Lilies Make Summer Gardens Shine

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Oriental lilies don’t like southern heat, but they bloom beautifully in Buffalo, NY

When I visited Buffalo, New York, in July of 2010, I was overcome by the oriental lily display in their summer gardens.

I was inspired, and I began with some of the older and more tested lily cultivars. I was able to achieve good bloom out of the Oriental lilies (Division 7) for a year or so. Then they begin to dwindle, and one spring, didn’t return. I had to find lilies better acclimated to the South.

I now grow several Interdivisional Hybrids (Division 8) because these crosses between Easter lilies, oriental and asiatic lilies seem to carry the best of both parents. Orienpets, created by mixing oriental lilies with trumpet and Aurelian lilies, are often suggested for southern gardens. They tolerate our heat, but they still need some protection from the sun.

I began with ‘Black Beauty,’ an Orienpet from 1957, which has a strange path to stardom. It is considered indestructible, and in my garden, so far, so good. Although described in catalogs as having dark raspberry flowers, I would say instead, that they are a shade of blackberry wine. Blooms are small and recurved, hanging from the stem like chandelier prisms.


orienpet black beauty lilies are performing well in my garden


To better understand lily classes, glance over the North American Lily Society’s page. Although their description of a lily bulb isn’t very romantic, it is accurate. “The bulb is usually the most distinguishing characteristic. It is composed of fleshy scales without a protective outer coating. A true lily is never dormant ... it must be considered and treated as a living perennial plant.” This is why you must plant lily bulbs upon receiving them.


a yellow tiger lily that towers over the border


Asiatic lilies (Division I) are easy to grow and often bloom first in the season. Buy these in bloom at local garden centers, or purchase bulbs through a lily bulb retailer like B&D Lilies.  I ordered several last fall, and I’m excited about their first spring.


pink lilies remind me of cotton candy


For a tall drink of water, try L. formosanum, Formosa lily, an heirloom from 1918. You’ll like how it towers over other plants, and in my garden it’s returned for several years.

Before planting any lily, read the soil and shade requirements. While many lilies grow quite happily in sun, others require a bit of shade. Some like acidic soils, while others don’t mind either alkaline or acidic. Martagon lilies perish in the heat so if you live where summers are hot, just don’t plant them.


one of the pink and white lilies I saw in Buffalo


Here are some general tips about growing lilies:


  • Lilies like moist, but well-drained soil. Clay soils cause rot, but if lilies dry out, they will also perish.
  • Lilies enjoy stretching into the sun, but in my summer garden, I grow them where only morning sun kisses their petals. Our afternoon sun is too harsh.
  • Lilies are top heavy, so be sure to stake them. I place the stakes when planting so I know a lily lives beneath the bare soil, and I don’t later disturb it.
  • Lilies appreciate a light layer of mulch. I use shredded leaves.


I may not be able to achieve the lily bloom I saw in Buffalo, but I am becoming more successful with lilies each passing year. Gardening is always about learning new things, and that’s what makes it such a grand adventure. Won’t you join me?