Growbag Blog

Lilies galore!

We are chatting about our favourite lilies this week, those glorious additions to the summer garden. But there are actually dozens of flowers with ‘lily’ in their common name, so Elaine and Caroline have had a somewhat looser approach to the topic than pedant Laura…

Laura and Miscanthus Yakushimo Dwarf

When the topic of lilies was first mooted by the sisterhood I naturally assumed our choices would be confined to plants within the botanical family Liliaceae. There’s a wide range of true lilies we can grow in our gardens; oriental, asiatic, Turks cap etc. But apparently even plants that have ‘lily’ as part of their unscientific name and look vaguely the right shape are considered fair game by E and C, so purists like me may have to grit their teeth and mutter under their breath this week.

Let’s at least start off on the right foot with my favourite true lilies and out in front by a country mile is a trumpet lily called ‘African Queen’. Taller and more statuesque than the usual white trumpet Lilium regale, African Queen combines exotic orange and purple colours with a divine scent and seems to have a great longevity in a deep rich border.

Lily ‘African Queen’
‘African Queen’ – she’s a bit top heavy but regular readers will know that she now grows through steel reinforcing mesh!

And then there’s Lilium martagon – although lacking in scent I love to see this tall rangy species tulip wandering about a semi- shaded border with its intriguing whorls of purple reflexed petals and dangling ginger anthers.

Martagon lily
It’s easy to see why the martagon lily is often also referred to as the Turk’s cap lily.

Having tried and failed to grow the enormous 10 foot Lilium cardiocrinum in the past (remember that I’m the sister that relishes a challenge) I have now set my sights on growing another Himalayan species, Lilium nepalensis. Again, not grown for its scent which I’m told is almost fetid, I love the look of its almost sinister lime green trumpet flowers with their mysterious maroon interior – this is definitely my next project

Lilium nepalensis
Lilium nepalensis – intriguing rather than beautiful so right up my street

My final choice is a tale of unrequited love. In our last garden I grew a stand of Madonna lilies, Lilium candidum, which were simply the loveliest thing you could ever wish for. Sadly the move to the acid soil of our current garden didn’t suit them at all and after years of heartbreak I finally dug up my my little darlings and passed them onto Elaine to live a much better life in her more alkaline soil. I even made a little video about this act of generosity (link at the end). But in a final bitter twist of the knife, when I asked recently how they were getting on she just casually dealt the final blow with her reply of ‘oh those, no, ‘fraid the squirrels dug them all up.’ 🥲

Lilium candidum
Lilium candidum, the Madonna Lily, an ancient and very special lily that I can only dream of having in my garden


Ooooh we can have some fun with this one, Caroline!  The Latin designation of Lilaceae might not want to play ball, and Laura may feel like giving a pedantic tut or two, but I’m right up for a ‘silly lily’ or two!

First up for me, daylilies!  Yes, okay, they don’t have the grace of a Madonna lily, but Hemerocallis are much easier to grow than true lilies, as long as they have sun and moisture.  Their Greek name means ‘beautiful for a day’ and it’s true that each bloom is only at its best for about 24 hours.  But it doesn’t matter! A well-grown clump of daylilies will keep pumping out flower stems for almost TWO MONTHS, so there’s always another bloom ready to wow you.

Daylilies may not be lilies, but they’re still gorgeous! This one is ‘Pink Damask’, seen with Phormium ‘Jester’

Another silly lily that makes my knees go weak is an arum lily – Zantedeschia.  Unlike daylilies, these have elegance in spades.  They grow from tubers and don’t like being planted deeply.  Give them some permanently moist (but not sodden) soil and plenty of sunshine, and they will reward you with their distinctive arrow-shaped ‘petals’ (spathe) wrapped around the inner reproductive spike (spadix). Arum lilies are hardy, but in the same plant family are calla lilies which are generally tender but offer an extraordinary variety of colours.

Elegance in a flower – arum lilies ooze class

I do feel a bit guilty at allowing grey squirrels to dig up all Laura’s.  beloved Madonna lilies.  Regretful too, because they are very lovely. I have had more success with Lilium regale (as in our feature pic this week), which can fill a garden corner with delicious scent on a warm afternoon. You see, Laura, even I can toe the line on occasion.

Plant Lilium regale to fill a garden corner with scent

Now back to the silly lilies……….Agapanthus is the African lily and I adore them too!

Here’s another not-lily that I love – African lilies!

Can you think of some not-lilies to tease Laura with, Caroline?


Laura won’t be surprised to know my true lily credentials begin and end with the Asiatic lilies generally sold in catalogues. You wouldn’t imagine a small bulb could contain quite so much plant though! It’s my kind of gardening in as much as they don’t seem to require very much at all .They don’t mind our Highland winters (tip the pot on its side in the autumn to stop them getting soggy) and no sign so far of lily beetle, so it’s all good.

Such a lot of lily for your lolly! Asiatic lily ‘Original Love’

My other forays will definitely be considered silly-lilies though. I bought some amarine bulbs at Chelsea, recalling Monty’s excitement about them. They’re a cross between an Amaryllis and a nerine (Guernsey lilies). I took down the instructions very carefully (pre-Pimms at this point) – two-thirds John Innes No. 3 compost and one third grit, and plant with the just top of the bulbs showing.

Amarines are a cross between an Amaryllis and a nerine – and even got Monty excited about them!

They looked quite similar to my other dodgy entrant for this post – Eucomis (pineapple lilies – sorry, Laura!) so I planted these the same way. Finding out only after I’d done it that Eucomis need to be planted at least 6 inches below the surface of the soil 😤.

Eucomis – another silly-lily which looks wonderful when planted properly!

I’d like to drive Laura completely mad by including river lilies (Hesperantha coccinea) but I haven’t tried them. I’ll leave you to share with us your tips for these!

Watch Laura kind- heartedly dig up all her Madonna lilies to give to Elaine … what eventually happened to them will be our little secret.

And find out why this shrub was the most talked about plant at Louise’s last Open Garden and so deserves to be her Great Plant this Month.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

5 replies on “Lilies galore!”

Sadly I’m not able to grow true lilies as I have two cats (lily pollen is deadly poison to them), so I have to make do with namesakes agapanthus and hesperantha. Luckily both flower fabulously in my Edinburgh garden 😀.

Hello Barbara, I’m sure your Nile lily and your kaffir lily more than make up for not being able to grow true lilies! I’ve often seen wonderful hesperantha in Scotland so they obviously love the climate there and it’s interesting to hear that agapanthus do too
Best wishes Laura

And there is always Lily of the Valley…what about Lily of Laguna?!
My Maine Coon cat is called Lilly….where did the double L come from I wonder!?

Yes I know the list is endless isn’t it Irene!
But judging from Barbara’s comment above it sounds like you need to keep Lilly away from the true lilies at flowering time or maybe snip the anthers off – I know a lot of people do that with bought lilies as the pollen also stains clothes really badly as well.
Best wishes Laura

For anyone on acid soil lilies grow perfectly well in pots. I’m gardening on the South Downs (thin, chalky soil – a struggle in itself) so have been keeping Madonna, Arum and Lilium Regale in pots in my court yard for a number of years and all are flourishing. All they need is a 2 inch top up with manure / compost every spring and being raised off the ground for good drainage. The Arums are going to stop flowering soon so am currently urging on both Lilium Regale and Madonna Lily, having guarded them from the dreaded Lily beetle for months (easier if they are close to the house, too). Will probably try other varieties in future.

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