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Lilies are one of the loveliest of our garden plants. Tall and elegant they bring an exotic feeling to the border. And, despite the scare stories, they are surprising easy to grow.

Lilies really pack of lot of flower power into a small space. Most are summer flowering, many coming into bloom in late summer after the first flush of garden flowers, and are a great addition to the border when it starts to flag and the early perennials and first flush of roses fade.

Lilies come in a staggering range of colours and flower shapes and new hybrids are introduced each year, bringing us some super new varieties. Too many, in fact, for the average gardener to keep up with! As with many plants the choice of a particular hybrid over another is a matter of personal taste, and as there are so many new varieties coming onto the market, varieties grown several years ago may not always be available.

L. 'Lady Anne' in the border
L. 'Lady Anne' in the border

Many lilies are wonderfully fragrant and their scent is one of the best reasons for growing them, an extra dimension that brings so much pleasure. But not all lilies are fragrant. Most L. longiflorum or trumpet lilies are fragrant and, of course, the beloved L. regale that fills the florist shops each Christmas. Asiatic hybrids are colourful and dramatic but have no scent. 'Stargazer' is one of the few Oriental lilies with scent.

Lilies are ideal for interplanting in groups or singly to follow other, early-summer flowering plants. Planted en masse (as L. 'Lady Anne' is above) they make a magnificent block of colour and fragrance in the border. Planted in smaller groups you can add a zap of vibrant colour to a planting scheme or use pale coloured lilies to blend into a pastel scheme.

Gertrude Jekyll grew pots of lilies to follow early flowering oriental poppies and other flowers. You can do the same, or simply plant the bulbs in the border and allow them to come through between other plants. Unless you have very heavy soil or of extremely cold winter temperatures there is no real need to lift lilies each autumn. But take care to mark the bulbs with a short stake or plant label, or you can easily spear them with your garden fork.

Lily bulbs are relatively expensive but they will provide many years of pleasure and propagation is easy once you know how. Put simply, lilies need sharp drainage, a neutral fertile soil, shelter from strong winds and to be planted with their heads in the sunshine and roots in cool shade.

Rotting is a common cause of failure. The bulbs cannot survive sodden soils and will simply disappear. If you have very heavy soil and bulbs fail to reappear the following season you can either lift them and store in damp sawdust in a cool corner of the garden shed, or you can treat the bulbs as annuals and replant every season. That way you need no excuses to try new varieties!

L. regale is the Christmas lily beloved of New Zealanders, which we gather in dozens each summer to scent and decorate our homes. L. regale is aptly named as it has a stately elegance about it. The trumpet flowers are white flushed rosy-read on the outside and have prominent yellow stamens. It grows up to 1.8m (6 feet) and can carry as many as 30 blooms. The bulbs are available loose in bins of sawdust at plant nurseries through the winter months, but take care not to select those that have dried or been damaged.

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Lilium 'Pollyanna' Lilium 'Pollyanna'
Lily family
The family Liliaceae includes tulips, fritillaria and erythronium (Dog's Tooth violets) as well as lilium, or lilies. Although we have thousands of hybrids developed for flower colour, form and hardiness, there are some 100 plus lily species. Many are not grown or widely available.

All lilies have an underground fleshy bulb with overlapping scales and a basal plate. Lily bulbs differ from tulips and narcissi in that they have no outer papery layer, and thus they are more prone to drying out than many bulbs. The stems are long with leaves carried in spirals or whorls. Each stem carries one to many flowers with up to six petals in a terminal spray. The flowers can be nodding and petals recurved, upright or erect. Most lilies are summer flowering.

Lilies are classified into Longiflorums or trumpets (L. longiflorum, L. regale and others); Asiatics with bowl-shaped, normally upward facing flowers; Martagons or turkscaps with reflexed petals; Orientals (L. auratum, L. speciosum and hybrids); Orienpets and other hybrids are crosses between Orientals and Chinese trumpets (e.g. 'Silk Road' have huge flowers); and species of which L. regale, L. candidum (the Madonna lily), L. lancifolium (the Tiger Lily), L. martagon and L. auratum var platphyllum are commonly grown.

L. martagon
L. martagon, a European species
L. 'Sorbonne'
L. 'Sorbonne', an Omnipet

Lily bulb

L. 'Siberia'
L. 'Siberia' Plant Features

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Last revised 19 Jul '01