Evocative blooms herald the coming of Christmas

A Christmas lily in bloom. Photo by Nick Palmer.
A Christmas lily in bloom. Photo by Nick Palmer.

Many of us have family traditions or rituals at Christmas.

Mine is having a vase full of Christmas lilies in the house. I have a great memory as a child of my uncle and aunty arriving from Timaru a few days before Christmas with a bunch of Christmas lilies from their garden.

To me, the festive season wouldn't be the same without the divine smell of these lilies in a vase or the great wafts of scent in the open air.

The lilies we know of as Christmas lilies are Lilium regale.

Lilium longiflorum is also pure white and has a sweet honeysuckle fragrance, but to me it has to be Lilium regale - its trumpet-shaped white flowers have a yellow throat, are flushed purple on the outside and have strikingly prominent yellow stamens.

Lilies are summer-flowering, relatively easy to grow and ideal for a sunny location with good drainage.

There's an old saying that they like their ''heads in the sun and feet in the shade''.

Some of the stems may require staking to support larger blooms. You can lift and replant every four to five years.

Lilies add an exotic look to the flower garden. With their height, wide colour range and the bonus of fragrance from some of them, it is worth considering adding a few to your flower garden. Like a child counting down to the big day with an Advent calendar, watching Christmas lily buds is a sure sign you are getting closer to Christmas Day.

 - Linda Hellyer is curator of the herbaceous borders at Dunedin Botanic Garden.