Martagon Lilies: Upside Down and Under Appreciated

Rock-solid hardy in northern climates, Martagon lilies make a colorful addition to shade gardens.

Lilies are generally a good bet for northern gardeners since most lilies handle our winters buried underground, happily safe from winds and cold. Among the lilies, however, no plant is hardier and, at the same time, less appreciated than Martagon lilies.

These June bloomers are native to Europe, and can be found from Portugal to Siberia. In North America, they have been naturalized as far north as Quebec and they grow well in the northern plains. Their distinctive upside-down flowers and whorled leaves make them a striking plant for any shady garden. They’re easy to grow and come in several flower colors.

Why, then, don’t we see more Martagons in garden centers? One reason may be that they are slow to develop. It takes seven years for a Martagon grown from seed to bloom. As a result, breeders and hybridizers have put more effort into creating new types of Asiatic or Oriental lilies, which take about half that time. There are about 250 types of Martagons, but most of them were developed by enthusiastic amateurs and are in limited production.

If you can find Martagons, however, whether at a garden center or from a friend’s garden, they are rewarding to grow. Best yet, once established, they last for decades.

—they make a beautiful companion to hostas—and grow especially well in dappled shade. While they do best in a rich, well-drained soil, they are not picky and will perform well as long as the site is not water-logged. A blast of fertilizer in the spring, particularly one formulated for acid-loving plants, will encourage blooms and growth. In an ideal site, a Martagon can grow up to 6 feet tall, but even in a less-than-perfect situation, Martagons will grow 3 to 4 feet tall and bloom profusely. Well-established Martagons may have 40 to 50 blooms per plant.

Upside Down Flowers

While the foliage provides interest, Martagon blooms are the best reason to grow them. The blooms open up all along the plant’s stalk, beginning right about now and going as late as late June, and lasting for about three weeks. Pink is a common flower color, but they also come in shades of white, yellow, orange and deep purple.

While many Martagon cultivars are rare and expensive, the more common ones are lovely. ‘Claude Shride’ is a dark-red variety with an orangish center. Lillium hansoii is a relative of the Martagons, which has a beautiful bright yellow bloom.

If you are interested in Martagons (or any other lilies), check out the website of the North Star Lily Society for detailed information and more resources.

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