Cheerleading for lilium


These L. Robina (oriental/trumpet) were bred by Arie Peterse for their buds as well as their flowers.

For years I have been wondering why more gardeners I knew did not grow lilium. Apparently, I’m not alone. A couple weeks ago, an electronic press packet representing a big lilium promotion by Netherland Bulb arrived in the Rant mailbox (and some of yours as well, I am sure).  

It is true that many gardeners have still not gotten past Stargazers—in fact, a local florist I know who generally has a nice selection of Oriental lilies tends to call them all Stargazers no matter what they are. It’s also true that some of my Garden Walk visitors still look at my lilies in amazement and ask if they need to be overwintered inside. So maybe a new round of lilium education is called for.

And there’s news! Those of us who have learned to embrace orienpets will now need to figure out a whole new alphabet soup of hybrids which culminate in a new LAOT hybrid—a four way cross between Longiflorum, Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet. Lilies are being bred to have different colors, subtler fragrances, more up-facing blooms, and—as you see above—brightly colored buds.

Which is all very well. I ordered and planted some of the new OTs myself this year. But I wonder if it is the lack of new hybrids that stops many gardeners from adding more lilies. There are other issues with lilies—like their general need for staking (Asiatics need it less), thanks to their height and heavy flowers. The blooms and scent have to be worth it for the gardener—placing them against or among equally tall camouflaging plants helps.

It also seems a shame that promoters are not reminding gardeners about the really foolproof lilies, the ones that will put up with partial shade, bad drainage, and general incompetence to persevere, bloom, and return year after year. These are the lilies I depend on, and I’m guessing none of them will be the subject of special promotions:

L. martagon
. My June lily. This never needs staking, and has interesting foliage, unusual in a lilium.

L. henryi
. Wild, tall, and with goofy orange bumps.

L. Scheherazade
. Tree-trunk –like stalks and stately long-lasting flowers.


L. auratum
. Also known as Gold Band. I sometimes have problems finding this, but there are some hybrids that must be related to it (like Amazing, above).

L. Casa Blanca. Always fabulous.

I can easily envision limiting myself to just those five. Ha.

Previous articleThe Most Luxurious Garden Center in the World
Next articleNY Times Calls Me “Cantankerous.” Oddly, No One Considers This News.
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I love lilies and have tried to grow those very few varieties that *might* grow with humid summer heat, warm winters, and dry caliche. Alas, growing lilies here is impossible.

  2. What beautiful lilies. I have several now. The Black Beauties and henryii are safe from deer because they are in the herb garden near the house, but last year the dear got the Casa Blancas and Stargazers out in the lawn grove. Wish me luck this year. I am going to start with the deer-off soon and often.

  3. The need for staking has put me off in the past. I need to remember to “consider the [tiger] lilies of the [roadside]” who get along without any support other than their own arching stems.

  4. Patricia,

    The martagon lilies do not need staking–even in my shade–and many Asiatics don’t either, if they are in full sun. I think too that the shorter Orientals (Tom Pouce, Muscadet) can get along without staking.

    The roadside lilies–I think those are a form of daylily (hemerocallis), not lilium. I never saw a daylily that needed staking–in many ways they are the most carefree perennials I can think of.

  5. I planted Casablanca lilies when I first moved to NOLA. I wasn’t sure they make it here, but they grew. They grew to ten feet, and then swayed against the brick courtyard. I’ve been trying to stick with common daylilies since – but where does one find those orange ones I remember from childhood? They grew everywhere, by the side of roads, usually with some blackberries snagging me too. I can find fancy, just not those.

  6. I used to grow many different kinds of lilies, but that was when I was a very passionate flower show displayer. My current garden is not about the flower shows, the plants have to look good with the other plants in the garden. Therein lies my problem. I don’t really like the look of lilies in the garden. I don’t find they look quite right with all my hostas, epimediums, and ferns. Maybe I’m just not combining them properly, or maybe it’s because I have a different kind of garden now, more shade than exploding sun garden. They look fine with daisies and liatris, but I don’t have those things anymore. I wouldn’t have lilies either, but my aunt gave me a bucket full.

  7. Up until last year I had never really had lilies in my garden, thinking for flowers of that size, there must be a lot of work involved, and they would probably be very delicate…probably lasting about a week, if I was lucky (think Peonies). On a lark, I bought a few ‘Black Beauty’ bulbs at a Garden Show last spring. I could not have been more wrong (at least with this variety). They are easy to grow, very vigorous and completely trouble-free…and the flowers…glorious…and they bloomed for over a month. This year, they are already taller than they were when they bloomed last season and the stalks are enormous…hopefully I won’t have to stake them (didn’t last year). I would recommend “Black Beauty’ to anyone interested in getting their feet wet…their only flaw is their lack of fragrance.

