My Favorite Garden Lilies

Pink martagon lilies are a garden delight.

In honor of the National Garden Bureau’s Year of the Lily, I decided to write about my garden favorites. Big, bold, and gorgeous, garden lilies can make a stunning statement in the garden. Lilies are such a diverse and varied group of plants that it can be difficult to adequately describe them. Some types are extremely fragrant, and others have little or no fragrance. Some lilies bloom early in the spring and some wait until summer. There are tall lilies reaching 7-8 feet and those growing to only 12-18 inches in height. The color and shape of the flowers are equally diverse.

Growing Lilies

Asiatic lilies are easy-to-grow early summer bloomers.

Lilies are bulbous perennials. They poke through the ground in the spring, bloom at their appropriate time, and then the stems die to the ground while the bulb goes dormant and waits until the following year to reappear. Most like to be planted in rich garden soil that drains well and is rich in organic material. Before planting, I work Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend into the soil, and to help with drainage, I add Black Gold Perlite around the bulb. Some lilies grow best in full sun and others like partial or dappled sunlight, but most like to be planted in an area with protection from the hot afternoon sun. A sunnier woodland location is suitable or an area with morning sun. The flowers last longer if they are in the afternoon shade.

My Favorite Lilies

Lily martagon ‘Claude Shride’

Most lilies are hybrids, and many hybrid groups, such as oriental lilies and Asiatic lilies, have been bred for centuries. Other lilies are wildflowers and natives.

A favorite is the Martagon lily (Lilium martagon), or Turk’s-Cap lily, a name derived from a Turkish word denoting a type of turban. The species is native from Europe to Mongolia, and it is adaptable to gardens when given the right growing conditions. They grow best in full to partial sun and need well-drained soil that is rich with organic matter. The flowers appear in mid-summer and can be on stalks from 3-5 feet tall. If martagon lilies are left undisturbed in the garden, they will form clumps that continue to grow each year. There are quite a few cultivated varieties, including the rich purple-red ‘Claude Shride’.

A grouping of mixed Martagon lilies in my garden.

Blooming from mid to late summer with a strong fragrance, oriental lilies can make a spectacular display in the garden. Usually, the flowers face upward or outward so it is easy to see their colors. ‘Casablanca’ is a pure white form, and the popular and well-known ‘Stargazer’ is rose-red with white margins.

Trumpet lilies have long been a popular lily for home gardens. Names like ‘Copper King’ and ‘Golden Splendor’ are well-known selections. As the name indicates, the flowers have a trumpet shape, and stems can be 3-6 feet tall. A hybrid lily called Orienpet is a cross between an oriental lily and a trumpet. With flower stems that are 3-5 feet tall, most have a light fragrance. The butter-yellow blooms of ‘Conca d’or’ are a favorite in my garden.

the Giant Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) is hard to beat for its impressive height and beauty.

Probably the easiest lily to grow is the Asiatic. These are the earliest to bloom and the flowers are often unscented. If you are new to growing lilies, this type would be a good introduction. Most are in shades of orange, yellow, and red.

For the most spectacular blooms, the Giant Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) is hard to beat. The bulbs may be difficult to find but they are well worth the search. When in bloom, the plants are magnificent. With stems 8-10 feet tall and an abundance of white fragrant flowers, this is a showstopper in the garden.

If lilies are new to you, give some a try. They rarely disappoint. If you give them the right growing conditions, they will multiply and provide color in gardens for many years.

Most compact lilies perform well in containers and can be part of a grouping for a deck or patio. There is not much to dislike about lilies in the garden. and I would not consider my garden complete without some.

Orienpet lily ‘Conca d’or’ has large, butter yellow blooms.

About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

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