On Gardening: Invest in crinum lilies for long-term beauty and fragrance

March 30, 2015

Grand crinum lily with old-fashioned summer phlox.

It was love at first sight that day in Brookhaven, Miss., when I came across the grand crinum lily, Crinum asiaticum, I fell in love even though it wasn’t blooming. The tree-like structure of the stem or stalk and the large exotic foliage sold me with its texture before I had even experienced the beauty of the white blooms or tantalizing fragrance.

Unfortunately, this crinum is not cold hardy north of zone 8 but as an Internet search will attest, gardeners in colder regions find they make excellent choices for containers that are given winter protection indoors. We all have plants we protect in the winter so why not a crinum?

In our cottage garden we have these in close proximity to the old-fashioned purple summer phlox in one area and Black & Blue anise sage in another. The past two years’ winter temperatures have defoliated them but they bounce back quickly with the arrival of spring.

What many gardeners don’t realize is that there is a native crinum lily, Crinum americanum that is just as beautiful and fragrant with its glistening white blooms Though it possesses rare beauty and is native as far north as North Carolina and Arkansas it really could use a Madison Avenue public relations firm as it is most often referred to as Florida swamp lily or bog lily.

You most certainly do not have to have a swamp or a bog to grow this native that is cold hardy to zone 7. It does like sun and fertile moist soil, and it, too, should be considered worthy for those tropical poolside containers. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we are growing these at our water garden in partnership with the native cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

Jenks Farmer a well-known nurseryman from South Carolina and I, have been paired together on programs at various Master Gardener events and symposiums. I can tell you he is a Crinum Guru and will testify that he has selections that will thrive even in zone 5.

Equally Crinum expert is Tony Avent with Plant Delights Nursery. He, too, has crinum lilies, species and incredible hybrids that will lead you to become forever hooked on these bulbs that possess some of the most picturesque flowers in the world of gardening.

Your crinum lily has the potential of being in your garden for a very long time. These are the plants that still be-creating memories for many years after you are gone. With this kind of longevity, coupled with the fact that crinums resent being moved, it pays to prepare your soil right.

Soil must be organically rich and well-drained, two prerequisites for crinums, so incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter into your planting bed. These are large bulbs that should be planted a minimum of 6 inches deep. Space your bulbs 2 to 3 feet apart depending on your zone and species. For instance, Crinum asiaticum would need much larger spacing. If you are buying potted nursery plants then dig your hole two to three times as wide as the container, planting with the top of the rootballl even with the soil surface. If you are trying more tender varieties, keep in mind your home’s protected microclimates, normally the southern exposure, and apply extra mulch going into winter.

As I alluded above, I really like crinums best in mixed flower borders. Their leaf texture and bloom allow them to work in the tropical, cottage or perennial garden to absolute perfection. In the tropical garden combine them with bananas and elephant ears. In the cottage garden use them with daylilies, Asian lilies and irises.

Both the Grand crinum lily, Crinum asiaticum and Florida swamp lily, Crinum americanum, have tropical looking white flowers. For color and more cold-hardiness you may want to try the wine colored Bradley, the rosy Elizabeth Traub, and Ellen Bousanquet, which is reddish-purple.

Crinum lilies are the long-term investments of the plant world. Once you start growing them you will not only be glad you did but more than likely you’ll start searching for more.



Associated Press