Lilies for the Garden

Richard Woods, from Lilies and Chillies, with his advice on growing lilies in your garden. - 24 March 2017

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily” - Chinese Proverb


Lilium 'Arabian Night'

Lilies are an easy range of bulbs to grow. There are varieties that are good for either alkaline or acidic soils or hybrids that are not fussy at all. Alternatively lilies are very easy to grow in pots.

There are several groups of lilies and with careful selection it is possible to have lilies flowering from early June to September and even into October depending on the season.

Asiatic (A): Easy to grow in any good garden soil or compost, neutral to alkaline. Unscented. Lilium 'Red Flavour' is a good example of a strong grower, with fine foliage and slightly reflexed, deep red flower petals.


Lilium 'Red Flavour'

Longiflorum Asiatic (LA): Hardy varieties in a wide range of colours, suitable for borders or pots. Alkaline to slightly acidic. Some are scented. Lilium 'Eyeliner' is a strong grower with creamy white flowers delicately edged with burgundy matching its freckles.

Longiflorum Oriental (LO): Often pale with sweetly scented trumpet shaped flowers early in the season. Ideal in most well drained soil conditions and hardy. Alkaline or acidic soil.

Martagon and martagon types: Martagons should be planted about 15cm deep in an alkaline loam based soil. They don’t like acidic conditions or peat. When they have settled in they should be left undisturbed to multiply well. Best grown in a semi shaded site or light woodland. They don’t like full sun.

Oriental Trumpet (OT): Pleasantly scented, producing stunning flowers ideal for garden planting or pots. Hardy & easy to grow in well drained soil that can be alkaline or acidic. Lilium 'Miss Feya' has a striking deep crimson-maroon flower with slightly arching stems that looks at home in the garden. Some OT varieties can easily grow to two metres and above.


Lilium 'Miss Feya'

Oriental (O): Hardy, highly scented mid season lilies for ericaceous compost or acidic soil and well drained areas. Exceptionally good for pots. This group contains a number of double varieties, so all the flamboyance and fragrance but without the pollen.


Lilium hansonii

Species: Hardy scented and unscented lilies, great for garden planting and excellent naturalisers. Some prefer alkaline soil whilst others prefer acidic. Whilst some are easy to grow others can pose a real challenge. Lilium regale is an exceptional garden lily with fantastic fragrance and is easy to grow.


Lilium regale 'Album'

Growing Lilies

In the garden and in pots lilies need 15cm of soil above the bulb, a notable exception being Lilium candidum (The Madonna Lily) which needs planting with the top of the bulb level with the soil surface and is more drought tolerant than other lilies. Bulbs can be planted in the autumn or spring however, martagon lilies MUST be planted in the autumn. In pots use a good potting compost mixed with a loam based compost, feed regularly and repot every couple of years in late autumn/early winter. For oriental lilies it is essential to maintain soil acidity. Dead head after flowering and let the foliage die back naturally to put energy back into the bulb. Winter cold is not a problem but as with any bulb good drainage is essential to prevent rot. Pots can always be sheltered from winter wet under glass or the eaves of the house.


Lilium 'Claude Shride'

Lilies generally have few pests and diseases but the infamous 'red' lily beetle is becoming more widespread. The beetle has a voracious appetite for the foliage. It can be controlled by chemical or more natural methods . There are pesticides available that will target the lily beetle, aphids & vine weevil. These should be watered on when stems are a few inches tall. Picking the beetles off and disposing of them is a simple way as is a quick blast of the hosepipe to remove larvae from the leaves. Neem oil is a natural product extracted from the seeds of an Indian tree and has many uses in the home and garden. It has been used for hundreds of years to control pests and diseases and neem oil can be found in many products today. These include toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, pet shampoos & shampoo that targets nits on human hair! A small amount of oil mixed with water and a drop of detergent makes an excellent pesticide. It needs to be sprayed on the foliage and reapplied after rain.

With just a little care lilies can reward you for years with beautiful vibrant flowers and a delicious scent.

Richard and Leigh Woods run Lilies and Chillies, a specialist nursery based in Derbyshire, where they grow a range of unusual & traditional perennial plants including a varied coloured selection of Itoh paeonias and lots of lilies.


Article and all photos copyright the author.