LATIN NAME: Lilium orientalis
COMMON NAME: Oriental lily or mistakenly as stargazer lilies
AVAILABILITY: April to November
COLOUR RANGE: White and pink
BEST BUYING DAYS AT New Covent Garden Flower Market: Monday and Thursday
The Origins of Oriental Lilies
Oriental Lilies are what is known as ‘true lilies’ such as Asiatic lilies, Madonna lilies and longiflorum lilies. These belong to the Lilium family and grow from plump scale bulbs, as distinct from those flowers masquerading as lilies but, in fact, belonging to different families altogether – day lilies, calla lilies or peace lilies for example.
The lily originates from the Northern hemisphere, but today’s glamorous Oriental Lilies are the product of a clever bit of careful cross-pollination primarily between the hybrids Lilium auratum and Lilium speciosum and a number of interlopers of Japanese origin.
So what is the difference between Oriental Lilies and Asiatic Lilies? To cut a long story short, Orientals have larger flowerheads in a limited colour palette of pink or white and they have incredible perfume. Asiatics on the other hand have no fragrance and smaller flowerheads but, by way of compensation, they are available in a complete rainbow of colours.
Interpretation of the meaning of Oriental Lilies in the language of flowers is mixed, linked as they are to both weddings and funerals. The most commonly quoted symbolism of the lily is of femininity and love, and the orientals in particular exude grandeur and exclusivity.
Below is the variety Pink Lily Fenice closed as you would buy it at your wholesaler, and how this variety would look open:
Oriental Lilies as a Cut Flower
You don’t buy Oriental Lilies for their plain green sword-like foliage. The entire focus is upon the drama of the six-petalled blooms, their stunning colour tones, delicate markings and heady scent.
Oriental Lilies are everywhere in floristry. Dress it up, dress it down, the Oriental Lily is the ultimate in versatility as the designs by Philip Hammond of The Dorchester for British Flowers Week suggest. Their tall, rigid, robust stems topped by a cluster of magnificent blooms lend strong architectural appeal to a large vase or urn arrangements for weddings, parties or office flowers.
A potent symbol of love, Oriental Lilies both feature in romantic bridal bouquets and floral tributes at funerals. Cut shorter and arranged with any manner of complementary flowers or foliage, Orientals are a perennial favourite for the gift bouquet. Without fail, on receiving a bouquet people will bend to inhale the perfume. The Oriental Lily is one sure fire way to give people the scent they crave.
One little niggle for many with lilies in general, is the matter of the pollen-coated anthers which leave a stain on clothing or, in some cases, cause an attack of the sniffles. The solution is simple and takes but a second: take a tissue and place it underneath the anthers and snip off the pollen-coated tips and let them fall into the tissue beneath. No smudging, no marking.
The other niggle about lilies is that they can be exceptionally poisonous to cats. They do not apparently harm any other species. Strange but true.
Buying British Oriental Lilies
The season for British Oriental Lilies run from April to November and you buy them by the box with stems up to 80-90cm long.
Look for strong, fresh stems with the buds showing colour to ensure that they will open to their full glory. Allow a good period of time before an event – perhaps 4-5 days – for the lilies to be show-ready. Some traders may even open the flowers for you, which Peter Green of Smith & Green kindly did for Philip Hammond.
Below is the variety White Santander closed as you would buy it at your wholesaler, and how this variety would look open:
Oriental Lily Care
Oriental Lilies are remarkably robust and long-lasting cut flowers. Timing can be the only challenge if you are opening them for a special event or keeping buds back for gift bouquets. The flower care is pretty standard to ensuring your British flowers perform and last as well as possible:
- Ensure that your vase is scrupulously clean so that there are no bacteria lurking around
- Remove any leaves that would be below the water line to stop any rot
- Trim the flower stems to the preferred length
- Arrange the stems in your clean vase filled with fresh water mixed with the flower food provided
- Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight, away from radiators, drafts and even from your fruit bowl (ethylene shortens vase life)
- Trim the stems and top up the vase every day
Where to Buy
The peak season for British Oriental Lilies is generally May to November. British growers such as Smith & Munson, who grow 800,000 lilies a year exclusively for wholesale markets, plant lily bulbs weekly from the end of January to the end of July to ensure a continual supply of flowers at the point of perfection.
On average it takes 3-4 months for an Oriental Lily to flower from the date of planting although this will depend on the variety and on natural light levels. During this period, the main deliveries come fresh into the Flower Market from the growers for Monday and Thursday morning trading.
Key wholesalers of British oriental lilies include:
If you have any top tips on designing with British oriental lilies, we would love to hear from you. Simply write your comments in the box below.
Read a Profile for British Flowers Week of Philip Hammond of The Dorchester here.
See the designs Philip Hammond of the Dorchester created using British Oriental Lilies, here.