Fragrant thoughts

The late Geoff Hamilton may be an unfamiliar name to a lot of younger people, but in his time he was the best-known – and probably the most respected – gardener in the country.

I met him several times and, in the words of my old Yorkshire grandma, he could talk hens and chickens to death. But every word he uttered was worth its weight in gold – the man was the font of all that was good in the garden. He was also a very genuine, down-to-earth person.

And it was Geoff who told me – more than 20 years ago – about how he liked lilies and how he would, if he could, plant them in his garden, at Barnsdale, in December.

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No chance, was my response. And that prompted a masterclass on starting lilies in pots.

Yes, said Geoff, the soil conditions in December were unlikely to be particularly good, so he potted them up until things improved. And sometimes he just left them to flower in their containers.

Asiatic hybrids were ideal for the job – if you wanted to plant them in the garden next spring, pot them up individually (a five-inch pot would be fine) and then keep them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.

Those that would bloom in their containers (and here he waxed lyrical over the beauty of the Pixie types of dwarf lilies) should be given the luxury of a deeper pot – at least six inches.

Put a layer of broken clay plant pots at the bottom of each container, and then add three inches of soil-based compost. Pop the lily bulb on top and then fill the pot almost to the brim with more compost.

Pot up a few every month until April and there would be a continuous flowering throughout the summer.

Water and feed them regularly until the leaves have died down in September. If you want to keep them in their pots, just scrape off the top few inches of compost and replace with fresh. Simple.

Although some people find the scent of lilies to be a bit overpowering, Geoff recommended growing a pot or two 
of Lilium regale indoors. The fragrance 
is unbelievable. Just use a bigger container.

And when the flowers are at their best, remember Geoff Hamilton and say a silent thank-you to a man who represented all that’s good about gardening.