Lily love begins



Got kind of a crappy shady spot with heavy clay soil you’ve never done one thing to improve? I have had the most tremendous luck with martagon lilies in such a spot. They are lovely when in bloom, multiply readily, and, unlike just about every other lily I’ve grown, NEVER need staking. There is a white variety, but I’ve found them to be a bit fussier. The better mail order places all have these. I’ve never seen them in a pot at a nursery or, indeed, as bulbs, so I think mail order is the best bet.

Oh, almost forgot. Their whorled foliage is actually an attractive feature, another first for a lilium. The foliage remains attractive (though I see I have a bit of yellowing here—should have pulled that off!) even after bloom. The only drawback is that their scent is .. ahem acquired taste (one that I can’t imagine too many people acquiring). But they don’t actually stink.

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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. Gorgeous. My yard is stuffed with lilies, but I never tried martagons because the bulbs are comparatively expensive. You’ve convinced me to just cough it up and give them a try.

  2. I may or may not have one or several “crappy shady spot with heavy clay soil you’ve never done one thing to improve.” I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of such spots – but this looks like a great solution! Thanks!

  3. Yes! I have Mrs. R.O. Backhouse from Ambergate Gardens in Minnesota, and it is doing well in such a craptastic spot. More people should most absolutely have these.

  4. Do I have crappy shady spots with unimproved clay soil? Does a bear ……… well, you know how it goes. Next year (should there be a next year at my advanced age) there will be martagon lilies. I have hesitated thus far because of their relative expense, which led me to think that expensive = picky.

  5. Okay, I bought the white and it never even came up, twice. But you have made the best sales pitch ever, no staking, crappy shade,so red martagon is getting a try here. Thanks.

  6. I’ll have to check them out. I have A LOT of shade, so this will help brighten up a few spots.

  7. Really? In SHADE? I have to look for some of these – we have a part sun, part shade spot that is so crappy not much will grow there. I’ll try these.

  8. Well, is there a gardener alive that doesn’t have crappy soil and shade somewhere? On the list…you are costing me $$$$ and feeding the addiction. Thanks.

  9. It took three years for my martagons to finally bloom. It was worth the wait. Must have more!

  10. Marties are cool, aren’t they? We go a special price on a group and gave them to all our volunteers at last weeks Iowa Regional Lily Society Bulb Sale.

    I got mine!!!

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