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Calla Lily: Rethinking a Bridal Bouquet Flower

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Calla Lily: Rethinking a Bridal Bouquet Flower

July 7, 2017

Calla lilies were go-to wedding flowers even before Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-granddaughter, Consuelo, got married in 1926 in her family’s Fifth Avenue mansion in a candlelit drawing room that was, as the New York Times put it, “heavy with the scent.” Silver-ribboned calla lily bundles bedecked the mirror-paneled room as the bride walked down the aisle in a silver lace gown.

Tastes change. (Certainly Consuelo’s did; bridegroom Earl Smith turned out to be the first of four husbands.) And calla lilies—which aren’t really lilies, by the way—deserve a spot in the garden and a place in an everyday vase. No bridal bouquet necessary:

Photography by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

We cut stems from calla lilies in my garden in Northern California.
Above: We cut stems from calla lilies in my garden in Northern California.

Horticulturally speaking, calla lilies are members of the Zantedeschia family. Native to southern Africa (and perennial in USDA growing zones 8-10), calla lilies have large, colorful leaves—called spathes—which we think of as flowers. But the real flowers are the tiny blossoms on the spadix in the center of the spathe.

 Growing Calla Lilies

With their graceful trumpet shapes and mottled colors, calla lilies are easy companions in a garden bed.
Above: With their graceful trumpet shapes and mottled colors, calla lilies are easy companions in a garden bed.

Plant Care: Calla lilies like soil that is moist (but well drained) and warm; plant them after the last frost date.

Sunlight: Plant them in a spot where they will get bright, indirect light.

Sources:  Some of our favorite calla lilies include yellow Zantedeschia ‘Callafornia Callas Flame’ and Zantedeschia ‘Callafornia Callas Pink Melody’ ($11.50 apiece from White Flower Farm; both ship for spring planting).

Caring for Calla Lilies

In the garden, calla lilies require good drainage and regular water.
Above: In the garden, calla lilies require good drainage and regular water.

Although we call them lilies, calla lilies are not member of the Lilium family. Calla lily hybrids are available in a wide spectrum of colors, including yellow, gold, purple, mauve, pink, and white.

How To: Calla Lilies in a Vase

One benefit to growing your own calla lilies is the leaves. When you buy calla lilies from a florist, you typically get leafless stems. When you grow your own, however, you can add their foliage to the vase.
Above: One benefit to growing your own calla lilies is the leaves. When you buy calla lilies from a florist, you typically get leafless stems. When you grow your own, however, you can add their foliage to the vase.

For our non-bridal arrangement of calla lilies, we chose a black vase as a neutral backdrop to the colorful lilies.

Calla lily leaves are floppy and soft. To keep them from drooping over the sides of the vase, we wound a rubber band around the base of a bunch of leaves.
Above: Calla lily leaves are floppy and soft. To keep them from drooping over the sides of the vase, we wound a rubber band around the base of a bunch of leaves.
After we established a base of leaves to support the arrangement, we added stems one at a time.
Above: After we established a base of leaves to support the arrangement, we added stems one at a time.
You really can&#8
Above: You really can’t go wrong when it comes to mixing colors of calla lilies. Their soft, mottled shades complement each other.
We gave each stem a fresh, angled cut to help it drink the water in the vase.
Above: We gave each stem a fresh, angled cut to help it drink the water in the vase.
We kept the arrangement loose and casual to give each stem some air.
Above: We kept the arrangement loose and casual to give each stem some air.
  Calla lilies look like an explosion of fireworks in the vase. But be warned: they are a short-lived cut flower; after two or three days the colors start to lose their vibrancy.
Above:  Calla lilies look like an explosion of fireworks in the vase. But be warned: they are a short-lived cut flower; after two or three days the colors start to lose their vibrancy.

N.B.: No more flower stereotypes. See other flowers we’re giving a second chance:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for calla lily with our Calla Lily: A Field Guide.

Interested in other bulbs and tubers for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various bulbs and tubers with our Bulbs & Tubers: A Field Guide.

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