7 Lily Types to Grow in the Garden

The term lily gets bandied about quite a bit by flower gardeners, but the Lilium genus refers to a specific group of perennial plants that includes beloved flowers like the Easter lily and the infamous 'Stargazer' lily so important to the cut flower trade. Day lilies, toad lilies, peace lilies, and water lilies, while possessing many desirable attributes, are not true lilies. The North American Lily Society recognizes nine horticultural divisions of lilies, and while not all are common in the nursery trade, lily admirers are sure to find a new favorite in this list of seven lily types. 

  • 01 of 07


    Close up of domestic Asiatic Lillies. Ontario, Lake Superior, Canada
    S.J. Krasemann / Getty Images

    Asiatic lilies, like the 'Lollypop' cultivar featured in this photo, are arguably the easiest lilies to grow for beginning flower gardeners. The flowers are mostly unscented, but we'll forgive them that fault for the ​rainbow of luscious colors available. Flowers may face up, down, or outwards, and usually bloom in June or July. Although lilies aren't common in container gardens, dwarf Asiatics like the 12-inch tall 'Buff Pixie' will adapt to pot culture. 

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    Photo © Michael Davis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Martagon lilies have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but viewing the ethereal 5-foot wands of the mature plants makes a little pampering worth it. Plant bulbs of martagons like these 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse' in the fall, choosing a sheltered location with excellent drainage. Martagon lilies are the most shade tolerant of the bunch, so a location at the edge of a woodland garden, but away from competitive tree roots, is best. Choose your location wisely, as martagons don't take well to transplanting. Expect fragrant blooms in May or June. 

  • 03 of 07

    American Hybrids

    Photo © Kelly Kalhoefer/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Hybrids derived from North American natives like the Humboldt lily pictured here will form large colonies over the years in gardens with humus-y soil and good drainage. The large floral candelabras feature blossoms with sharply recurving and downward-facing petals. These lilies are best in wildflower gardens and informal landscapes. 

  • 04 of 07

    Trumpets and Aurelians

    Photo © David Q. Cavagnaro/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Everyone should experience the pomp and circumstance of a trumpet lily at least once in a lifetime. Aurelians are trumpet hybrids that are easy to grow, as long as you stake them to protect their massive blooms and give them a layer of insulating mulch to help them through the winter. Trumpet lilies like this 'Golden Sunburst' variety are more drought tolerant than other lilies but may exceed heights of eight feet with a little TLC. 

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  • 05 of 07


    Photo © Michael Davis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Oriental lilies are similar to Asiatic lilies in form and color selection, but the perfume of Oriental lilies is unparallelled, which helps us forgive their finicky ways. Oriental lilies appreciate acidic soil, which you can achieve with the ample addition of organic materials like compost and leaf mold. Expect to see the first blooms of pictured 'Stargazer' and others sometime in August, when many other flowers are winding down for the season. 

  • 06 of 07


    Blossoming Oriental Lily 'Extravaganza'
    Maria Mosolova / Getty Images

    Like the cockapoos and labradoodles of the flower world, Orienpets and other interdivisional lilies combine the best traits of their parent flowers. For example, an Orienpet lily has the perfume, tall stature, and color of an Oriental lily, with the hardier growth habit of a trumpet lily.  L.A. lilies, which are crosses between longiflorum and Asiatic lilies, yield flowers with interesting color combinations, a trumpet shape, and a sweet fragrance. 

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    Photo © Chris Burrows/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    To explore the diversity of the wild lily species is to marvel at the adaptability of these plants, for wild lilies come from swampy jungles and frigid mountain regions, and many habitats in between. Although the number of species lilies offered in the nursery trade varies, by seeking out specialty nurseries or connecting with members of lily societies you can include flowers like the pictured Lilium aratum 'Gold Band' in your garden. It's possible there are still undiscovered lily species growing in remote regions, waiting to lend their genetic material to the next great hybrid development.