Family: Liliaceae
Common name: Lily

Origin: Northern Hemisphere

Flower color: various colors

Flowering period: June – August

Average plant height: 28 – 40 inches

Planting depth to base of bulbs: 6 inches

Spacing between bulbs: 12 inches

Type of bulb: true bulb

Light requirements: partial shade during the day is no problem. It is advisable to provide the lower part of the plant with shade during the afternoon sun since lilies like “cold feet”.

Landscape uses: border, perennial garden and pots and containers. When lilies feel “at home” they will even naturalize in the garden.


In China and Japan, lilies have appeared on the dining table for a thousand years. On the island of Santorini, ceramics have been found bearing virtually the same images of lilies that are found on the ceramics of the ancient Minoan culture of Crete. Some scholars see these Minoan ceramics as remains of the famous Atlantis. The Hebrew word for lily, shusan, is even older than the Minoan culture which disappeared 3,500 years ago.

The lily is a flower that definitely has a history stretching back to the beginning of time.

More planting tips

Among other uses, lilies can be placed in borders. They make perfect partners for perennial plants. This is not surprising since lilies act just the same as perennial plants. Because of the colors lilies generally possess (yellow, pink, orange, red and white, with all the possible colors in between), blue and purple-flowering perennial plants make good neighbors. Examples are: Salvia nemorosa and its cultivars, various Aconitum species and cultivars (Monkshood), Anchusa azurea, Erigeron cultivars, Aster amellus, Echinops bannaticus (Globe Thistle), the taller Geranium species, Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob’s Ladder) and Veronica longifolia (a Speedwell species). Plants with gray foliage, such as Artemesia species, Stachys byzantina, Hosta sieboldiana ‘Glauca’, etc., can accent the beauty of lilies effectively. Lilies can be combined beautifully with all kinds of ferns; another natural spot for them is among shrubs. Many shrubs are exciting in the springtime period, especially before most of the lilies come into flower. These lilies will later ensure a renewal of color in these garden locations. Lilies always provide an effective contrast against bronze-leaved shrubs such as Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ and Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal Purple’. Blue-flowering shrubs (Caryopteris clandonensis, Hibiscus syriacus ‘Coelestis’ and Ceanothus ‘Gloire de Versailles’) are also good companions for countless lilies. Conifers, too, provided that they do not absorb too much moisture from the soil, and that the lilies are planted to the south of the conifers where they will receive light. For possible ground cover companions to accompany lilies, please refer to 34

In the wild, a great many lilies grow in mountainous regions. The answer to this question, then, is a definite “yes”. We should realise, however, that most private rock gardens have limited dimensions. Here, only small-flowered and low-growing species will fit in. Lilium cernuum and L. pumilum seldom become taller than 20 inches, so they can be used in a rock garden which is not too small.

Provided that they are well cared for, lilies can be grown very nicely in pots. What’s more, Michael Jefferson-Brown, a well-known English lily specialist, even suggests that no other bulbous plant grows as well in pots as do lilies. A great advantage of growing in pots is that the lilies can be placed to show them off to perfection at just the right moment – when they first start to bloom. The pots must always be sufficiently deep. (This is obvious when we remember that the planting depth for some species is as deep as 6 inches.) A pot depth of 12 to 16 inches is ideal. To make sure that the soil remains moist over time, it is advisable to use ordinary packaged potting soil as a substrate. Mixing this soil with 25% clay can be beneficial. Remember that the pots will have to be watered frequently and that providing fertilizer (houseplant variety) once in a while is not an unnecessary frill. Provide the pot with sufficient drainage. Naturally, only low-growing species and cultivars are suitable as pot plants, especially in windy locations. Anything that grows taller than 30 inches is already risky. These days, Asiatic hybrids include quite a few low-growing cultivars such as: ‘Admiration’ (cream-white), ‘Denia’ and ‘Exception’ (pink), ‘Horizon’ (orange), ‘India’ (red), ‘Paulus Potter’ (white with red center), and Reinesse’ (white).

Of the low-growing Oriental hybrids we should mention: ‘Mr. Ed’ (white with red speckles); ‘Mr. Ruud’ (white with yellow edge); ‘Mr. Sam’ (white with pinkish red speckles); ‘Little Girl’, ‘Little Pink’ and ‘Little Joy’ (all pink); ‘Miss America’ (light pink), ‘Miss France’ (pink-red), ‘Miss Germany’ (pink with a light red star), ‘Miss Mini’ (light pink), ‘Miss Rio’ (pink), ‘Mona Lisa’ (pink), ‘My Romance’ (dark pink), and ‘Ready’ (also dark pink).

Lilies for planting in the garden and for use as cut flowers can be found in all of the lily groups. The three best-known groups are:

Lilium longiflorum, more commonly known as Easter Lilies, have classic white trumpet-shaped flowers and a heavenly scent.

