Lilies and Bustiers

Madonna Lilies are supposed to be temperamental.  That was what I’d read.  I’d never seen them in anyone’s garden.  Asiatics, Trumpets, and those huge  Orientals that bloom big around as dinner plates and fumigate the house with an overwhelming scent that polarizes people worse than politics, those I’d seen.  I was going through a phase of wanting the refined, the elegant, the hard to find, if you’ve taken to perfume recently, you’ll recognize the phenomenon I’m talking about.  I didn’t want any of those easily obtainable flowers, I wanted small, delicate lilies, the kind you see in paintings from the Renaissance.

Well, as I said, I was going through a phase.

L. candidum was a modest sized bulb and I scrabbled the six I had ordered a shallow patch, because I’d read that they did well with minimal planting, and lots of wood ashes dumped in with the bulbs. They were supposed to send up some foliage the first year, which task thankfully, they performed. By contrast, I probably performed mine all wrong.  What did I know?  I’d never planted any kind of lily before, and here I was beginning with one of the prima donnas of the species.

Unfairly, I had beginner’s luck.  They came up and bloomed for about two weeks in June and held onto rather spindly stalks there after, which I didn’t dare cut back, for fear of having fewer lilies the next year.  But no, as a matter or fact, there were more of them the following year and they hung onto those stalks with a stubborn tenacity, and I had to camouflage the spindly things with a comparatively sulky and uncooperative English Rose called the Squire.

The Squire turned out to be not very floriferous, and also to a very slow grower – unlike the madonna lilies- which were beginning to crowd out their designated spot in the perennial border. The Squire held on, and the lilies tried to muscle him out, but they’d produce fifty blooms or more in a season, the taciturn Squire would throw out…two.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that you are most likely better off with whatever you can find from a bulb catalog.  Asiatics are never so leggy as those madonna lilies, and rarely blow over in storms, Trumpets are leggy but are easier to stake and integrate into borders, and a lot more remarkable in bloom than madonnas, and, as I later found out, do not crowd your slower growing roses and conduct unseemly turf wars with the other flowers .

All of this came to mind, because I read that Madonna had released a perfume that reviewers say smells of tuberoses and gardenias.  But she missed the boat this time because imagine if she had come out with a Madonna lily fragrance?  She could have called it Madonna Lily.  Catchy, no? It would also have been a lot more memorable than yet another take on gardenias and tuberoses.  Because the madonnas, as opposed to Madonna, did possess one undeniable asset – their scent.

It was lovely, that scent, closer to Easter Lilies than Orientals, thank heavens, but clean, clear, and largely absent from the lily line up on the market these days.  Only Serge Lutens’ Un Lys approaches it, and that is insufficiently green to my mind.  Oh well, it’s too bad, but Madonna will remain like the lilies, a bit aggressive, a bit pushy, liable to crowd other talent out and only fragile on the exterior.  Underneath the glamor, one suspects  toughness, energy, and a true ten fingered tenacity.  Well, that’s how you hang on, after all.


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