Often called the aristocrats, lilies are stately, versatile plants, providing panache to a pot or a place at the back of a border.
True Lilies or Daylilies
Lilies are dazzling performers that work well in most gardens. Whether they’re true lilies or daylilies, plants come in a range of heights; flowers vary in character from blaring and bold to sweet and bashful—all offering grace and colour to summer’s palate.
True lilies belong to the genus Lilium, growing from bulbs made up of layers of fleshy scales. Each bulb sends up a single stalk with shiny, straight leaves arranged alternately around the stem, and a number of six-petaled flowers near the top of the stem, blooming from May through to September. The bulbs multiply, forming colonies over a few years and, as with most perennials, benefit from regular division. There are a number of different lily types, from Asiatic to Oriental, trumpet to hybrids (see “A Bouquet of Blooms,” page 19).
Daylilies, on the other hand, belong to the genus Hemerocallis, meaning “beauty for a day:” the length of time one flower blooms. However because there are multiple buds per stem, or scape—and multiple scapes per plant or clump of plants—daylilies can bloom continually throughout the season. Although flowers appear to have six petals, they actually have three petals and three sepals that are the same colour (just to confuse you these like-coloured petals and sepals are called tepals.) The foliage is strappy, like wide blades of grass; plants grow from fleshy roots that can be divided and shared time and again.
Lusting for true lilies
“I’ve always enjoyed the bright colours of Asiatic lilies, and the way a clump of them can make such a dramatic statement in the garden,” says Tracey Martin, who has turned her love of the flowering beauties into a mail-order business called Lilies from the Valley, in Falmouth, NS. “But I also love the colour and fragrance of Orientals, and of course exciting new hybrids just keep appearing.”
If we plan for colour and texture our plantings will be two dimensional, Tracey says. “Add fragrance to the mix, and suddenly the garden takes on another allure. Scent lets you know there’s something intriguing somewhere in the garden, and you have to seek it out. And of course, the scented, brilliant flowers lure hummingbirds and butterflies, adding a further dimension to your garden space.”
The most important factor in growing lilies is soil drainage: lilies require excellent drainage, allowing roots to spread and preventing root and bulb rot. Nothing will take out a lily bulb faster than cold, wet soil, especially through the winter months. If you have heavy, soggy soil you can improve drainage by amending the it with organic matter and sand. Alternatively, create a raised bed—at least six inches deep—of well-draining soil. Most lilies prefer a pH between 6 and 7 (they don’t appreciate alkaline soil).
Adding lilies to your garden design is as easy as knowing your soil conditions and your colour preferences. Tracey has several planting recommendations. “Plant three or five bulbs of the same variety in strategic areas you want to focus on. Leave some room because the bulbs will multiply,” she says. As with any plants you need to consider the height of the cultivars you’re choosing—lilies range from dwarf varieties that grow well in containers to those that tower four or more feet in height, which may require staking and are usually best suited to the back of a border.
The Scarlet Lily Beetle
One notable pest problem is the scarlet lily beetle. This brilliant red, hard-shelled insect is voracious, dining on the leaves of lilies, fritillaria and other lily relatives, causing their death. Its presence is sporadic throughout the Atlantic region, although its territory appears to be growing.
Adults overwinter in sheltered places, such as under leaf litter, then emerge in spring to begin eating, mating and breeding. In late April and early May, look for reddish-orange eggs spread across the undersides of leaves, as well as larvae covered with slimy black excrement on their backs. Larvae go into the soil to pupate after a feeding frenzy that can last two to three weeks or longer; the pupae are orange and slug-like until they emerge as adults. You’ll see the beetles in adult stages throughout the rest of the summer, but they won’t lay eggs again until the following spring.
Handpicking and squashing the adults is one effective, if somewhat disgusting, method of control. It’s also important to remove leaf litter from the ground around your lilies. Burn, do not compost, this litter—compost heaps don’t get hot enough to kill off larvae or eggs of the insect pests.
An effective organic treatment is to apply neem oil—sold as a leaf polish rather than an organic insecticide—to your lilies when the beetles are in the larval stage. Neem won’t kill adults, although it may repel them from dining on your lilies, but it’s the larvae that are the truly voracious pests. Depending on the brand, you may need to add oil to warm water with an emulsifier for easy application. Target only your lilies and fritillaria, and apply early in the morning or the evening to avoid killing beneficial insects such as ladybug larvae.
A bouquet of blooms
Asiatic, Oriental or Orienpet? Longiflorum, species or trumpet? Here are the most common lily classifications.
Asiatic Flowers face outward or upward and are usually unscented.
Martagon Taller than many lilies; numerous small, downward facing flowers with reflexed (curved back) petals. Often speckled with a contrasting colour.
Oriental hybrids Think fragrant when you think of Oriental lilies. The plants are often quite large, with outward-facing flowers; perhaps the best known is the magnificent ‘Stargazer.’
Other hybrids Includes the exciting crosses between Trumpet and Oriental (Orienpet), Longiflorum X Asiatic (LA hybrids) and Asiatic X Trumpet (Asiapet). Not as common as other divisions, but well worth growing.
