By SARA ARTHURS
Easter lilies, which will soon adorn so many churches, are rich in symbolism. And, after Easter is over, you can plant them in your garden to enjoy for years to come.
The Rev. Dan Metzger, pastor at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Findlay, said the lily started as a symbol of Mary’s annunciation — marked by the Catholic Church as a feast in late March. There are medieval paintings in which the Angel Gabriel hands a lily to Mary as he tells her she will have the Christ child, Metzger said.
And Metzger said two different stories, each in a garden, connect the symbolism of the lilies.
There is a traditional story that tells of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was arrested. He sweated drops of blood — and where those drops fell, lilies sprung up. Another story about Eve, in the garden of Eden, says she cried tears of repentance — and there, too, where the teardrops fell, lilies sprang.
And, the bulb itself is a symbol, Metzger said. You take what seems dead, bury it in the ground, and “something beautiful springs from it.”
The Rev. Tom Mellott, senior pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Findlay, said “the bulb is not pretty,” but something beautiful sprouts from it. “That, certainly, is resurrection,” he said.
The white color, too, symbolizes purity and atonement.
St. Marks has hosted several funerals recently, Metzger said. And Easter is a time where we think, amidst death, “We are people who believe in resurrection.”
Mellott said Easter flowers — including hyacinths and tulips, as well — are “striking.” They grab a person’s attention, and the resurrection “is about grabbing our attention — to new life, and to Christ.” He said every spring he is “blown away by hyacinths” and their aroma.
Members of St. Paul’s congregation buy lilies to honor or remember a loved one.
“We have to hide them,” Mellott said, explaining that the lilies arrive early, and it isn’t appropriate to display “the joy of Easter” before observing the solemnness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday.
Afterward, some congregants take the flowers home, but many leave them at the church.
Once in your house, “keep the soil moderately moist,” said Tammy Jordan, manager/designer at Sink’s Flower Shop and Greenhouse.
Ideally, lilies should be kept between 65 and 70 degrees. They’re already pretty well fertilized, and there’s no need to cut off the foliage — just let it die back naturally.
“That’s how the bulb gets its strength to bloom the next time,” Jordan said.
Chris Dillon, general manager of Bo-Ka Flowers, said the lifespan inside is short. Lilies are “very, very seasonal,” and are forced to bloom so they’ll be open for the Easter holiday, she said.
Inside, under good conditions, they may last a month or so. Dillon said the majority of lilies are likely thrown away, but they can be replanted.
Bo-Ka sells lilies to churches as well as other organizations, and they’re popular in nursing homes.
“They’re extremely fragrant,” Dillon said. “People enjoy the fragrance of them.”
Dillon said the yellow pollen can create a mess. If you get a pollen stain on your furniture or clothing, take a chenille stem or pipe cleaner and gently brush it against the stain, she said. Or if you leave it in the sun and let it dry out, the stain will be easier to brush away. Just never try to wipe it off with your hands, Dillon said.
“It really does stain clothing,” she said, adding that a good preventative move is to simply remove the stamens altogether.
Bill Jones, a master gardener, said lilies are a tender bulb, so they may not last long. But you can get them to bloom in the years to come.
It’s important to keep the bulbs healthy until you can plant them outside after the last frost. Care in the home should include placing the plant in a sunny window, to encourage the bulb to build up as much energy as possible, Jones said.
When the soil gets warm, you can dig a hole and take it out of the pot. It will probably be root-bound, “so I loosen those roots up,” said master gardener Bill Lanning. Then place the bulb in the ground at the same soil level as it was in the pot.
You want good soil, Jones warned, noting that lilies will rot if they are planted in heavy clay. Once they are planted, mulch around them to keep moisture in the soil.
The green will likely die down, but “don’t give up,” Lanning said. Keep the plant mulched throughout the summer, and covered during winter, too. A good mulch of bark, straw or grass clippings will protect the lily against the deep frost that could otherwise kill it.
The flower may not bloom the next year, as the bulb has been weakened by being kept in a pot. The second year it’s in the ground, you will likely get a bloom — but not at Easter, Lanning said. Lilies actually bloom in July.
Lanning has had some lilies that have lived as long as 10 years.
The lily is a bulb, and often it will make other, smaller bulbs that can be removed and planted, he said.
Lanning attends St. Marks, where every year a large cross covered with white lilies is displayed behind the pulpit. Members of the congregation can take lilies they have donated home with them once the service is over.
Whatever you do with your lilies, keep them away from cats.
“They’re very toxic,” and even a few bites of a leaf can be dangerous, said veterinarian Rachael Chiu of Blanchard Valley Veterinary Clinic. The lilies affect cats’ kidneys. Initially, pet owners may notice a cat has eaten the leaves, and the cat may have an upset stomach and vomit. The cat may seem better after that, but within 24 hours, the animal can go into complete kidney failure.
“And they can die within a few days,” Chiu warned.
If it’s caught early enough, veterinarians can treat the condition. But Chiu recommends cat owners avoid keeping lilies in the house at all.
It’s hard to prevent outdoor cats from getting into gardens, and lilies are popular plants around here, Chiu said. And they appear to be “these nice, long, leafy plants that look fun” for a cat.
Dillon said Easter lilies are a tradition. It used to be that Easter was a big deal, and families would get dressed up with new dresses and shoes.
“Unfortunately, that’s just not happening anymore,” as the holiday has become more commercial, she said.
“But they are special,” she said of the lilies. “They’re very pretty and they’re very, very, very symbolic.”
Dillon said the flowers always make her think of Princess Diana’s funeral: “They’re regal.”