Flower Arranging With Eremurus (Fox-Tail Lily)

The eremurus or fox-tail lily (sometimes called the giant asphodel), is one of the most useful plants for tall arrangements, equally suitable for weddings, pedestal vases and also for a corner vase in the house.

There are some problems connected with them, and perhaps one should mention these first then make suggestions for overcoming them.

Anyone who has ever seen eremuri growing or handled them from the florist will know, especially with the largest ones (Eremurus robustus) the enormous size and weight of their stems. When they are being used in a large group these have to be treated with respect and fixed firmly in position before much of the material is put into place. E. robustus grows to a height of about seven or eight feet and has a stem with a girth almost the size of a young cherry, but not, of course, with a bark. The difficulty of fixing such a stem in position can be imagined.

First, there should be available some extra anchorage inside the base of the container — thickly folded wire netting or even pieces of brick or stone, over which there should be extra layers of the wire netting. It is essential that these layers should be formed from a large mesh wire netting or else one will be up against a further problem, that of the spaces between the wires being too narrow to take in the enormous width of stem.

The pieces of stone or brick or solid wire netting act as wedges to keep the base of the stem from wobbling about and these may be further supple mented by shrubby branches which would also help to act as anchorage.Flower Arranging With Eremurus (Fox-Tail Lily)

These rather formidable measures are only necessary with the largest eremuri. The smaller ones are no more difficult than tall delphiniums, lilies or gladioli, and are excellent pointers in a large arrangement where outline is concerned. Carefully placed they can delineate the arrangement and form positions between which the other flowers and branches can be fitted in.

Eremuri come in soft colourings of pink, peach, lemon, off white and cream. E. robustus has pink flowers as has E. olgae, which is one of the later flowering ones. The first to flower in May is E. himalaicus, which grows to a height of about six feet. There are two forms of E. elwesii (which flowers at the end of May or the beginning of June), a white and a pink.

Usually when cut for arrangement they should just be coming out at the base of the flower stalk and still in bud most of the way up, unless they are needed for an immediate special occasion. In the house they will last for about a fortnight if they are cut as I suggest, and it is interesting to see the small flowers opening up along the stem day by day.

One or two points to consider when first purchasing eremuri for planting in the garden—they are more expensive to buy than many other plants, but when one considers their dramatic appearance and beauty, the fact that they will come up again and again, and that their cost is not much more than forty cigarettes, it seems to me that they are worth their weight in gold. (A few years ago I paid 10/6d each for Shelford hybrids which come in a great variety of colours and are sturdy in growth.) There may not be any dramatic results for the first two years, although encouraging clusters of green lily like leaves are likely to appear in the spring. This does not mean to say that the plant is going to flower, but if it does, so much the better, especially as it is likely to go on year after year and may even seed itself generously as has happened in a garden in Chilham, Kent, England.

When the plant is first put into the soil on arrival from the nursery it should be treated with the greatest care. Eremurus should be moved in the early autumn and not allowed to remain out of the ground a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. Its root system is easily damaged as it is brittle, large and spreading in growth, and easily bruised or broken. Once this happens the plant may not recover. But, on the other hand, once it is established it should go well ahead.

Rather like clematis, it may not appear at all when it is first planted and it might be thought to have died. But, again, like clematis, it may appear two or three years later and forge ahead. And so do not despair if there is no sign of life for a year or two, or even if there are leaves and still no flower. It may just be settling itself in and liking to take some time about doing so.

The mention of cost comes up again when these flowers have to be bought in some quantity. They are expensive to buy, and it must be remembered that not only do they take time to get established but that there may only be one spike on each plant for some time to come.

From the point of view of decoration eremuri are valuable not only because of their height and delightful colouring, but also because of their dependability. They are completely reliable and if, for instance, it is more convenient to cut them two or three days before they are required for some special occasion, this can safely be done, as long as they are not fully out. They can be kept in the same conditiOn in a closed box for a good many hours. They will also keep in water, but of course they will open out as if they were growing.

When being ordered from Covent Garden it is wise to hand in one’s requirements some time before they are needed, as supplies are not yet coming in frequently and for a special order might have to be brought from some distance and made sure of in advance. Eremuri do not come into the market at the same rate as lilies or carnations and once one has tried to grow them one will understand why this is so.

Miss Sackville-West has in her book In your Garden a useful suggestion on how to decide what plants to put next to each other, with reference to the eremurus. This applies just as much, as she points out to flower arrangement. She suggests cutting a flower in part of the garden and standing it against a flowering shrub or plant in quite another part to see what the effect of the colour will be. “Rather in the way that one makes a flower arrangement in the house, sticking them into the ground and then standing back to observe the harmony.” In this case the suggestion refers to a tall spike of Eremurus robustus standing against a shrub of pale pink Tamarisk — also flowering in May — and the effect is so good that she plans to have plants of eremurus close to the Tamarisk for another year.

When using the Eremurus robustus for decoration it is helpful to have large leaves or branches to arrange with it, and possibilities are giant rhubarb leaves, branches of lime or tall thin Phormium leaves. Otherwise the tall stalks do look rather unadorned and the leaves of the eremurus itself are not usually helpful. Towards the front of such an arrangement a few early auratum or regale lilies might also help to counteract the bareness of stem.

As I have already mentioned the Shelford varieties of eremuri come on later and are not so massive as these earlier ones.

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