Consider the Lilies

Consider the Lilies


Lilies are one of the best perennials for planting in mass.
One of the great perks of being a garden writer is that I get to visit amazing gardens around the world. Some gardens, like some in Holland, are often no larger than a postage stamp, tucked in tightly between the house and street. While others, such as the massive perennial border in Strokestown Park, Ireland, is so big you need comfortable walking shoes to experience the whole six-acre garden in one visit.

Yet, all of these wonderful gardens have one thing in common. No matter what its size, every garden holds a generous helping of perennials planted in large drifts or clumps instead of single file. When you mass one perennial variety next to another, it’s guaranteed to make your garden shine. Plus, it’s a lot easier to take care of big drifts of perennials than it is to fiddle with a scattershot mix of odds and ends flowers.

I think one of the best perennials for mass planting are lilies. These easy-care beauties thrive in big crowds showing off their cup-like, super fragrant blooms from late spring till fall. They don’t mind growing close together and will help support each other during stormy weather. Plus, lilies come in a variety of colors and bi-colors so they’re easy to coordinate with other plants.

Lilies break down into a number of different classes, but the two most commonly planted types are Asiatic, at left, and Oriental, left above. Asiatic lilies generally grow 2 to 3 feet tall on stiff stems that produce upright flowers in the spring and summer. They’re fast growers and within a few years will form large clumps without any help from you.

Oriental lilies grow a bit taller—often reaching six feet in height. They generally have slightly pendulous flowers with a rich, intoxicating fragrance. Oriental lilies bloom a bit later in the season, too. So, if you plant both Asiatic and Oriental lilies in the same bed, you’ll enjoy a full season of gorgeous bloom.

Lilies can be planted in the spring or fall from bulbs or plants. I prefer to buy started plants so I can enjoy their flowers as soon as possible. All lilies require full sun and rich, slightly moist, well-drained soil. They’ll sulk if you force them to grow in wet, mucky conditions. Over time, you can dig and divide the bulbs in the late summer to brighten new beds or to give away to friends.

Good companions for lilies include peony, daylily, Russian sage, iris, perennial geranium, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and hardy hibiscus.