There are numerous plants that have lily in their name – lily of the valley, buckhorn, arum lily, cane lily – just to name a few. But the real lilies, with their big trumpets that produce a kaleidoscope of colors in summer, often with spicy and exotic scents, are species and cultivars of Lilium.
As a bulb plant, true lilies are easy to grow and will reliably flower for many years, year after year, with very little attention.
True lilies vary in height from dwarf types suitable for the front of borders and rock gardens to tall varieties – including tree lilies – perfect for the back of borders. The color palette of the flowers is very wide, from white to deep purple.
How to grow lilies
Lilies prefer a spot with some sun but do well in spots that get light shade for only part of the day. They need well-drained, moisture-retaining soil, so add plenty of organic matter when planting. In heavy clay soil, plant the bulbs on a layer of coarse sand or gravel to improve drainage.
Some lily species—like Lilium candidum, L. henryi, L. longiflorum, L. martagon, L. pardalinum, and L. regale—are lime loving or lime tolerant, but most other species need a lime-free soil. Modern hybrids usually tolerate alkaline soils.
There are different types of true lilies. The following are the most popular:
Asian hybrids: have trumpet, cup or marquetry flowers; Bulbs should be spaced 45 cm (18 inches) apart.
Martagon hybrids: have Turk’s-cap shaped flowers; Distance 30cm (12in).
Candidum hybrids: have trumpet-shaped flowers, the petals of which are strongly reflexed; Distance 30cm (12in).
American hybrids: have mostly Turk’s-cap shaped flowers; Distance 45cm (18in).
Oriental hybrids: may have trumpet-shaped, cupped, flat or reflexed flowers; Distance 30-45cm (12-18in) depending on height.