What is a Lily?
Sometimes gardeners will tell us enthusiastically that they grow lilies . . . "Lemon Lilies" and "Tawny Lilies" (Hemerocallis) and "Calla Lilies" (Zantedeschia). Or they will appear at a lily show with a handsome exhibit of "Magic Lily" (Lycoris) or "Torch Lily" (Kniphofia). These are all beautiful flowers, and it is not surprising that they are considered to be lilies.
But true lilies . . . or to be technical… members of the genus Lilium have special characteristics that differentiate them from other "Lily" plants. The bulb is usually the most distinguishing characteristic. It is composed of fleshy scales without a protective outer coating. A true lily is never dormant . . . it must be considered and treated as a living perennial plant. Lily bulbs may be kept in cool storage for a few months, but special care must be taken to keep them fresh and moist.
Lily flowers, though completely varied in size, shape and color, always have six tepals and six anthers. Stems, leaves and roots have distinguishing features too.
Why grow lilies?
To begin with, they are all fascinatingly beautiful. They are unique and out-of-the-ordinary...not everybody grows lilies (yet)! With the long-blooming season and the diversity of shapes, sizes, colors, and types you will never discover all their secrets. They will never bore you.
Lilies are prolific too. Easily (but not too easily!) grown from seed, and the flower parts are large enough so that hybridizing can be attempted without magnifying glasses. Wouldn't it be fun to become a lily "expert"!
Where to use lilies?
Well, maybe you don't feel like specializing right now . . . perhaps you just want to grow a few lilies to add interest to the rest of your garden. Maybe you need some important flowers to bloom in late June or Early July when there is a lack of color in the border . . . after the Iris and Peonies finish and before the annuals take over.
Lilies mix very well with most garden flowers . . . perennials as well as annuals. The slender stems do not take up much room, and the gorgeously fragrant blooms are displayed up above the lower companion plants. Unless a plant is particularly greedy or invasive, it may happily share the same garden as your lilies.
This page contains exerpts from articles within "Let's Grow Lilies", an illustrated handbook of lily culture by the North American Lily Society.