Lily is a common name used for several different plant species. But, daylily, calla lily, toad lily, surprise lily, etc. are not 'true lilies'. True lilies are members of the genus Lilium. They originate from underground bulbs and produce large, showy blossoms in the summer. True lilies are excellent plants for almost any garden situation. They are versatile and durable, plus they offer gardeners a wide variety of heights, flower forms and colors. In fact, their presence in the garden is so striking they are often called the "Queen or Grand Dame" of the summer garden. There are several types of lilies that make wonderful garden performers. By planting samples from each of the different types, you can have lilies in bloom for most of the summer.
The Asiatic lilies are probably the most popular landscape or garden lily. Their upward or outward facing flowers are available in the widest range of colors and are frequently "freckled" with dark spots. Flowers of bright and pastel shades of almost every color except blue are available. Asiatic lilies are among the first lilies to bloom in the garden, many beginning in late May or early June. These hybrid lilies are often considered the most durable of the lilies and multiply quickly. Asiatic lilies are also available in a vide range of heights (2 to 5 feet) making them great for the back, middle, or front of the border. Their only limitation is their lack of fragrance compared to some other lily types.
For fragrance and sheer size of blooms the Oriental lilies win hands down. Their flamboyant and sweetly scented blooms begin in mid to late summer, as the Asiatic hybrids are finishing. They are available in a range of splashy shades of white, pink, and crimson. The open, reflexed petals can be spotted, brushed, or edged with darker or contrasting colors. Oriental hybrids are often taller than the Asiatic types reaching 3 to 6 feet. They perform best when protected from the hot, afternoon sun and strong winds.
Trumpet lilies bloom about the same time as the Oriental lilies. Trumpet lilies, however, have spotless, fused petals. Their flowers resemble a trumpet, hence the common name. Their highly fragrant outward facing flowers were once available primarily in white and yellow, but recent hybridization with the Oriental and Asiatic groups are expanding the palette of colors. Trumpet lilies reach 4 to 8 feet tall and they prefer protection from strong winds.
Another group of lilies not to be overlooked is the species type lilies. Turk's cap lily or Lilium martagon is one of the best for Iowa gardens. This lily has smaller individual flowers compared to the other groups. The small, waxy flowers are burgundy, yellow-orange, yellow, and white. Many are spotted or freckled. The petals of the downward facing flowers are strongly reflexed creating a turban-like appearance, hence the name Turk's cap lily. This lily is native to woodlands and is one of the few lilies that will tolerate considerable shade and still perform beautifully. Height ranges from 4 to 7 feet and is best in the middle or back of the border.
Lilies prefer an organic, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (6.5 pH). Bulbs are normally planted in fall at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb. However, container-grown bulbs can also be planted in spring and summer. Plant containerized bulbs at the same depth in the garden that they were planted in the container. In heavy, clay type soils, plant them slightly higher. Lilies will not tolerate a wet, soggy soil. Full sun to light shade is best for most of the lilies with the exception of the Turk's cap lily, which prefers partial shade. Mulching is recommended for lilies since it keeps the soil cool, conserves moisture, and prevents weed seed germination.
In addition to being outstanding garden performers, lilies make excellent cut flowers with a long vase-life. When removing flowers to bring inside be sure that at least half to two thirds of the stem and foliage remains to supply the bulb for next years blooms. The pollen structures or anthers should be removed before bringing inside since lily pollen will stain clothing and other materials.
There are several hundred cultivars available for the Asiatic and Oriental types. The trumpet and species types may be more difficult to find but are well worth the effort. Check your local nursery or garden center for a selection of lilies suitable for your garden. Add a little royalty to your garden this summer with the addition of a few of these beauties.
This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2000 issue, pp. 81-82.