Lilies—beautiful and easy
What’s a summer garden without lilies?
The genus Lilium, true lilies, are one of the most versatile plant groups when you want blooms over many weeks. We’re not talking about daylilies here. (That’s Hemerocallis, a whole other wonderful genus.) Lilium includes about eighty species of bulbs with innumerable cultivars. We usually plant them as bulbs in the spring or fall in the Northeast, although in summer you can find them as blooming plants at garden centers. That’s the most expensive way to acquire them.
Lilies might be voted “the official flower of Buffalo” if an election were held, because so many Oriental lilies and cultivars are riotously displayed during Garden Walk Buffalo and the National Garden Festival events leading up to it. Obviously, lilies can handle tough, cold conditions—yet many gardeners still don’t know or can’t find the broad array of lilies we could be using here, or assume that the exotic-looking blooms are difficult to grow. In fact, they couldn’t be easier. If you are planning a summer garden, think lilies now.
Plant explorers discovered native lilies throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and divided up the eighty species into seven categories (classification credited to Harold F. Comber, 1949). During the early twentieth century, they were considered finicky, difficult plants, short-lived and expensive—a rich man’s toy. But a lily revolution took place in the 1950s, spearheaded by hybridizer Jan de Graaff (a name you are likely to recognize from catalogues still). Aggressive breeding programs, especially with Asiatic hybrids, produced an explosion of lilies suitable for low-maintenance American gardens.
Of all the classifications of lilies available for WNY gardens, the Asiatic hybrids, Oriental hybrids, and newer strains that mix trumpet lilies with Oriental or Asiatic varieties are the most rewarding.
In the garden
Lily expert Roxanne McCoy, owner of Lilies of the Field in West Falls, has grown thousands of lilies for cut-flowers, to sell at the East Aurora farmers market. McCoy knows lilies. So which ones does she think more people should buy?
“Too many people still don’t know about the L.A. and L.O. hybrids,” McCoy says. “They’re bigger, tougher, sturdier, more disease resistant—just fabulous!” I tend to follow her advice. But what’s an L.A. or an L.O.?
The L.A. refers to the “L” of longiflorum (Easter lily types) and the “A” is for Asiatic. They mostly bloom early and face outward. The L.O. hybrids come from a crossing of the L. longiflorum with Oriental lilies (the “L” and the “O”), so you get tall, statuesque, later-blooming lilies. The other term you’re likely to encounter in the world of lily hybrids is Orienpet, referring to hybrids from Oriental and Trumpet or Aurelian lily crossings. They bloom almost a month after the Asiatics, and offer fragrance, beauty, and durability.
The best idea is to select a mixture of June-blooming Asiatic hybrids (there are too many names to list), July-blooming Orienpets (such as “Silk Road” or “Triumphator”) and August-blooming Oriental hybrids (such as “Casa Blanca,” “Muscadet,” and “Tom Pouce”). Plant clumps of each; this will make staking easier. It’s also wise to plant a few extra in an out-of-the-way place just for cutting. And don’t forget the tough species lilies like l. martagon and l. speciosum rubrum. These will take more shade than the hybrids and will last longer in your garden.