhere the beneficiaries,” Fergusen concludes.

Want more information on the lily hybridizing? Visit



The ‘fly in the ointment’

While some gardeners have abandoned growing lilies due to those dreaded little scarlet lily leaf beetles, a bit of detective work and diligence is all it takes to control these pests. Scout plants daily and handpick the bright red beetles. The scarlet lily leaf beetles are bright red, about the size of a ladybug but with a longer body, and no black spots.

First discovered back in the late 1990s, the beetles were accidentally introduced, and have since a real nuisance to those who grow lilies. In addition, the beetles are attracted to Fritilaria.

Scarlet lily leaf beetles are quick little buggers and when disturbed will fly or drop to the ground where they cannot be found. So be quick and pick those beetles which will eat leaves and buds, ruining the lily display and damaging plants. Grab the beetles and squash them by hand, or for the squeamish, position a jar half filled with water with a few drops of liquid soap added underneath the bug.Tap the leaf or use a stick to poke the bug so that it falls into the container.

Black deposits on foliage are the feces of immature beetles, and should be removed to prevent future infestations. Diligence is the key to control.

Now, if those hybridizers could come up with a lily that the beetles eschew, then we indeed would have it all. In the meantime, get out there and hunt those bugs.



It’s all the buzz: Bee pollinator friendly

Pollinator-friendly plants are celebrated during National Pollinator Week, June 20-26. From butterfly gardens to beekeeping, there are tons of possibilities.

For ideas and inspiration, visit: for event listings, literature on the importance of pollinators and eco-regional planting guides by zip code. Also available are books, brochures and posters. The website is run by The Pollinator Partnership, which recently won the Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal from The Garden Club of America for the environmental protection work.

And there’s more. is calling all gardeners, new and seasoned, to participate in a fun, easy and important Citizen Science effort to count bees across North America..

Whether you’re a gardener, a nature walker or a nature watcher, you can help researchers address the global bee crisis and uncover why our nation’s most important pollinators appear to be disappearing. Just head over to and sign up with The Great Sunflower Project, joining the more than 100,000 citizens who are helping to shape bee conservation efforts by planting bee-friendly plants and counting the bees 15 minutes each week this summer and beyond.

Or choose from several Citizen Science initiatives. From Pollinators to Season Spotting to Allergy Agents, your observations will help scientists track the cycles of nature and more. And if you’re a gardener, there’s a free online garden log, or GLOG, where you can track your garden progress just in time for the 2011 season.

Joining is free and the benefits are far-reaching as we step outside our back doors and add to the growing buzz of Citizen Scientists who are acting locally to make a real difference worldwide. Bee curious. Bee aware. Bee a good neighbor. Pass the word. Find out more:



Just a reminder

If you have Pulmonaria (lungwort), which hummingbirds and I dearly love for slightly different reasons, and want to have more plants, leave the spent flowers. There will be lots. But if you have more than one variety of lungwort, the offspring won’t necessarily will be the same as the parent plants because lungwort cross-pollinates and creates its own hybrids.

If you don’t want a Pulmonaria population explosion, now is the time to don some gloves (it can get itchy) and just give the bloom stalks a tug to snap them off. Don’t worry if a few leaves come along, too. The plants will quickly recover.


Lynette L. Walther is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: or on Facebook.