One of the most elegant additions to any small garden is a big pot overflowing with blooming lilies. Few perennials take to pot culture with the ease of these magnificent flowers. Once in containers, they can be moved around the terrace or garden with ease, bringing glorious color to hitherto dark corners. Then, when the flowers fade, you can shift the containers to a less conspicuous spot.
Among any garden thickets, I always plant a number of Japanese gold-banded lilies (Lilium auratum). In late summer, their tall, arching stems bear dozens of pure white, fragrant flowers, each banded with gold that radiates from the flower’s center; every petal is set off by stamens drenched with rich, chocolate-red pollen. ‘Platyphyllum’ has 10-inch flowers with waxy-white petals dotted with crimson speckles as if a toothbrush loaded with pigment had splashed across each golden band.
For bloom in June and July, I include Asiatic lilies, available in a wide range of bright hues (maroon, yellow, orange, pink and white) plus luscious pastels (cream, pale peach, coral and pink). Some nurseries feature naturalizing mixes; try planting some directly in the garden and the rest into pots. Lilium ‘Admiration’ is especially attractive; its creamy-white, maroon-spotted blossoms perched on 20-inch stems are particularly splendid on a moonlit night.
Lilium canadense, an American native, is lovely in containers. Commonly called Canada lily, it bears orange-yellow to red flowers in late June.
In July and August, both the early Orientals and Aurelian hybrids bloom. Jan de Graaff, one of the great lily hybridizers of all time, created the Aurelian strain, including the spectacular ‘Moonlight Strain’ and ‘Golden Splendor’.
‘Casa Blanca’, an Oriental lily, blooms in early August, producing fragrant 10-inch flowers with pure-white petals and burnt-red anthers crowning 5-foot stems. Another Oriental lily, ‘Strawberry Shortcake’, bears 6-inch, sweetly fragrant flowers the shade of ripe strawberries and edged with creamy-white. Only 24 inches tall, this dwarf hybrid is perfect for pots. ‘Little Pink’ is another short variety, ideal for edging borders or for pots.
Lilies that bloom in August and September include the various hybrids of Lilium auratum and the magnificent L. formosanum. The latter species bears 6-inch-long, sweetly fragrant white blossoms atop 4- to 6-foot-tall stems. It hails from Taiwan, yet is hardy in this country as far north as Zone 5 if protected with mulch. Because it blooms so late, it needs special protection in the North from early frost. This species is also susceptible to a virus infection called lily mosaic, so don’t plant it with other lilies. ‘Little Snow White’ is a cultivar with large solitary, paired or multiple flowers on 9-inch stems. If grown from seed sown in September, this lily will bloom the following summer. It’s especially well-suited to pots.
Buy or order your lily bulbs as early in the spring as possible. If they arrive and you’re not ready for them, store them in a cool place. In spring, our refrigerator often bulges with seed packets in the butter compartment, seed flats in the freezer, and bulbs in the crisper.