By Kathy Conner Cornell
VCE Southside Master Gardener
The true lilies Lilium are in the Liliaceae family as are daylilies. In “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” Allan Armitage lists 16 species and 5 related species and many of these species have cultivars and hybrids. Four of these species are native to parts of the Eastern United States, Wood Lily, L. philadelphicum, Turks Cap Lily L superbum, Canada Lily L canadense, Pot of Gold Lily L. iridollae and Carolina Lily, L. michauxii. According to Armitage, the Asian lilies seem to be happy in the eastern United States. The group of European species is mostly happy in the Northwest.
This beautiful Stargazer lily is a tough but fragrant addition to your garden.
The flowers of the true lilies are similar to daylilies but the foliage is completely different. Where daylilies are a mound of strappy leaves, true lilies have a main stalk off which the leaves emerge. The blooms last for a few weeks and most are very fragrant. When I finished horticulture school and moved permanently to Virginia, my husband wanted a lobster for his 60th birthday so off to Nova Scotia we went. We were scouting out a lunch spot and happened upon a distillery and lodge so drove in. I admit the food was wonderful and my husband so enjoyed the scotch, that couldn’t be called scotch because it was made in “New Scotland”, we ended up staying the night. At breakfast we smelled something so wonderful and Bill pointed to a flower arrangement and right there in the center was a Stargazer Lily.
Indeed these fragrant lilies are often used in floral arrangements and you’ll want to bury your face in them. You will come up with an orange nose. This makes it the bane of funeral directors. Often the arranger will snip off the pollen-bearing anther to save their dark clothes. I found a bag of Stargazer bulbs in Costco one fall. I have planted them in places where my husband and I sit so we can enjoy the aroma. The Stargazer was hybridized by Lelie Woodriff in the late 1970’s. It was a cross of L. auratum-speciosum with an unspecified species and gets its name by its upward facing flowers.
True lilies are mainly grown from bulbs. After blooming you may cut off the spent bloom but do not cut the leaves or main stem. The bulb needs this to feed it for next season’s bloom. In David Culp’s book “The Layered Garden” he suggests planting bulbs near the back of the garden so other plants can hide the dying foliage. These lilies go from four feet to six feet tall so the flowers will pop through shorter plants in front. I do not find the Stargazer lilies picky about much except they hate wet feet. Plant them in full sun and a rule of thumb with bulbs is to plant three times as deep as the size of the bulb.
In his book “Garden Bulbs of the South” Scott Ogden warns that some lilies are very exacting in their requirements. They want a certain type of soil and since some are from woodlands they want shade. He offers some encouragement that most of the trumpet-shaped lilies of the Far East thrive in the South. So it is important to do your homework before purchasing. In “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” Armitage in his list of 16 species labels each with ease of growth. Six are labeled difficult or medium difficult. The species listed as easy are Madonna Lily L. candidum, Henry Lily L. henryii, Regal Lily L. regale, Speciosum Lily L.speciosum, American Turk’s Cap Lily L. superbum and Tiger Lily L. tigrinum. These species and their cultivars and hybrids would be a good starting place.
As with daylilies there are many colors from which to choose and many different bloom shapes. If you do your research you should find early bloomers, regular bloomers in June and July for Southside and also late season bloomers. As my perennial plant instructor Michael said there is a lily for every garden situation and planting 6 or 7 together makes a statement.
While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings are closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask and treat yourself to some amazing true lilies.