THE NOVICE’S NICHE
WITH LILIES IN MIND . . .
By: Doreen Sage
Designing a flower bed featuring lilies takes some special planning. Whether you are starting a new bed or reworking an existing one SOIL must be your first consideration. Plan on amending your soil by adding lots of peat moss, compost, and well rotted manure. If you will be reworking an existing bed, it will be easier to just remove the plants to another area while you do the soil. Do this part as well as you can the first time and then you will just have to work at keeping it in shape.
Soil provides the nutrients and drainage. Drainage is important for all bulbs, especially lilies. Sometimes a raised bud is the best solution if you have a poor drainage situation.
Any shape of a bed will do as long as you like it a border by a fence, an island bed, straight edges, and curves. Make certain that your lawn mower can follow the edge with ease.
Now that you know what you are going to do, get yourself some graph paper and put it all down to scale. It helps if you have someone hold the other end of the measure.
List, by number, all the plants, shrubs, spring bulbs, stepping stones, rocks and so on that you would like in this bed. Check to make certain that your plant choices will do fairly well in your location (sun/shade) and plant zone. Most plants will enjoy or tolerate some shade but many do not like a blazing prairie sun all day. Those that do, do very well in this growing condition.
Consider tall blooming plants that only have a rosette of leaves at soil level, such as Peach Leaf Campanula, with beautiful blue/white/pink bells up the flower stem at the same time as the Asiatics bloom. If deadheaded, campanulas will rebloom. Other perennials can be planted to camouflage the lily foliage once the lily blooms are spent. Perennial summer phlox comes in many colours. Penstomon grows well with shorter lilies. Blue and White Clips Campanula (6 - 8") do well with the Pixies. Alliums are airy and grow in yellow, white, blue, and pink. Read the catalogues for colour, times of bloom, height and for other possibilities.
Shrubs fill in the spaces and in many cases will provide spring flowers and fall foliage colour. A well-grown shrub will provide a fine focal point for your flower bed.
For many gardeners, colour is the most important aspect of the plant and many plan beds with this in mind shades of pink/purple. Some do all foliage plants with their many different shapes, textures and colours of green. Many do a combination.
Draw spaces on your graph paper flower bed - not all the same size and random. Some will be for one plant and some will be for several plants of the same kind. Fill in these spaces with a number that matches your list, keeping in mind colour, height, time of bloom. Taller plants will be more or less toward the back of a border or the center of an island. This can take some time but the results will be worth it.
Lilies bloom early, mid season and late. They can face up, out or down and come in a variety of heights and most colours/bicolors, but no blue. This means that most blue flowers go well with lily blooms. All lily bulbs can be successfully planted in the fall but only some can be planted in the spring.
Since you are now working in good amended soil, all planting will be done easily. Plant all shrubs, perennials first before the bulbs, if possible. Even when well marked, bulbs can be accidentally dug up. To plant a bulb, dig a hole 6" deep, place a bit a gravel in the bottom of the hole and place the bulb on the gravel. This will help give the bulb the required drainage. Plan on planting bulbs fairly deep as this keeps them from growing too early in the spring and then suffering frost damage. Do label all bulbs and plant material carefully when planting. Lilies look best planted in groups of at least three bulbs about 6" apart and not in rows. The down facing, tall Martagons bloom first, with short, up facing Asiatic Pixies next. The main lily blooms come from the Asiatics, which bloom in July and early August. The L.A. Hybrids, Orientals and Orienpets bloom in August.
Enjoy your flower bed and remember, it will fill in and look great in two or three years. You can plan on filling in spaces with annuals until shrubs, perennials, and bulbs reach a more mature size.