How To Grow Hardy Lilies

No plant is so versatile as the lily. The list of species and varieties covers a flowering period from May until September – some are tall-growing, some dwarf – some suitable for lime-free soils while others thrive in a soil containing lime in abundance. Some species enjoy a shady situation, others a position of full sunshine. Some lilies are happier growing in a cool greenhouse, others bloom to perfection in the more exposed garden.

There is something, too, for every pocket, with the recently introduced Parryi hybrids, and Lilium tigrinum, the bronze Tiger Lily, costing very little. But most lilies are easily grown from seed and so appeal to the amateur who has a small greenhouse and some patience. Huge volumes have been devoted to the lilies, but iwe are interested only in those which can be made to flower to perfection in the ordinary small garden and cool greenhouse and those which are reasonably priced. The ‘difficult’ lilies and the expensive hybrids which have not yet proved themselves as coming up to our requirements will be left to the care of the specialists.Hardy Lilies

For filling in all spare spaces in the shrubbery or herbaceous border, there is no more showy plant than the lilies, and there are species for all positions. From the tall-growing L. Henryi, which in my garden reaches a height of almost 6 ft., to the dwarf-growing Martagon lily, L. chalcedonicum, which flowers at a height of 2 ft. The border is an ideal place for lilies, provided it is enriched with some humus, for they are rather like primroses, they love their roots in shade and their heads in the sunshine. But in a lily border, they are even more striking and their perfume will be enjoyed throughout the whole garden especially after a shower of rain or in the early evening. They may be planted in autumn or spring and except for staking, and a top dressing every autumn, will require no further attention for many years. They require some shelter from strong winds and particularly do they look attractive when planted against a stone wall or wattle hurdles.

For the small courtyard or for either side of an entrance or porch, lilies look quite delightful when planted in tubs containing a compost with which is incorporated plenty of peat to retain as much moisture as possible. Those bulbs growing to a height of no more than 4 ft. should be used. Lilium speciosum or L. tenuifolium are most suitable, and planted together are most valuable. Include L. Davidii, Maxwill and there should be at least one in bloom from mid-May until September, half a dozen bulbs being planted to a large tub.


Lilies, like most bulbs enjoy a soil plentifully supplied with humus but not overdone with animal manure. A mixture of old mushroom-bed manure and peat is invaluable, but peat and leaf mould or spent hops will be quite satisfactory. They enjoy a moisture holding compost, rather than a rich soil and what they like most of all is an annual top dressing or mulch during early autumn. Not only will this retain moisture in the soil and keep down annual weeds, but it must be remembered that many of the lilies are stem-rooting plants and thus a top dressing is essential to the continued well-being of the plant. Should the ground tend to be on the heavy side, as much peat, coarse sand and decayed leaves as possible should be worked in. If growing in a shrubbery in the town garden where lilies flower happily, the soil will generally be of an acid nature and plenty of lime rubble should then be worked in. It will then be advisable to refrain from planting those species that do not enjoy a calcareous soil such as L. Brownii, but many lilies enjoy a slightly acid soil and provided the shrubbery is not over-acid, lime should not be needed. As much coarse sand or grit, and plenty of peat worked to a depth of 8 in. will be all that is necessary for a healthy root formation. A dry, hard soil, so frequently seen in shrub borders will never grow a good lily, the blooms will be dwarfed and the bulbs will die back after two seasons.

When growing in a border entirely to themselves, it will be as well to raise the bed to encourage efficient drainage before working in the necessary humus materials. A raised bed will also display the blooms at their best. It is not advisable to plant beneath large trees or too close to a privet hedge, which will consume large quantities of moisture from the surrounding ground. For this reason I like wattle hurdles, or a stone wall as a background. Planted in clumps in odd beds against the side of a house, lilies look charming and the taller varieties making rapid growth during early summer might be used in large numbers to hide the wall of a garage or shed. Lirum regale is ideal for such a purpose, so are the Tiger Lilies. The bulbs are quite inexpensive, and where it may be thought that they are less hardy than other flowers, this is not so, for nowhere do they grow better than in Scotland. What they do require is individual attention, for many of the large number of species are quite distinct in their habits. This makes the lily all the more interesting for if each variety is given just that little attention it deserves, it will reward one’s cares with a display of the utmost charm. It should never be forgotten that most lilies are equally as lovely when cut and used in the home as they are in the garden, and those that are inexpensive should be planted for this purpose. They will provide colour and fragrance right through the summer.


Each individual variety should be studied, for planting depths and positions are varied. Some species like to be planted as deep as 8 in. such as that grand vigorous Canadian introduction, L. Maxwill – others like only 3 in., the average depth being about 4 in. for I feel a number of varieties are planted rather too deeply.

