I love to grow lilies in pots. I can move the pots around on my terrace as they come into flower and mix up the colours as I want. Oriental lilies, which are scented, prefer acid soil, so by growing in pots I can give them exactly the conditions they require. Look for ericaceous compost to grow them in. These varieties produce enormous flowers on tall stems in a variety of white, cream and pink colours.
Asiatic lilies don’t have any scent and produce smaller flowers. They need acid soil. You can find them in an amazing range of colours – deep reds, fiery oranges and bright yellows.
You should plant your bulbs 4 to 6 inches deep. This helps to give the growing roots a good anchor which is needed to support the long flower stems. Very long flower stems may need some extra support with canes. Make sure your pots are well drained – lilies hate being wet.
A great thing about lilies is that the large main bulbs divide and also small bulbs develop from the underground stem. By dividing your bulbs in the autumn you will have a whole lot more to replant. You can also break off a few scales from a large bulb. These will develop roots if put into damp peat moss or vermiculite. They will form bulblets which can be planted in pots to increase you lily numbers.
Some lilies form small bulbs or bulbils in their leaf axils. When planted they will grow into bulbs.
Beware the dreaded lily beetle. These bright red beetles eat the foliage, flowers and stems and you must destroy them. You will need to pick off any adults, eggs and larvae that you find. This website has some excellent photos to show what to look for.
The lily beetle first became established in the UK from its native Europe in the 1940s and is now found in the eastern states in the USA.
It’s easy to forget that many of the plants we enjoy in our gardens have been introduced and are not native. My favourite lily is Lilium regale. During a warm summer’s evening its intoxicating scent can fill the garden. It comes from western China and was introduced to England by the great plant collector Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson, who experienced many hardships during his plant collecting and introduced something like 1,200 plants from China to the west.
While on a return trip to the same valley where he had found Lilium regale, Wilson’s leg was badly broken in a rock landslide. Afterwards he walked with what he called his ‘lily limp.’
His trips were sponsored by James Veitch and Sons in the UK and also by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Wilson had a close friendship with the first director, C.S. Sargent.
The history of plant collecting is fascinating, and it is because of the work and bravery of collectors like Wilson that we can enjoy such variety in our gardening.