Wild lilies for your garden | TheUnion.com

Wild lilies for your garden

Brad Carter
Special to The Union

When I moved to Grass Valley with my partner in 2002, I set about creating a landscape on two acres behind our house that would be fire-safe, drought-tolerant and wildlife-friendly.

I used medium-sized California native shrubs to fill most of the garden space, but left a wide area alongside the garden paths for planting smaller-size native subshrubs, perennials and bulbs.

Native bulbs are one of my favorite garden plants. There are several that have been easy for me to grow, including two locally occurring species of wild tiger lilies: Humboldt lily (Lilium humboldtii) and leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum). I grow these bulbs from seed, which is a concept that I find most people don't understand, so let me take a moment to explain this.

Most bulbs that we buy in nurseries have been grown in fields for a number of years. When first planted, they grow as small seedlings. But each year, they get a little bigger. Eventually, they grow big enough to produce a flowering size plant. At that point their bulbs are harvested while dormant and sold as the flowering-size bulbs we are used to buying in retail nurseries.

Here is an example from my garden: I have large beds of coast fawn lilies (Erythronium californium), a small woodland lily, which I have grown from seed that I collect in the North Coast Ranges in Humboldt County.

I sow the seed directly into the garden beds in November. To do this, I choose an unplanted area along the garden path, clear it of weeds and break up the soil surface with a hoe and then rake it smooth. Then I sprinkle the bulb seed over the bed and use my hands or a rake to settle the seed into the soil so that it is buried about a 1/2 inch deep.

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In the spring, after the winter rain, the seeds germinate and grow for a few months. During their first season of growth they only produce one small grass-like leaf (see photo) and a very small bulb, which goes dormant when the ground dries out in June.

During the second year, a slightly larger, spade-shaped leaf is produced (see photo) and the underground bulb also grows larger before going into summer dormancy. This cycle continues, with the foliage and bulb growing larger each year, until, finally, after about four or five years, the underground bulb has grown large enough to have sufficient stored energy to produce a full-size flowering plant (see photo).

If you are patient, growing native bulbs from seed is a great way to produce large numbers of these plants. But if you are not that patient, the good news is that you can buy many different species of blooming-size native bulbs from specialty nurseries, such as Far West Bulb Farm (http://www.californianativebulbs.com) and Telos Rare Bulbs (http://www.telosrarebulbs.com).

If you would like to try growing bulbs from seed, two locally occurring species of wild tiger lilies, Humboldt lily (Lilium humboldtii) and leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum), are good species to start with. Humboldt lily grows wild in our local summer-dry pine/oak woodlands and blooms in June. In local gardens, it grows well with only winter rainfall — no summer irrigation should be applied.

Leopard lily, on the other hand, grows in wet, marshy areas in nature and requires summer irrigation in a garden setting. I grow leopard lily with giant chain fern and serpentine columbine in a garden bed that is watered frequently during summer. Leopard lily blooms in late June and can be seen growing wild along Highway 20 north of Bowman Lake Road and along the Discovery Trail, on Bowman Lake Road.

When collecting seed of native plants, please do so responsibly by taking only a very small percentage of the seed in a population. If collecting on private land, get permission from the owner.

On public land, you need a permit to collect seed. Or you can buy native plant seed from Sierra Seed Supply (http://www.sierraseedsupply.com), Larner Seeds (http://www.larnerseeds.com) and Theodore Payne Society (http://www.theodorepayne.org).

If you would like to see our native plant garden and learn more about sustainable gardening, you can visit during two different events this spring. The first is Art for Life, a spring garden party and art auction, from 1 to 5 p.m. May 4.

This event is a fundraiser to assist people living with HIV/AIDS in Nevada County, and tickets are $50. For reservations or more information contact Fred Hodgson (fwhodgson@aol.com or 530-272-8900).

The second event is Art in the Garden Party, a sustainable gardening festival and garden art sale, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 1. This event is free and features eight local artists selling garden art. Food and drink will be for sale, and sustainable gardening talks and garden tours are scheduled throughout the day.

Twenty percent of the art sale revenues from this event will be donated to Sierra Streams Institute. For more information on this event visit http://www.sierrastreamsinstitute.org or call Lisa Frankel at 530-263-7055 or Fred Hodgson at 530-272-8900.

Brad Carter is a horticulturist in Grass Valley.

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