Lilies for Every Occasion

Get to grips with the diversity of the lily family.

Lilies can be used in many different ways, from arranging in a vase at home, to being the perfect choice for weddings and other special occasions. Lilies are one of the oldest bulb plants known to man and have been found in ancient writings and pictures dating from 2000BC – 1500BC. Lilies can vary substantially in colour and shape. The size of their flowers, for example, ranges from 7cm to no less than 25cm across. Some lilies face outward and are slightly pendulous, some have recurved petals, and their flowers can be trumpet, bowl or star shaped.

Lilies are classified into the following groups:


These trumpet-shaped flowers can reach a diameter of 15cm, and the plants can actually grow to a height of 3m. Each stem bears 4 – 8 flowers that can be white, yellow, pink, red or orange, but which have no fragrance. Their rather sparse leaves are a deep green. Lilium Asiatic Hybrids Not surprisingly, these flowers are favourites for weddings, no doubt due to their gorgeous colours. LA Hybrids are known for their thick stems and lush foliage, and their flowers are more upright than those of the Orientals. These flowers are particularly beautiful as a focal point in the middle of a bouquet.


These oriental lilies are popular because of their many different fragrances and the size of their flowers, which come in a wide range of colours including white and pink. As soon as the flower opens, the silk-like petals reveal streaks of another colour or tiny brown speckles here and there that make a pretty contrast to the main colour of the flower. Oriental lilies are often even larger than the ones in the Asiatic group

OT Hybrids

The lilies in the most newly developed group are known as Orienpets or OT hybrids. These interspecific hybrids – the result of crossing Oriental with Asiatic lilies – are characterised by their breath-taking flowers. The colour range of OT hybrids is growing year by year. Longiflorums This lily can reach a height of 1m and is characterised by its white, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers that face outward from the stem. Asiflorums A cross between Asiatic and trumpet lilies, Asiflorum lilies produce flowers similar in form to the trumpet lily but smaller in size, with more flowers per stem, and in a wide array of colours.

Picking for the vase Lilies are spectacular in a vase, but if you cut the entire flower stalk with the leaves, the bulbs will no longer grow – if you want to save them, pick the single flowers off the stems.

Order lilium bulbs and plant them this month for rewarding garden, pot and cut flowers in late spring. These are some of the most spectacular garden flowers and worth growing with these tips:

How to grow lilies in the garden

  • Lilies like cool, temperate climates with reasonable rainfall. Choose a position in the garden where the flowers and foliage can get a bit of sun but the bulbs will remain cool in the soil, like near the base of a shrub.
  • Prepare the soil well – lilies need very good drainage. Dig up the bed to a depth of at least 20cm and improve the top soil with loads of well-decomposed compost or leaf mould. Add coarse sand to heavy clay soils as well to improve drainage. Do not allow the bulbs to come into contact with any fresh manure or fertiliser that could burn the roots and make them rot.
  • Plant bought bulbs straight away or keep them refrigerated to plant them at different times and extend the flowering season.
  • Plant large bulbs about 20cm apart and with 10cm of soil covering them, and small bulbs 15cm apart and with 7 – 10cm of soil covering them.
  • Press the soil down firmly and water well. Top with a layer of old manure or compost to keep feeding the bulbs as they grow.
  • Protect the new shoots with an overturned flower pot or frost fabric in extreme frost regions, and look out for slugs and snails.
  • The bulbs should never be waterlogged or allowed to dry out, but kept in moist soil. If this is a problem in your garden try growing them in pots.
  • Feed your bulbs in the summer with a fertiliser or bulb food on top of the soil.
  • Stake the tall varieties if necessary, being careful not to pierce the bulb in the soil.
  • Deadhead regularly and remove any yellowing stems.
  • Once the stems have turned yellow, cut them down to the ground. They can be left in the soil for around 5 years. If they are overcrowding, they can be lifted, divided and replanted in a new position.

In Pots

  • Make sure that there are adequate drainage holes in the base of the pot.
  • Put a layer of pebbles or stones over the holes. Add bonemeal to potting soil, mix it in thoroughly and fill the pot within 12cm of the top. Firm the soil down evenly.
  • Place the lilium bulbs on the surface. Any roots appearing from the base of the bulbs need to be placed into the soil. Space the bulbs 20 – 25cm apart. Cover with 8cm of soil above the top of the bulb. Press the soil down with the palms of your hands.
  • The surface of the soil can be over-planted with low-growing annuals like violas or pansies – the lilies will grow through the annuals in due course.
  • Water thoroughly until water trickles from the drainage holes. Water daily and keep the bulbs moist. Fertilise every two weeks with a water-soluble plant food.

Garden care

Protect emerging shoots from frost. They should never be left to dry out, but do not like to be waterlogged either. Keep the soil moist through winter.

Caring for the flowers

Trim the stem at an angle and place it in a clean vase, and change the water every three days. Each time you change the water, trim the stem again. When the vase is placed in a cool location the flowers will remain attractive for longer. You may want to cut off the anthers when using the flowers indoors as the pollen is known to stain clothes and furniture. Use sticky tape to remove any pollen from fabrics as soon as possible.

The Gardener