  8. We have the wild orange Columbiana lilies growing along the edges of our orchard in spots, and I can’t believe they would survive if deer eat them, we have so many deer around here. I love them in the wild because they are always a surprise, an unexpected splash of orange in the greenery.

  9. Scott,

    I ought to have mentioned Black Beauty. I have had some for over 8 years. I even moved them once right before bloom–no problem.

  10. I love lilies. I put in a few more every year. Why would they purposely breed out fragrance? I need to find a source for the L. columbianum, the stems are cool in a structural way that a lot of lily stems aren’t. I grew some from seed, but they seem to have disappeared.

  11. Believe it or not there are people out there that can’t stand the smell of lilies. I worked a flower show at a vendor booth selling cut flowers and about one out of ten people would cut a wide path with their hand over their nose and mouth, gasping for air. They often explained that lilies don’t smell sweet to them – so maybe its a genetic thing that only some people enjoy the smell. I know that I can’t smell freesias and paperwhites smell like soap to me, but lilies I enjoy. If you grow them down here you have to protect them from deer, woodchucks, squirrels and chipmunks. Deer will eat the buds and flowers, then come back the next night and eat the stalks and leaves and then come back a third night to dig up the bulbs and eat them too.

  12. I go for the value bags of lily of bulbs at Home Depot or Lowes. I pot them up in April and just this weekend transplanted them to various spots in my garden beds. Though I will buy individual plants if I like the color. I like to combine with shrub roses or daylilies.
    Here in WI I find them very tolerant of my sandy soil and so far the deer stay a few hundred feet away down by the creek. I enjoyed Amy Stewart’s history of the Stargazer lily in Flower Confidential!

  13. Elizabeth, one of the biggest problems I currently have with lilies (and I love them; I grow many, among them ‘Scherezade’) is the lily leaf beetle. Maybe they haven’t made it over to Buffalo yet, but a couple years ago they showed up here in the Rochester area, and they are decimating my lilies! They’re thick all up and down the stems. Far too many to pick off and kill (and they have a nasty habit of flying off just as you’re ready to pounce). I’m at my wits’ end, and ultimately I may have to eschew lilies for the duration. I’m sure there’s a chemical fix for them, but I try to be as organic as possible, so I won’t avail myself of that remedy. What’s a lily-lover to do???

  14. I love & grow many types of lilies. I also was fascinated with the history of the people who developed the Stargazer lily which I read about in Flower Confidential. Personally I enjoy hearing that kind of history as it relates to plants. and I’m glad a previous poster reminded me of it. So far no lily leaf beetles in Albany, NY.

  15. I love lilies, they’re a nice tall burst of color for me about this time of year and later on…..I like L.A.,’s, the OT’s, trumpets, orientals, I just like lilies…..and the fragrance, good Lord, when you walk by some of those OT’s you walk in and out one wiff of heaven into another…..and most of them look pretty good even before they bloom, nice looking buds, strong stems, nice colored leaves and a good vertical look for your border. I got one big stand of “Yelloween”, its about the prettiest thing I ever seen and the most fragrant…….just saying, I like them lilies……..

  16. Lily beetles? Those scarlet little critters that lay eggs on the underside of leaves and leave all that nasty black excrement? Even the later blooming lilies whose blooms escape have beetles attracted to their foliage.

    Quite a few gardeners in New England have found hand picking too labor intensive.

    Or am I mistaken and the lilies you’re discussing aren’t victims of these nasty, nasty critters?


  17. So happy to see this post–I’ve grown lilies since I began grown-up gardening in 1989. I have about half-dozen varieties and wish I had room for more.

    The tiger lilies may be the orange, black-spotted lilium–that’s what I’ve always called them. Not seen often in ditches; I agree those are likely those ugly orange hemorocallis. A few years ago, I got this type at yard sale. It spreads by bulblets prolifically, and could become a pest.

    Scott, my ‘Black Beauty’ flowers do have a very subtle, light fragrance. I split my clump last year and made sure to put some within easy smelling distance.

    They are quite short, however. I was hoping to get them taller by splitting them, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. I topped them off with compost last fall after re-planting. Any ideas?

  18. Jodi,

    I think my Black Beauties are tall partially because they do get some shade–they are reaching. I wouldn’t think compost would be necessary. Good drainage is more important.

  19. Thanks, Elizabeth. I believe the drainage is quite good. They are all in fairly sunny spots, though. Can’t wait till they bloom; they are my favorites, and I now have many more because I split them up.

  20. The lily beetles did me in even though I love lilies. They are truly disgusting. They like the little fritillaries too but I do try to keep them at bay. So sad.
    (avid gardener in Southern Ontario)

Comments are closed.