Photo credit: F.D. Richards CC BY-SA 2.0
Few flowers combine the fragrance, sublime color combinations and emphatic presence in the garden as lilies. Traditional lily classes include Asiatic, Oriental, trumpet, aurelian and various species lilies. Hybridizers have crossed Oriental and trumpet, or Aurelian, lilies to create a class of lilies called OT or Orienpet lilies. They bring desirable traits from both classes and provide increased vigor and disease resistance to an already outstanding flower.
Like all lily bulbs, Orienpets or OT lilies can be planted in either late fall or early spring. Their roots develop best at temperatures less than 60°. Their cultural requirements are the same as most classes of lilies. They bloom best in full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade—especially in the afternoon.
The critical factor with any lily (and most bulbs) is to provide good drainage. Choose a location with well-draining soil; a spot with heavy clay or one that remains persistently damp will be the death for lilies. Clay soils can be amended with the addition of compost, but if the surrounding soil is predominately clay, the planting spot will act as a sump for excess water and lilies will likely struggle to survive. A spot with a bit of slope will allow excess rain to drain away. Another option is to provide a raised bed for lilies, allowing for a soil mix that is free draining and rich in organic matter. Plant lilies at 2 ½ times the height of the bulb, for example a 3-inch bulb should be planted with its base about 7 inches below the soil surface.
Orienpet lilies can grow up to 6 feet tall, even taller in warmer regions, and may require staking. Minimize fungal disease by providing good drainage and air circulation. Keep an eye out for lily leaf beetles, which can affect buds, and aphids which can carry lily mosaic virus. Check the undersides of foliage and destroy the insects by hand or with a sharp spray of water as soon as they are seen. If plants are severely affected, treat with neem oil in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
When lilies are finished blooming don’t be tempted to cut back their foliage. Allow it to decline naturally, providing sustenance to the bulb for next year’s growth. Once the foliage is yellow or brown you can remove it. If you want to bring lilies indoors as a cut flower, don’t harvest more than one-third of the plant or you may weaken the bulb for future performance.
Properly sited, lily bulbs will produce offsets and increase in size over time. You can lightly mulch lily plantings once the ground is frozen in the winter, although I have never taken this step and lilies have done fine in my garden.
Excessive warmth in early spring can hasten the growth of lilies. If your lilies have over 6 inches of top growth and a hard freeze with temperatures below 25° is forecast, cover foliage until temperatures return to above freezing.
Site lilies in areas where their scent can be appreciated such as near a bench or pathway. A small garden can handle a group of three lily bulbs, while a large border may accommodate a few drifts in a range of colors.
Pair them with perennials whose flowers won’t compete with the large, show-stopping trumpets of OT lilies. Phlox (Phlox paniculata), veronica (Veronica spicatum and other tall species), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum), ornamental grasses and the tiny daisy flowers of kalimeris (Kalimeris pinnatifida ‘Hortensis’) all complement lilies. Mounds of perennial geranium, low growing groundcover roses and, in part shade, hosta and hellebores look great at the feet of lilies.
‘Black Beauty’ is a stalwart OT lily bred in 1957. It sports flowers of deep raspberry with recurved petals, edged in white, and a lime green center. Softly fragrant and visited by hummingbirds it has thrived for over 20 years in a part-shady area in my garden.
The cooler colors of pink/raspberry/burgundy color range are well represented in Orienpet lilies, including ‘Anastasia’, ‘Leslie Woodriff’ and ‘Scheherazade’. Cultivars in warmer shades of buttery yellow through gold, peach and sunset colors include: ‘Conca d’Or’, ‘Corcovado’ and ‘Montego Bay’. Creams and near whites as well as bi-color flowers are also available.
Further information on lilies can be found at the North American Lily Society.