Lilies at the Webb Deane Stevens Gardens – True and Otherwise

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Rose Riley

Master Gardener

Webb Deane Stevens Museum

Gardeners, if asked about a plant with lily like blossoms, are apt to ask “Is this a true lily?”

This question sounds rather medieval, harkening back to true knights and true quests but actually this question grows out of the wide number of plants commonly called lilies. 

Some of them, such as Madonna lilies are indeed true lilies, belonging to the genus Lilium and growing from a bulb. Other plants, such as daylilies (Hemerocallis), are often confused with true lilies but they are herbaceous perennials belonging to different genera.  In addition to daylilies, other plants that are often confused with true lilies are hostas, which were once called plantain lilies, and gladiolas, which are sometimes called sword lilies. 

The Webb Deane Stevens garden contains all of these plants.  Lily blooms  begin with a very early scented daylily called lemon lily  (Hemerocallis flava). Next the true lilies come into bloom with bright yellow asiatic lilies which light up the entire garden followed by pure white scented Madonna lilies. 

By late July or early August all kinds of “lilies” are in bloom.  The gladiolas are putting on a wonderful show with their sword like spikes of flowers. Pale lavender hosta flowers cool the garden and a late blooming daylily (H. thunbergii) sparkles in yellow. Soon the last true lily (L. specious, the Rubrum Lily) joins the parade and, for a final flourish, the Plantagenet hostas come into bloom with their pure white scented trumpets.

Lilies all of them, but not all true lilies!  All of them however add immeasurably to the color texture and scent of the garden.