One of the oldest of the Asiatic hybrids, Lilium 'Pollyanna' remains one of the most popular of the garden lilies. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.
This Asiatic hybrid lily 'Gran Paradiso' is one of the hardy lilies able to withstand frigid winter weather. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Which came first, the gardener or the lily? Lilies have graced our gardens for as long as there have been gardens! There are some 80-90 species in the genus Lilium (Formosan lily, for example), but most of us know the hybrids best, and there are thousands of them. Lilies grow from bulbs and some spread with stolons or rhizomes as well. They have stiff, usually unbranched, stems from 2 ft (60 cm) to 10 ft (3 m) tall, usually narrow leaves all along the stems, and large showy flowers at stem tips. The flowers may be trumpet shaped, bowl shaped, bell shaped, and/or with reflexed petals. Some have flowers that nod downwards, others look to the sky. All colors can be found except blue, and many lilies have sweetly fragrant flowers.
The Royal Horticultural Society and the North American Lily Society have classified the lilies into nine divisions, based on their parentage and various characteristics of the flowers and leaves:
Division I. Asiatic Hybrids - usually unscented flowers borne in racemes or umbels; leaves alternate, narrow
Division II. Martagon Hybrids - flower petals recurved, sometimes unpleasantly scented; elliptic leaves borne in whorls
Division III. Candidum Hybrids - flowers single or in clusters, sometimes scented; leaves elliptic, scattered along stem or spirally arranged
Division IV. American Hybrids - flowers scented, petals recurved; leaves lance shaped in whorls
Division V. Longiflorum Hybrids - flowers sweetly scented, large, trumpet shaped, only 2-3 per stem; leaves very narrow, scattered
Division VI. Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids - flowers scented in racemes or umbels; leaves elliptic to linear, arranged spirally
Division VII. Oriental Hybrids - flowers strongly scented in panicles or racemes, often frilly; leaves lance shaped, alternately arranged
Division VIII. Other Hybrids - includes interdivisional hybrids and odds and ends
Division IX. The true lily species, not hybrids
'Altari' is a fragrant winter hardy hybrid that grows to about 3 ft (1 m) in height. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.
The 'Nippon' Oriental Lily is a long time favorite among gardeners. It is pleasantly fragrant and blooms in summer. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.
The Asiatic and Oriental hybrids are probably the most popular lilies in American gardens. They are easy to grow, quite cold hardy and usually need no staking. Asiatic hybrids generally stand 2-3 ft (.6 - 1 m) tall, are usually the first to flower in spring, and are the easiest to care for. The Oriental hybrids bloom later in summer, stand taller, to 6 ft (2 m), and have larger, more fragrant flowers. Also popular are the Martagon hybrids, with their strongly reflexed petals on nodding flowers - the Turk's cap lilies. Easter lily is a Division IX species, L. longiflorum.
The 80 or 90 species in the genus Lilium grow wild in temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia.
Grow lilies in well drained soil augmented with rotted organic matter. Most prefer an acidic to neutral soil, although some (including the Martagon hybrids) thrive under alkaline conditions. Cut off seed pods after the flowers have bloomed so the plant's energy will be directed into bulb growth and storage for next season rather than seed production. Leave as much stem and leaf as possible until it has dried and turned brown in winter. Light: In general, lilies do best in full sun or, in warmer climates, full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most lilies prefer to have their stems and leaves in sun and their roots and bulbs in shade. The Martagon hybrids do well in part shade. Moisture: Lilies demand a well drained soil. Never plant them where water may stand after rain, even for a few hours. If your soil is clayey, mix in some organic matter or leaf mold. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2-8. Generally speaking, the Asiatic and Martagon hybrids are cold hardy to zone 3; others to zone 4. Mulch bulbs in winter, especially in very cold climates. Lilies require a cold period of "rest", and will not do well in zone 9 unless the bulbs are lifted and refrigerated for 4-6 weeks in winter. Propagation: Plant lily bulbs in spring or fall, as soon as you get them, since they never go totally dormant and cannot survive drying out completely. Planting depth should be about 2-3 times the bulb's height. Grown from seed, lilies can take up to four years to bloom.
You may recognize this garden favorite from a florist's bouquet. 'Stargazer' is often seen in arrangements where it is appreciated for its visual fabulousness and fragrance. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Lilies look best planted in groups of 3-5. The taller hybrids will need to be staked. Consider flowering time (as well as color) when planting lilies, so that you can have a procession of flowers throughout the growing season from mid spring until late autumn. Savvy gardeners plant lilies amongst shorter flowers and perennials that will help support the lily stems. Many lilies grow fibrous roots on the stem just above the bulb each year. These types usually flower the first summer after planting, whereas lilies that do not produce stem roots may take two years to flower for the first time.
Treat yourself (and your gardening friends) to some new lily bulbs every year. They are easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and readily available from reputable mail order sources. And the variety to choose from is almost endless!
The family Liliaceae contains more than 240 genera and at least 3000 species. Aloe is in the lily family, as is asparagus, hosta, liriope, trillium and even that nasty greenbriar!