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Martagons - Why Not?

by Doreen Sage


These lilies are one of the hardiest and earliest for our area. However, they are not grown by many gardeners. Perhaps the name "Martagon" is a little unusual. Perhaps the price makes the buyer nervous about investing in an unknown. As you become more aware of the qualities of this lily, I am certain that you will be anxious to try one. 

The name Martagon is derived from a Turkish word denoting a type of turban worn by a Sultan. The species is native to Eurasia, always growing in well drained but well watered soils. The whorled sets of leaves makes this a most attractive plant whether in bloom or not. 

The flowers do not come in all the colours that you are used to with the Asiatic lilies. Instead, they are delicate little flowers, mostly with reflexed (curled back) petals and sepals and down facing. Some do have out facing blooms that are star like. Most are soft pastels or very dark, many have spots, some do not. 

Because of their earliness , they must be watched if a spring frost is forecast. A tomato cage and a covering will protect. However, the plant itself will break under the weight of the protection so a cage or stake should be used. 

Martagons appreciate semi-shade with filtered light and cool conditions. Gardeners with shady places will find them ideal. Martagons multiply slowly. The advantage is that the clump will not have to be dug up and divided very often. This is one of the reasons the bulbs cost more than Asiatics, (most Asiatics multiply quite rapidly). 

By the time you receive this Newsletter, the Martagons should be in bloom. Look at them in public gardens, garden friends' gardens who grow these gems or in growing fields such as those in Neepawa. Choose your favorites, and plan on buying/ordering for fall planting. These are very long lived bulbs and if good growing practices are followed, this bulb will give you many years of flowers and eventually, more stems. This does mean that there are most bulbs under there, so you can dig and divide if you wish. 

Many crosses have taken place, producing lovely clear pinks, peaches, creams and, soft yellows. These strains were sold as the Paisley hybrids. Ed Robinson of MB made use of these hybrids in his crossings. Many hybridizers are still working on Martagons. This is a long, slow process. Using standard methods, it takes seven years from seed to flowering bulb. Some hybridizers have found ways to shorten this time a bit. When planted outside, the seed does not produce leaves the first year, so they work at making the seed react to an artificial shorter year. This is the other reason why Martagon bulbs cost a bit more than others. 

With all this in mind, you will realize that a Martagon bulb is a good investment and that you should have one or more.