Lilies FAQs

Which are the best of the scented lilies?

Many modern lilies have very pleasant scents. Most of the trumpet kinds, such as the favourite Liliam regale, are perfumed, as is the greenhouse species L. longiflorum, the Easter lily beloved of florists. The trumpet kinds also include varieties such as ‘Pink Perfection’ and ‘Royal Gold’, and the Olympic Hybrids; some of the Asiatic hybrids are also scented, though rarely very strongly.

Many of the Oriental lilies have as rich a perfume as any flower. The huge-flowered golden-rayed lily (L. auratum) has such a strong perfume that a single bloom can scent a whole room. L. speciosum is another with a rich scent.

My soil is rather limy. Are lilies out of the question?

Some lilies, notably L. speciosum and L. auratum, hate lime; others are lime tolerant. Lily species that grow well on lime include the orange L. henryi, which when established can have 30 or more flowers on a stem. L. martagon, the Turk’s-cap lily, is another, and there is a series of hybrids from this species that are excellent on lime and, once planted, can be left for ever. The May-flowering L. pyrenaicum, with yellow curled-up bells, grows strongly on lime and can naturalise itself.

Most of the Asiatic hybrids will grow quite well in limy soil if peat or leaf mould is added. ‘Enchantment’, ‘Connecticut King’, and ‘Sterling Silver’ are three excellent examples.

Can you give some hints on growing lilies in the garden?

Lilies need well-drained-soil with plenty of humus. They like their faces in the sun and their toes in the shade, so plant them between shrubs or in a mixed border.

American species such as the panther lily (L. pardahnum) and othes such as L. henryi are not stem-rooting—all their roots come from the base of the bulb. Most of the popular Asiatic hybrids (such as ‘Enchantment’) and trumpet kinds (such as ‘Golden Splendour’) are vigorous stem-rooters and particularly benefit from mulching.

Plant with at least 100 mm (4 in) of soil over the bulbs. Depending on the size of the adult plant allow 150-300 mm (6-12 in) between bulbs. If slugs are prevalent use slug killers.

Leave American species and L. martagon and its hybrids undisturbed. Modern hybrids may need lifting after 3 years to alleviate overcrowding. Do this a week or so after flowering.

How are lilies best grown in pots?

Lilies grow easily even in quite small pots. Three bulbs of the smaller kinds can be grown in a 150 mm (6 in) pot, although a 200 mm (8 in) one would be preferable. Tall trumpet lilies need larger pots.

Use equal quantities of John Innes Potting compost No 1 and peat. About 25-50 mm (1-2 in) of the mixture goes in the bottom of the pot. The bulbs are placed in, and then the pot is filled nearly to the top with more mixture.

Lilies grow quickly. Planted in February-May and kept out of frost, the bulbs will break through rapidly and bloom in a few weeks. Bulbs can be grown again the following year if they are kept watered and some fresh growing mixture is added.

Which lilies are suitable for pot culture?

In general, lilies are among the most successful of bulbs in pots, but you should avoid L. martagon and the American species and their numerous hybrids. Probably the easiest to grow are the earlier kinds such as ‘Enchantment’ (orange flowers) and the other Asiatic hybrids. Some of the best are: ‘Pirate’ (orange/red); ‘Destiny’ (yellow with spots); ‘Connecticut King’ (plain rich yellow); ‘Sterling Silver’ (white with spots).

L. regale (white) and the trumpet hybrids bloom a few weeks later and may be taller; they are normally heavily scented. Some of my favourites are: ‘Royal Gold’ (yellow); ‘Golden Splendour (yellow); ‘Pink Perfection’ (pink in various shades); ‘African Queen’ (orange).

Are there any lilies that readily naturalise?

Yes, most of the American species are easy to naturalise even on very heavy soil; try L. pardalinum or L.p giganteum (syn. ‘Sunset’, ‘Red Giant’). Bulbs of these spread to form one underground creeping root like a thick mat after two or three years. L.p. giganteum, particularly, will form ever-larger colonies and give more flowering stems each year; its flowers are an attractive red and gold with dark spots, the petals curling back into balls.

The striking Turk’s-cap lily (L. martagon) in white, mauve, and pink spotted forms takes a year or two to get established, but in gardens where it can be left undisturbed it will then start seeding itself. It appears in some British floras as a naturalised garden escape. L. pyrenaicum will also do this and naturalises easily. Both these species are lime tolerant. In acid soil things are not so easy, but you may be fortunate in getting L. speciosum to form persistent clumps.

How do I increase my lilies?

There are several ways. Lily bulbs divide and form clumps, which can be lifted and split after flowering. Small bulbs may be found near the large bulbs and on the stem below ground. The tiger lily (L. tigrinum) and others produce bulbils in the leaf axils (where leaf and stem meet). Growth of bulbils can be artificially stimulated by removing the topmost flowering part of the stem as the flower buds appear.

The seeds of many lilies germinate freely. L. regale can provide flowering bulbs after two years. Hybrid seeds will give rise to new kinds.

To produce one kind artificially, gently break off undamaged scales from a bulb. Place the scales upright in a moist mixture of peat and sand. Bulbs will develop from these and may be grown on in nursery rows until the plants reach flowering size.

Can you suggest the best lilies for use as cut flowers?

Most lilies make pleasingly opulent cut flowers; the strong Asiatic hybrids like ‘Pirate’, ‘Enchantment’, or ‘Connecticut King’ make marvellous cut flowers.

If you want the bulbs not to suffer, try to leave perhaps half the stem intact. Be careful when handling the lilies. The brilliant orange pollen can stain hands, face, and clothes.

Species to avoid are L. auratum and L. speciosum, whose glorious perfume is inclined to be overwhelming in confined spaces; and L. pyrenaicum, whose scent is unpleasant.

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