True lilies, many of which are blooming now, are a great choice for almost any garden. Oriental, Asiatic and Trumpet varieties, and hybrids of the three all perform well in the Midwest with little care.
Susan and Doug Rendall, who live in a rural area northeast of Lawrence tend landscaping in about an acre of their yard. Since the sheer size of the garden means that work is in store, the Rendalls choose many plants that thrive without a lot of extra inputs.
On a sunny evening, Susan walks me through the garden describing the attributes of the various lily varieties that she grows. Areas of sun and shade are interspersed in the expanse of plants, and the lilies seem to be growing well in any location.
“I do have lilies all over,” Rendall comments offhandedly as she analyzes her own design work. “I just tuck them in. They fit amongst other things well.”
A cluster of pale yellow Asiatic lilies illustrates how the plants complement other hardy perennials. The buttery blossoms, speckled in black, hang from three- to four- foot tall upright stems. Next to the lilies are chrysanthemums, purple coneflowers, maroon and yellow daylilies, and tall garden phlox.
True lilies all have erect stems with the flowers and leaves born along that stem. Daylilies, although similarly easy to grow, are in a different genus than the true lilies and look quite different. Surprise lilies, toad lilies, and calla lilies are also distinct from true lilies and are not closely related.
In another corner of the garden, deep red and deep orange-colored Asiatic lilies stand with Asclepias (a brilliant orange-flowering milkweed) in front of them. Red hot poker plants with peachy flowers and yellow-blooming coreopsis also bring out the hot hues of the lilies.
“I like to use repeating colors and shapes and textures,” Rendall explains. As she talks about the palette of colors, I can picture this garden as her canvas. “It’s composition,” she adds.
Rendall tells me that distinguishing between the types of true lilies is sometimes difficult. Oriental varieties are typically fragrant and taller than the Asiatic types, but there are also crosses between the two species. Trumpet lilies are more sturdy, and their petals are fused to actually resemble like a trumpet. Asiatic and Oriental lilies are sometimes crossed with trumpet lilies, too, though, adding to the possibility for misidentification.
Soft, medium-pink Asiatic lilies grow in almost full-shade in another area. Although they are blooming here, Rendall tells me they might do better with a little more sun. She does not recommend full sun, either, though. “The heat of the sun burns their texture out.”
When we pass by white Asiatic lilies with deep purple lines on their petals, Rendall makes another suggestion. “There are more brush-stroke lilies than this one. I don’t like giving someone a name because there are just so many lilies out there.”
White Oriental lilies also make a nice compliment to a sourwood tree. Sourwood is more like a small shrub, native to the eastern United States, and its leaves are glossy deep-green tinged in red. Creamy-white panicles hang from the branch tips of the sourwood, reflecting the color of the lilies in front of the small tree. Rendall tells me that the sourwood also turns fiery red in fall.
Rendall’s brush has been at work throughout the garden, and I continue to admire lilies planted with daylilies, salvia, viburnums and other easy-to-grow perennials and shrubs. She has painted her garden well.
There are several other types of true lilies that may be harder to find than Oriental, Asiatic, and Trumpet lilies. A few examples are Turk’s cap lily or Martagon lily, species lilies, tiger lilies, and alpine lilies. There are many more.
Applications are still being accepted for the fall Extension Master Gardener training. Gardeners with all levels of experience are invited to participate — we will help with the “master” part. Applications are available at the Douglas County Extension office, 2110 Harper; at www.douglas.ksu.edu; or by calling 843-7058. Please apply soon to guarantee your space in the class.