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Landscaping with Lilies

By: Dr. W.G. Ronald


Most of us who grow and love lilies have row after row of them in the field and garden, and often grow lilies for use other than the distinctive landscape effect. We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that the primary reason people buy and plant lilies is for the outstanding effect they give in the gardenscape. Some of the reasons for the continued popularity of lilies follow:

  1. As perennials, lilies have continuing interest from year to year. 
  2. Flower colour covers a broad spectrum from pink to red, to white, to yellow, with bi-colours and spotted flowers to add extra interest. 
  3. Plants vary in height from 12 inches (30 cm) to 6 feet (180 cm). 
  4. Season of bloom can range from June 15th to August 1st. 5. Numerous species and over 200 cultivars are grown in our region. 
  5. Lilies make excellent material for cut flowers and arrangements. 
  6. Many gardeners are growing seedlings and developing new cultivars in this easy4o-work-with genus. 
  7. There are strong regional and international organizations which support the lily gardener. The addresses of these organizations will be provided later.

A few gardeners list disadvantages of lilies as short-lived or lacking hardiness. This may be due to gardeners' buying tender Oriental and Trumpet lilies based on colourful photos, or by trying to grow lilies in every soil type and condition. Lilies require a few basic needs to be happy, healthy plants. They need sunshine, not necessarily full sun but at least 500/0, to assure good flowering. They need a moderate to well-drained soil; although they will tolerate a range of soil types from sand to clay loam. Given these prerequisites, lilies can thrive in your garden. Lilies have several roles in landscaping that can be identified:

Lilies as feature or accent plants.

The lily you choose as an accent plant should have good plant strength and foliage, and a flower colour that will either blend with, or accentuate, its surroundings. A single lily clump in the centre of a small flower bed, a single plant along the garden fence, or a planting near an entrance driveway would all be accent plants. Strong growers recommended for this purpose include Bold Knight (red), Sally (buff orange), and Pink Champagne (buff pink). Shorter upfacing lilies such as Gold Rush, Corsica, and Mont Blanc can be used where a plant less than 2 feet tall is satisfactory. Accent lilies, then, should make a real show as a single clump and be outstanding in foliage and flower.

Lilies as a backdrop Many taller lilies with light flower colour make excellent plants for the back of the annual or perennial border. I won't soon forget the outstanding Backhouse hybrids used as a backdrop in the perennial border at the Morden Research Station. Others highly recommended include Sally (buff orange), Pink Champagne (pink yellow), and the Aurelian hybrids. Bold Knight (dark red), Connecticut Yankee (orange), and Golden Princess (yellow), will also serve, if some brighter colours are desired in the background.

Lilies in a perennial border

The widest range of plant heights, colours and blooming seasons, can be woven together in the perennial border. General principles would place the low-growing types at the front and the taller lilies at the back. colour clashes can be avoided by using the white coloured lilies to divide the pink, yellow and orange groupings. A few later-flowering lilies, which generally are taller growing, can be spaced throughout the background. Depending on the size of the border, three or more of each cultivar planted 15 to 19 inches apart, can be used. This will provide space for mulching and cultivation. The classification of lily cultivar (Table 1) will assist in developing a plan for the perennial border.

Lily bulbs are now offered by a wide variety of nursery and mail order house. Specialized growers such as My own (Jeffries Nursery, Portage La Prairie), Honeywood Nurseries, Parkside, Saskatchean, and Borbeleta Gardens, Fairbault Minnesota, carry extensive choices of bulbs. Each October a bulb sale conducted by the Manitoba Regional Lily Society, offers a wide selection of bulbs to Society members and to the public.

The world of lilies is an exciting, vibrant community of gardeners, lily breeders and societies. You will enjoy lilies as you work them into your landscape, because lilies are truly premium landscape plants.

Reprinted with permission The Prairie Garden Committee, Winnipeg Horticultural Society

Parts of this article have not been printed, for the remainder of the text see The Prairie Gardener 1990 issue page 32