2014-07-10 / From The Garden

Fragrant Lilies Are July Showstoppers

By Cynthia Gibson


To have Roselilies for next summer, plant bulbs in October. To have Roselilies for next summer, plant bulbs in October. With the arrival of July, the heat switch has been flipped and it finally feels like summer. This is also the month that lilies explode in bloom and fill perennial beds with their magical fragrance. There are nine major categories of lilies, but the ones found in most nurseries and catalogs are Asiatic, martagon, trumpet, and Oriental, with the Oriental being the flashiest. The fragrance of the Oriental and trumpet lilies are outstanding, but the Lilium Auratum is a potent showstopper.

Lilies, like roses, hold a special place in horticultural history. Primarily, it is the beauty of the flower that makes it so remarkable, but its fragrance is also enchanting. A native of Greece, the lily has no humble beginning. Mythology says that drops of Hera’s milk created lilies while she was nursing Hercules. The Greeks would pick lily petals, add honey, and eat them, convinced that the concoction would remove wrinkles and clear skin of imperfections. Many varieties are edible, but there is no evidence that they make a magic skin elixir.


"Arabian Night" "Arabian Night" The fragrance of lilies is heady and can be a love/hate affair. For those of you who love the flower but cannot stand the strong fragrance, it is a conundrum. The Asiatic varieties have no fragrance. Some recommend that if you simply snip off the end of the lily’s stigma, the fragrance will disappear, but that is not always the case.

The newest of the Orientals is the Roselily. I purchased my first double Roselily, a “Miss Lucy,” at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. The Roselily is the perfect combination of the beauty of an Oriental lily with little fragrance. The structure of the flower is missing the filaments and stamens found in a typical Oriental lily, so there is less fragrance and no messy staining, red-orange pollen.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. The finest of the Roselilies are “Annika,” “Carolina,” “Miss Lucy,” “Natalia,” and “Elena.” All of them are hardy enough for our zone and bloom in July. They should be planted in masses of no less than five bulbs of each variety and are best put in the ground in October and November. Ask your nursery or garden center to order them for fall planting.

While selecting the new Roselily varieties, ask for a few martagon lilies as well. These are lilies with whimsy. The “Turk’s Cap” martagon has been hybridized into many heights and colors, and they are perfect in an old-fashioned perennial bed. This is a fabulous lily to have in the garden for its shape, bobbing heads, and height. Some of the very best varieties are “Arabian Night,” “Chameleon,” “Gaybird,” “Larissa,” and “Albiflorum.” They can grow from two- to five-feet tall and have as many as 30 blossoms per stalk.

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