Asiatic lilies with their straight stems, high bud count and generally brightly spotted flowers, vary in shape from simple open bowls to flowers with exquisitely recurved petals. Colors of Asiatic lilies range from the softest pastels to fiery reds and oranges that practically ignite in the sunshine.

Oriental lilies, known as the most flamboyant personalities within the world of lilies, are characterized by their immense flowers, intense fragrance and rich colors.

Unfortunately, wild species – the kind that still occur growing in the wild and which have not yet been affected by hybridization – are not too commonly available for garden use. This is a shame, since these are the very species that are so appropriate for the garden. It is obvious that the commercial assortment is being completely flooded with hybrids with the Orientals and Asiatics being the undisputed leaders.

Principal varieties

The Royal Horticultural Society and the North American Lily Society have classified lilies as follows:

Division 1- Asiatic hybrids 

Asiatic hybrids were once known as “Mid-Century” hybrids because they were developed around the mid-point of this century by hybridizer Jan de Graaff in Oregon. Mr. De Graaff devoted his life to lily hybridization and was one of the most accomplished practitioners of that art the world has known. ‘Enchantment,’ his first of the Mid-century hybrids, was the first lily to feature upward-facing flowers. This characteristic revolutionized the use of lilies in the cut flower industry. Gardeners also have Mr. De Graaff to thank as pioneer of today’s easy-to-grow garden lilies. By the 1980s, the category of Mid-Century hybrids had grown so large that its name was changed to Asiatic hybrids.

Plant in late spring, 10 – 12 cm deep. Roots develop along the stem. These are mid-century hybrids raised by Jan de Graaff in Oregon. Mr. de Graaff spent most of his life working with lilies and is the best-known lily hybridizer in the world. One of his goals was to make lilies easy to grow for the gardener.

The most important varieties are:

  • ‘Alaska’ – white. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Apeldoorn’ – orange. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Compass’ – orange. 32-36 inches
  • ‘Connecticut King’ – yellow. 36-40 inches
  • ‘Cordelia’ – yellow. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Dreamland’ – yellow. 36-40 inches
  • ‘Elite’ – orange. 52-56 inches
  • ‘Enchantment’ – orange. 36-40 inches
  • ‘Gran Paradiso’ – red. 40-48 inches
  • ‘Hilde’ – yellow. 36-40 inches
  • ‘London’ – yellow. 48-52 inches
  • ‘Mona’ – yellow. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Monta Rosa’ – pink. 48-52 inches.
  • ‘Montreux’ – pink. 44-48 inches
  • ‘Nove Cento’ – yellow. 44-48 inches
  • ‘Pollyanna’ – yellow. 48-52 inches
  • ‘Roma’ – creamy-white. 52-56 inches
  • ‘Sancerre’ – white. 32-36 inches
  • ‘Sunray’ – yellow. 28-30 inches
  • ‘Toscana’ – pink. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Vivaldi’ – pink. 40-44 inches
  • ‘Yellow Submarine’ – yellow. 36-40 inches

Division 2 – Martagon hybrids 

These are hybrids of Lilium Martagon and L. hansonii that were bred in Holland by Van Tubergen. These Turk’s cap lilies are woodland plants so they prefer shade.

Division 3 – Candidum (Euro-Caucasian) hybrids

These are hybrids developed from L. candidum (Madonna Lily) and other European species.

Division 4 – American hybrids 

These are tall-growing hybrids derived from species endemic to North America (including Lilium parryi and Lilium pardalinum). Their flowers are reflexed meaning that their petals curve backwards.

Division 5 – Longiflorum hybrids

These are cultivated forms of the white Easter lily commonly forced for spring flowering but which has a natural flowering period in mid-summer.

Division 6 – Trumpet lilies including Aurelian hybrids

The Aurelian and Olympic hybrids, some of which produce downward-facing flowers, are included here.

Division 7 – Oriental hybrids

Mostly derived from Lilium auratum and Lilium speciosum. Flowers are usually large, bowl-shaped and very fragrant.

The most commonly grown cultivars are: 

  • ‘Acapulco’ – cyclamen pink. 48-56 inches, upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Casa Blanca’ – white. 48-56 inches, outward-facing flowers
  • ‘Cascade’ – light pink/dark pink. 52-56 inches, upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Dame Blanche’ – white. upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Laura Lee’ – pink. 40-48 inches, outward facing flowers
  • ‘Le Reve’ (‘Joy’) 32-40 inches, upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Marco Polo’ – white with light pink edge. 40-44 inches, upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Mona Lisa’ – pink. 20-24 inches, outward-facing flowers
  • ‘Olympic Star’ – pink. 40-48 inches, upward-facing flowers
  • ‘Star Gazer’ – pink-red. 32-40 inches, upward-facing flowers

Division 8 – All other hybrids

Division 9 – All lily species

Some are still commonly available