martagons: what’s not to love?

martagon-lilyTA-DA! That’s what I hear when I see the vivid red martagon lily named ‘Claude Shride’ open up his blossoms in June and throw back his tepals (the technical word for what in lilies look like petals). Ta-da! We’re in a very “ta-da!” mood here this week at A Way to Garden, so it seemed perfect that he decided to open as if on cue. Want to know more about my beautiful boy?

Martagon lilies (Lilium martagon), also referred to as Turk’s cap lilies, have been in cultivation since 1596, and hail originally from Eurasia (meaning in this case Portugal to Siberia, with lots of color and height variations along the route). The individual blooms aren’t gigantic like modern hybrids, but there are many of them on a stem: like 12 or 15 by my count today. Stems can rise up to head-height, though many varieties are just 4 or so feet high.

The best thing about martagons is their adaptability: They are as good, both aesthetically and culturally, in a quite-sunny flower bed as in a woodsy-looking shade garden (not too dark, now; at least give them good filtered light so they bloom well). The worst thing is how hard it is to get your hands on some. Martagons aren’t fast to multiply, so bulb vendors can come up short year to year, and you won’t always be able to get what you are looking for. Meaning: Grab them up while you can, and tuck them in for years and years of beauty.

I love the martagons’ whorled leaves that ring the stem at regular intervals, and how sturdy they are. Besides dear Claude, who came a couple of years back from the Klehms out in the Midwest, I have a paler seedling who remains nameless (bottom photo), but strongly resembles ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse.’ They don’t have Claude right now, but Tony Avent in North Carolina does. Leave martagons in place if you can, and let them do their thing. And their thing is especially nice among both shrubs and other perennials…meaning it’s time to order more.

Foliage of Lilium martagon hybrid

Martagon hybrid, probably 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse'

  1. Andrew Ritchie says:

    Good God! Another stolen breath from my lungs! Absolutely stunning.


    PS: You got any pitcher plants? They’re all tall and proud ’round these parts now.

  2. Brian G. says:

    The foliage is beautiful as well. Much more attractive than Oriental foliage which looks rather weed-like to me. As a matter of fact, I nearly pulled out the newly emerged Casa Blancas I put in last fall thinking they were weeds. Doh!

  3. Ted says:

    One of my favorites. We’re lucky to have a nice nursery near by that takes orders during the summer and then digs them in the fall. I’m always ready to try a new cultivar.

  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Jim, to A Way to Garden. I love your anecdote about the Sargent painting and what it meant to you then (and now). Nice.

  5. Jim Franco says:

    When I saw the pic of the lilies it reminded me of this incredible painting by John SInger Sargent named “Carnantion, Lily, Lily, Rose. Do you know this painting? When I saw it first at a gallery years (20?) ago on madison it stopped me in my tracks. It had in it for me everything about gardens. Design and good luck and good weather and then kids sort of oblivious to the beauty surrounding them.

    Here is a link:

  6. julia homer says:

    They look lovely–but what about lily beetles? Around here (Massachusetts)most people have given up on lilies altogether.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Patty. I don’t know where you are located. Here in the Northeast we usually plant them in the fall and they bloom in summer (now) and are perennial, of course. So I don’t know how long it will take from an early summer planting.

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