Wild Lilies: An Interesting Choice for the Garden

The mild weather we’ve been having is a welcome break from the recent hard frost and much appreciated by gardens and gardener’s alike. There’s something exciting about February as seeds are being sown, new shoots are swelling, the snowdrops are on song, and new plants are arriving. Looking through catalogues and in Garden Centres, one encouraging surprise is the number of unusual bulbs available. Most are species (wild plants) not cultivars and can usually be found under the ‘miscellaneous’ section.

Lilium speciosum ‘Album’ in Bishop Rudds Walk

Lilies are a renowned favourite. They’ve been available for a very long time in a wide choice of cultivars, but less so as species. Recently many more species have become more readily available, and in fact, if you look through old catalogues, you’ll often only find a few white species – mostly the speciosum and tigridium type.

Lilium speciosum ‘Album’

They’re all great plants, but there’s a huge variety of species lily becoming available in a range of colour, size, and flower shape. A great advantage of species lily is that they can be grown from seed; it often takes three to five years, but it saves money and can be great fun.

Some species will settle in and behave like true herbaceous plants forming large clumps, unlike many cultivars which dwindle without dividing the offsets. Lilium Black Beauty is a notable exception, which has formed a 3-metre-wide clump at Aberglasney with hundreds of beautiful blooms. Seed grown species also pose less risk of getting a virus in your plants – a condition that can often be hard to spot until you see one without a virus and realise how much more vigorous they are.

Lilium ‘Black beauty’ and Hydrangea ‘Blue wave’ in Bishop Rudds Walk

Species Lilies haven’t been bred for the garden and need to be treated a little differently. In the wild, many are hedgerow plants or grow in shrub thickets. This means they’re much taller and will require stalking. You’d be forgiven for instantly thinking they’ll require more work, but rather than staking them, if they’re placed between tightly planted shrubs the shrub will give them enough support. This is a really good way of growing them as you’ll get two sets of interest: one from the Lily and one from the shrub. This can also be done with Thalictrum, which will combine well with Lily colour-wise.

Lilium lancifolium
Lilium lancifolium

So, where’s a good position to grow them? Well, they enjoy very moist, free draining soil, are prone to winter rot but do enjoy the high rainfall we get on the British Isles. They’ll be quite happy anywhere other than full-shade or full-sun, although will take full-sun if their roots are kept cool. They enjoy a good mulch and are hardy.

There are two pest problems that need to be considered: slugs and Lily beetle. I’ve successfully removed Lily Beetle by picking them off all season, but it was a painstaking process. Growing them from seed stops you bringing them to the garden and there are some chemicals available that can help control them.

Lilium ducharteri

So, which ones are good to grow? Welsh gardens are ideal for species Lilies as they really enjoy our rainfall. Martagon type Lilies in particular make excellent garden plants – there’s a new range of cultivar offering great colour choices. My mother has a clump that must be a good 15 years old and it’s been absolutely no trouble.

Lilium sargetiae

Lilium sarentiae has fantastic white flowers, grows very tall, and has the added advantage that it produces bulbils on the stem that can be propagated. Lilium ducharteri is a smaller plant that is happy in sun or shade, and runs underground acting more like a perennial plant. Lilium taliense can grow to well over three metres tall, with over fifteen blooms per stem and is great to grow through shrubs. Lilium lancifolium is a very interesting orange species that you can grow as a vegetable, eat like a potato, and is considered a real delicacy in China!

Lilum ‘taliense’


Tips for the Week:

  1. Plant early vegetables
  2. Make the most of the dry weather to prepare seed beds for direct sowing
  3. Dahlia can be potted up
  4. Check your glasshouse for pests and deal with them now before the glasshouse gets full again
  5. Use fleece to cover soil before planting – it makes a big difference!
  6. There’s still time to divide perennials but be careful of new buds
  7. Bare root plants can be planted now
  8. Check plants that were fleeced for winter but don’t remove the fleece as there may be further frost

One thought on “Wild Lilies: An Interesting Choice for the Garden

  1. Thank you for this informative account of these amazing Lilies! I have only every grown the cultivar in a large container and after 15 years they are diminished The fabulous red beetle is also a visitor but I have developed the nack of catching them before they dive down the stems!
    I will definitely consider them in my new sunny south facing partially shaded new border perhaps with some nice tall grasses!Do you have any other suggestions please Not too tall as I have a river backdrop and want to retain the view . It’s 14×4 meters with a terrace hard landscape along one side which could do with a little softening.Many thanks for your time reading this .I have visited your lovely gardens twice and overdue another visit to see the atrium in the house .’

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