Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2007
Regional Report

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Many of the new hybrid lilies have beautiful, rich colors and a luscious fragrance.

Gilding the Lily

True lilies of the genus Lilium (as opposed to daylilies, calla lilies, magic lilies, torch lilies, and so forth) are found throughout the world and have a history that goes back many centuries. The earliest known illustrations were produced by the Minoan civilization on the Mediterranean island of Crete in the 15th century B.C. Ancient Romans grew and planted them throughout the lands they conquered. By the Middle Ages, the white-flowered Lilium candidum became revered for its association with the Virgin Mary, hence it's common name, Madonna lily.

Even though there is a long association with lilies and western culture, most gardens sport only a handful of lilies at the most. My suspicion is this will change in the upcoming years, in part because there are many new hybrids in a dazzling array of colors and sizes, but also because of one particular hybrid -- 'Star Gazer'. This Oriental hybrid with upward-facing crimson flowers fading to white on the margins and a fragrance that melts the coldest heart has become a standard in the cut flower trade. As such, it has raised awareness of the beauty of lilies and is inspiring gardeners to add them to their gardens. The downside is that there are a number of different types of lilies, to say nothing of hundreds of cultivars, with varying growth habits and requirements. A basic understanding of the classification of lilies should help you get started.

Types of Lilies
Asiatic Hybrids. These hybrids have the broadest color range, including white, pink, plum, yellow, orange, and red. The flowers may be up-facing, outfacing, or pendant, but are generally not scented. These are among the earliest to bloom and easiest to grow, doing best in full sun.

Martagon Hybrids. These hybrids are also among the earliest to bloom, with the tall plants bearing many small, down-facing flowers. They need some shade so they are a good choice for a woodland garden. Give them a year or two to become established. Colors include yellow, white, pink, lavender, light orange, and dark red, sometimes with freckles or spots.

American Hybrids. Most of these hybrids are derived from species native to the western United States and Canada, which, unfortunately, is also where they grow best as they need a light, cool soil and dappled shade.

Longiflorum Hybrids. These hybrids are usually elegant white trumpets, but they are not especially hardy in the garden.

Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids. These bloom from mid to late season with large, waxy flowers that are frequently fragrant. Colors include white, gold, yellow, chartreuse, pink, plum, orange, and apricot, sometimes with a different color on the backs of the petals. Generally, they are fairly easy to grow, but they may need staking, winter mulch, and protection from late spring frosts.

Oriental Hybrids. The group to which 'Star Gazer' belongs is not the easiest to grow as they need cool summers; partial shade; plenty of water (but no wet feet!); a humus-rich, slightly acid soil; and mulch. Still, the huge flowers of white, pink, salmon, and crimson have a wonderful fragrance to tempt you.

Miscellaneous Hybrids. This division includes hybrids not provided for in any previous division, including crosses between divisions. Most prominent are the Orienpets, hybrids between Orientals and Trumpets and Aurelians. It is a member of this group -- 'Silk Road', that has inspired me to grow more lilies. They are rugged, dependable, more tolerant of heat and cold, plus beautiful and usually fragrant.

Species. There are some 100 species from around the world, ranging in size, color, and ease of growth.

Recommended Varieties
The following varieties are in the North American Lily Society Hall of Fame, based not only on their beauty but also on how readily they grow in the garden: 'Black Beauty', 'Casa Blanca', 'Connecticut King', 'Enchantment', 'Journey's End', 'Leslie Woodriff', 'Northern Carillon', 'Silk Road', 'Red Velvet', 'Scheherazade', and 'White Henryi'.

For outstanding fragrance, look to 'Eurydice', 'Seabreezes', 'Silk Road', 'Catherine the Great', and 'Anastasia', as well as most trumpet and Oriental hybrids.

For the longest bloom period, try 'Ariadne', 'White Butterflies', 'Karen North', 'Red Velvet', 'Silk Road', 'Scheherazade', and 'Anastasia'.

And for those who want lilies that are the absolute easiest to grow and hardest to kill, consider 'Ariadne', 'Coral Butterflies', 'Brushstroke', 'Tiger Babies', 'Red Velvet', 'White Henryi', 'Scheherazade', and 'Black Beauty'.

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