Species lilies These are the wild lilies found throughout the world—the parentage from which all hybrids are derived. Often not as showy as their hybrid offspring, but cherished by collectors for their delicate beauty.
Trumpet As the name suggests, flowers are trumpet-shaped, usually very fragrant—the Easter lily, for example.
Dreaming in daylilies
When you think of daylilies you may think of the tawny-orange or yellow “ditch lilies” you see growing in great profusion along roadsides, on old homesteads and sometimes, taking over garden beds. But these are only two somewhat weedy species of a genus that is one of the most beloved and hybridized in the world. You can’t go wrong with daylilies—they’re easy-care perennials that attract hummingbirds and butterflies and grow almost anywhere, looking great from spring to final frost.
You’ll find them in every colour except true blue and pure white. There are cultivars with small blossoms on dwarf plants, and others with huge, ornate flowers on scapes towering five or more feet in height. As with true lilies, there are various flower forms and colour patterns, making for an almost infinite number of combinations.
Nancy Oakes is one gardener who discovered the “new” daylilies nearly 30 years ago. “I ordered ‘Mateus,’ described as the colour of rosé wine… when it actually bloomed that colour I was hooked on daylilies,” she says. In the early 1990s Nancy opened a small nursery featuring perennials, but as garden centres caught on to the perennial craze Nancy decided to specialize in daylilies. Today her nursery, Red Lane Gardens, in Belfast, PEI, grows 900 cultivars, with about 500 currently for sale via her mail-order catalogue.
Easy to Grow Performers
One of the many charms of daylilies is that they are a forgiving plant, Nancy says, making them terrific for novice gardeners. For maximum flower power there are two significant considerations when planting: as with peonies, the crowns, or growing tips, should not be planted deeply—you want to work the soil to about a foot deep to give roots space to spread, and place the crowns within the top two inches of soil. Daylilies thrive on sun—they prefer a minimum of six hours per day, and even full sun will suit. Although daylilies are drought tolerant they love water, especially right after planting. As with most plants, a deep soaking once a week, if not provided by rainfall, is better than a little sprinkling every day.
It takes daylilies a couple of years to grow large enough root systems to support a mature plant; the first couple of years you won’t have numerous scapes or blooms. But be patient: as your plants mature they will form clumps laden with many scapes of flowers.
Which daylilies for you?
Choosing a few daylilies can be challenging—there are more than 55,000 varieties listed in the American Hemerocallis Society database, for example. Your best bet to help streamline your list is to visit a display garden of daylilies during peak bloom season, generally from mid July to mid August, if possible. Not far from my home is Canning Daylily Gardens, owned and operated by Wayne Storrie and Wayne Ward. Fifteen years ago they started adding daylilies to the ever-expanding flowerbeds around their home, and got hooked on their ease and reliability “not to mention the incredibly beautiful flowers,” says Wayne Storrie. It’s been 10 years since “the Waynes,” as they are referred to, began selling daylilies from their yard, eventually expanding to an acre lot near their home. They too have 900 cultivars on display in the gardens, and offer more than 400 of these for sale. (The others will be offered once they have field-grown enough to ensure a steady supply for customers.)
The latest trends in daylily breeding include fancy flowers with knobbed, ruffled and rolled tepal edges in a colour that contrasts the rest of the flower. Breeders are also focusing on flowers with different tepal shapes. Some boast pinched or folded tepals; others have twisted or curled flowers like pinwheels, and still others have tepals that cascade like a waterfall. Spiders are a separate classification with long, ribbon-like tepals—Nancy Oakes is partial to these because of their graceful form and the movement their flowers add to a garden.
Few pests or diseases seriously affect the overall health of daylilies. Aphids and spider mites sometimes colonize them, but both pests are easily controlled by applications of soapy water. Growers specializing in daylilies sometimes have problems with tarnished plant bugs—they attack the buds of daylilies and other plants with tightly packed small buds, including dahlias and yarrow. Soapy water will also decimate these.
Spring sickness, as the name suggests, is when leaves emerge from the ground in spring twisted rather than straight, and often with notched edges. It’s thought this ailment is due to environmental conditions such as temperature fluctuations in winter or an imbalance in soil nutrients. Yellow streaks in mature leaves are signs of leaf streak, a fungal disease; this is easily handled by cutting off discoloured leaves—if they’re an issue.
When a bargain isn’t a bargain
Because of the boom in gardening and the constant demand for new plants, hybrids are frequently propagated using tissue culture, which means cloning new plants from the cells of parent plants. Breeders are able to amass great stocks much quicker and cheaper than if the plants are grown from divisions or seed.
This process works well for many different types of plants; however daylilies do not respond well to tissue culture—offspring plants often mutate and look nothing like the parents. Because many of these plants are not grown to mature bloom size, flower colour can vary dramatically from parents, as can other desired traits and overall plant vigour—yet hundreds of thousands of tissue-cultured daylilies are on the market. Given the abilities of plant scientists to respond to challenges, we may see this resolved in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, check with your local garden centre, asking if its daylilies are from field-grown stock or tissue culture. Or purchase from specialty growers who you know are field-growing their plants, such as Red Lane and Canning Daylilies.