Family: Liliaceae
Popular name: Lily

Origin: Northern hemisphere

Flower colour: various colours

Flowering period: June – August

Average plant height: 70 – 100 cm

Planting depth to base of bulbs:15 cm

Spacing between bulbs: 30 cm

Type of bulb: bulb

Light requirements: partly shade during the day is no problem. It is to be advised to shade the lower part of the plant, lilies like ‘cold feet’. (PM sun) 

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


In China and Japan, they 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. There are scholars who see these Minoan ceramics as remains of the famous Atlantis. Yet older than the Minoan culture, which disappeared 3,500 years ago, is the Hebrew word for lily, “shusan.”

Without question, the lily is a flower with 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 colours lilies generally possess (yellow, pink, orange, red and white, with all the possible colours in between), blue and purple-flowering perennial plants make favourite neighbours. Examples which could be mentioned 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 grey 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 the majority of the lilies comes into flower. These lilies will later ensure a new revival in these garden locations. Lilies always provide an effective contrast against brown-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 50 centimetres, 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 15 centimetres.) A pot depth of 30 to 40 centimetres 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 (house plant variety) once in a while is not an unnecessary frill. Provide sufficient drainage in the pot. Naturally, only low-growing species and cultivars are suitable as pot plants, especially in windy locations. Anything that grows taller than 75 centimetres 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 centre), 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 cut use as flowers, come in all sorts. 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 blossoms, vary in shape from simple open bowls to flowers with exquisitely recurved petals. Colours of Asiatic lilies range from the softest pastels to fiery reds and oranges that practically ignite when the sun shines on them.

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

Unfortunately, wild species – the kind that still occur growing in the wild and which have not yet been affected by hybridisation – 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 not difficult to see that the assortment is being completely flooded with hybrids, with the Orientals and Asiatics in particular 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 of 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 erect 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 the name was changed to Asiatic.

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.

Here is a summary of the most important varieties

  • ‘Alaska’ – white. 100-110 cm.
  • ‘Apeldoorn’ – orange. 100-110 cm. 
  • ‘Compass’ – orange. 80- 90 cm. 
  • ‘Connecticut King’ – yellow. 90-100 cm. 
  • ‘Cordelia’ – yellow. 100-110 cm. 
  • ‘Dreamland’ – yellow. 90-100 cm. 
  • ‘Elite’ – orange. 130-140 cm. 
  • ‘Enchantment’ – orange. 90-100 cm. 
  • ‘Gran Paradiso’ – red. 100-120 cm. 
  • ‘Hilde’ – yellow. 90-100 cm. 
  • ‘London’ – yellow. 120 -130 cm. 
  • ‘Mona’ – yellow. 100-110 cm. 
  • ‘Monta Rosa’ – pink. 120 -130 cm. 
  • ‘Montreux’ – pink. 110 -120 cm. 
  • ‘Nove Cento’ – yellow.110 -120 cm. 
  • ‘Pollyanna’ – yellow. 120 -130 cm. 
  • ‘Roma’ – creamy-white. 130 -140 cm. 
  • ‘Sancerre’ – white. 80 – 90 cm. 
  • ‘Sunray’ – yellow. 70- 80 cm. 
  • ‘Toscana’ – pink. 100-110 cm. 
  • ‘Vivaldi’ – pink. 100-110 cm. 
  • ‘Yellow Submarine’ – yellow. 90-100 cm.

Division 2 – Turk’s cap 

Hybrids of Lilium Martagon and L. Hansonii raised in Holland by van Tubergen. Turk’s cap are woodland plants. They like the shade.

Division 3 – Includes hybrids of Lilium candidum, the madonna lily

Division 4 – Hybrids of native North American lilies, mostly progenies of tall-growing 

Lilium Parryi and Lilium pardalinum. Flowers are reflexed, which means that the petals curve back.

Division 5 – Lilium Longiflorum

The white Easter lily commonly forced for spring bloom. In nature it blooms mid-summer.

Division 6 – Trumpet lilies, derived from Asiatic species 

The Aurelia and Olympic hybrids are part of this group. Some have pendant flowers.

Division 7 – Oriental hybrids

Mostly derived from Lilium auratum and Lilium speciosum. Flowers are usually large and shaped like bowls. Very fragrant.

These are the most commonly grown cultivars 

  • ‘Acapulco’ – cyclamen pink. 120 -140 cm upward flowers 
  • ‘Casa Blanca’ – white. 120 -140 cm horizontal flowers 
  • ‘Cascade’ – light pink/dark pink. 130 -140 cm upward flowers 
  • ‘Dame Blanche’ – white. upward flowers 
  • ‘Laura Lee’ – pink. 100 -120 cm horizontal inflorescence 
  • ‘Le Reve’ (‘Joy’) 80 -100 cm upward inflorescence 
  • ‘Marco Polo’ – white with light pink edge. 100 -110 cm upward inflorescence 
  • ‘Mona Lisa’ – pink. 50 – 60 cm horizontal inflorescence 
  • ‘Olympic Star’ – pink. 100 -120 cm upward inflorescence 
  • ‘Star Gazer’ – pink-red. 80 -100 cm upward inflorescence

Division 8 – Includes all other hybrids

Division 9 – All lily species

Some are still commonly available