Plant Profile: Lilium ‘Whistler’


This spring I potted up more lilies than ever before. My intention was to bridge that awkward gap between the tulips fading and the first dahlias flowering with their bold, bright, often scented blooms. However, as is so often the case, nature had different ideas, resulting in both lilies and dahlias coming into bloom simultaneously this week. I have no complaints, since it finally feels as if the garden has hit its stride. Green reads well, but it needs other colours for punctuation.

Many of my lilies were repotted in March following a winter rest. I checked each bulb for vine weevil damage before planting in fresh compost; ericaceous for the orientials and John Innes No. 2 for the asiatics. I find that a sprinkling of slow-release fertiliser helps each plant to power through the season. This year I am welcoming back ‘Pink Flavour’, ‘Golden Splendour’, ‘Lionheart’, ‘Night Flyer’ and ‘Mapira’ which have all emerged bigger and stronger than last year.

The Beau gifted me a generous clump of ‘Miss Feya’ in March, each bulb has produced a handsome plant with a dozen buds per stem. In the polytunnel where they had been growing previously, each stem reached 10ft tall. No such stature has been attained in my windy garden, but they have quickly reached head-height, offering the perfect opportunity to admire Miss Feya’s crimson flowers when the buds burst in a week or so.

Meanwhile I’ve found (and squished) just half a dozen scarlet lily beetles this year, but vine weevils remain a curse. Last night alone I dispatched twenty or more adults as they sat quietly chomping through my foliage in the cool night air. This morning I noticed that friendly neighbourhood spiders had entrapped another two of the blighters. Spiders are always welcome in my garden.

With my autumn bulb order I included two new asiatic lily hybrids; ‘Forever Susan’ and ‘Whistler’. The latter belongs to a group of lilies bred in Holland using a variety called ‘Latvian Promise’ as a parent. ‘Latvian Promise’ has pronounced freckles at the base of each petal and has passed this attractive feature on to its progeny. The flower petals of ‘Whistler’ are a wonderful, rose-peach colour with plum-coloured sprinkles petering out towards the tip. For some reason I am repeatedly attracted to this colour combination whether it be in lilies, osteospermums, tulips or dahlias. Now I’ve seen Whistler’s flowers in context I will move Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ (pictured below) alongside to pick up the depth of those smouldering speckles.

In common with other asiatic lilies, Whistler’s foliage is bright green and glossy. Nothing special in itself, but a decent foil for the flowers. Each bulb has produced between four and seven flower buds in year one, which is not bad going. Lazily I planted all fourteen bulbs in one large pot, so when in full bloom I am expecting quite a display.

With its striking orange and black flowers, ‘Forever Susan’ has not performed nearly as well. Several bulbs came up blind and some leaves are soggy and browning. I suspect this might be down to me overwatering in the early stages of growth. Hopefully ‘Forever Susan’ will live up to her name and come back again next year for another attempt at glory. It’s always worth trying new plants, even if they don’t work out quite how you intended the first time around. As for ‘Whistler’, I am sure I’ll be welcoming this pretty lily back for many seasons to come. TFG.