Where the soil tends to be in any way heavy or sticky, the bulbs should be planted on to sand and covered with a sand and peat mixture. Lily bulbs are generally received packed in dry peat and it is unwise to remove them or expose them to winds. Keep them in the containers until the time to plant them. Seasons of planting and position they are to occupy is also of great importance. As a general rule, the early summer-flowering bulbs should be planted in the early autumn and those that bloom during July and August may be planted early in spring. Again, if the soil tends to be cold and sticky, early spring planting is preferable. It all depends on the soil rather than on the position, for in an exposed garden in the north, provided the soil is sandy and humus laden, the bulbs may be planted during autumn and covered with bracken during winter.

Careful study of the individual requirements of the different species as to the need for shade or full sun will mean obtaining the best from each bulb.

Lilies for shade

  • L. amabile
  • L. candidum
  • L. croceum
  • L. Henryi
  • L. leucanthum
  • L. michiganense
  • L. pardalinum
  • L. pyrenaicum
  • L. speciosum
  • L. umbellatum

For a damp situation or heavy soil

  • L. michiganense 8 ft. July
  • L. pomponium 4 ft. June
  • L. pyrenaicum 3 ft. May
  • L. Roezlii 4 ft. June – July
  • Lime lovers Height In Bloom
  • L. candidum 4 ft. June
  • L. chakedonicum 3 ft. July
  • L. Henryi 9-10 ft. August
  • L. leucanthum 7-8 ft. August
  • L. martagon 5-6 ft. July
  • L. pomponium 4 ft. June

Lilies for sunny position

  • L. Brownii 3 ft. July
  • L. chakedonicum 3 ft. July
  • L. dauricum 4 ft. August
  • L. Hansonii 5 ft. June-July
  • L. martagon 5-6 ft. July
  • L. Maxwill (Davidii) 6 ft. July
  • L. pomponium 4 ft. June
  • L. pumilum ft. June
  • L. regale 5 ft. July-August
  • L. tigrinus 5 ft. August-September

Those requiring a lime-free soil

  • L. amabile 3 ft. July
  • L. auratum 6 ft. August
  • L. Hansonii 5 ft. June-July
  • L. pardalinum 6-7 ft. August
  • L. superburn 5 ft. July-August
  • L. tenuifolium 2 ft. May

Though this may clarify the requirements of the individual bulbs, it must be said that many of them are most versatile, L. regale, for instance, thriving in partial shade and full sun and in a calcareous soil or one of an acid nature. When planting care must be taken to note the heights that the blooms will attain, so that tall varieties may be placed at the back of the border and those with a dwarf habit to the front. When planting two or three species together, the best method is to remove the soil to a depth of 6 in. and into the aperture is sprinkled a mixture of sand and peat. The bulbs are then firmly placed on to this, spacing them 6 in. apart and the soil is then carefully filled in around them and made firm with pressure of the hands. This is a better method than planting with a trowel, the bulbs can be made much more comfortable.

As the bulbs make growth, a peat and soil mixture should be placed round the stems. Staking should be done when the plants are tall enough to be damaged by winds. Those with a dwarf habit may require no staking.

After flowering, the blooms are removed and when the stem has died down in autumn it is removed and a mulch of peat placed over the bulbs. If there is fear of severe frosts, bracken or straw may be placed over them and removed early in April.


There are various methods of increasing one’s stock. Several species, L. regale, and L. croceum, for example, will rapidly increase in a soil which suits them, and if lifted in alternate years the bulbs may be separated and replanted just as with the daffodil. The old-fashioned Tiger Lily, L. tigrinum and L. umbellatum are easily increased from the tiny bulbils which form at the point where the leaves join the stems. They will be found to have ripened by early September when they should be removed and planted into drills xi in. deep and into which has been added some sand and peat. They will reach flowering size in two years if never allowed to suffer from lack of water. Or most varieties may be increased from scales carefully removed in autumn and planted into boxes of loam, peat and sand, covered with an inch of compost and placed in a cold frame until they have formed bulbs.

They are then planted out and will form flowers in three years. But the easiest method and that most practised by amateurs is to sow seed which with a number of varieties will germinate quickly and evenly and will grow into flowering-size bulbs within two years – L. longiflorum will flower within fifteen months. The seed should be sown in a greenhouse or frame in early April into boxes 8-9 in. deep and containing a mixture of loam, peat and sand in equal quantities. The seed is sown thinly and very lightly covered with peat. When germination has taken place, the containers should be placed in a well-ventilated frame, shaded from strong sunlight and there they will remain until the following April, protected from severe weather by covering the lights with sacking. After twelve months the bulbs may be planted out into trenches of peat and sand and they should remain there for another twelve months. They will by then have formed flowering-size bulbs, ready for planting early in April in the border where they will come into bloom a few weeks later.

Many of the stem-rooting varieties will produce dozens of tiny bulbils on the stems beneath the soil. These will root themselves and may be grown on in boxes of sand and peat for two years before planting in the border.

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