Every gardener adores Lilium for its elegant, unbeatable beauty, exquisite colors, and ease of growing (they grow from bulbs). However, not all Lilium perform in Rocky Mountain gardens. Other varieties like the Oriental types of Lilium are breathtakingly beautiful, but when planted in western gardens will gradually fade away due to the high mineral content in both mountain soil and water. Asiatic Liliums are not fussy about soils and will grow in alkaline but regular Asiatics are cherry chocolates to critters, who devour them. So what’s a gardener to do? Lilium is the star of the summer garden. Its height, elegant, tall, narrow foliage that looks great all season, along with richly-colored bold flowers makes it a beloved perennial. The answer to this challenge is to plant Asiatic hybrids that tolerate alkaline soil and are mixed with Tiger lilium genes that are deer resistant.
Choosing Hybrid Lilium
The best are the LA hybrids that are a cross between “A” for Asiatic Lilium and “L” for Longiflorum Lilies. The longiflorum lilies are the Easter Lilies which are not hardy enough to survive in our Mountain gardens, but when mixed with Asiatic genes they do. The LA hybrid’s blooms are larger and more trumpet-shaped. Their whorled leaves are thicker and they bloom longer so they are a favorite of florists. LAs bloom with up to twenty flowers per stem in mid-summer just as the Asiatics are finishing. They are highly fragrant, which is why deer do not bother them for most critters will not go near a flower with the intoxicating scent of the LA Liliums.
Lilium (Lilies) in the Mountain Garden
Other fine Lilium for the Rocky Mountain gardens are bulbs with genetics from Tiger Lilies. The original specie Tiger Lily was discovered in a limestone rocky gorge in China and was named Henrii. Limestone is the mineral that is very prevalent in alkaline soils so Henrii feels right at home in our mountains. This Tiger Lily has a low hardiness of a zone-three so will survive our cold winters. Henrii grows tall and graceful on five foot stems and blooms in late summer. The flowers are an artistic mix of delicate boldness with curved petals sprinkled with darker freckles and dramatic, long, different-colored stamens. The original specie of Henrii bloomed in an orange sherbet color and is so beautiful it won the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993.
Many hybrids of Lilium are now available, so try to plant only those that are bred from Asiatic and/or Tiger Lilium for these are successful growers in Mountain gardens. Lilies need to be planted deep. If your soil is clay, dig the hole even deeper and throw in a shovel full of gravel to aid in drainage. Lilies will rot in water-soaked soil. Tiger Lilies live forever and will never require digging and division, so use plenty of compost in the lily hole, which will help water to drain. Another successful way to grow Liliums is to plant them in a raised flowerbed using their gorgeousness as the tall focal point in the garden.
Lilium also insures the red accents that are so needed in a sea of yellow or lavender in a garden. They bloom in huge flowers of deep reds, scarlet reds, pure reds, coral reds, inky reds, plus every shade of orange, pink, yellow and white. So if your garden is lacking a certain “pizzazz” then add clumps (three, five or more) of Lilium to give any garden a bolt of electricity!