I have fallen in love with the martagon lily! Lilium martagon (named after the turban warn by a Turkish ruler - hence its other name of Turks Cap lily). The delicate 4 (l.2m) tall lily with up to 12 flowers (or more if happy) per stem, ranging from purest glowing white, to rusty maroony red, to almost black and sometimes spotty. This lily likes dry shade. Therefore ideal with shrubs or at the edge of woodland and it flowers in June and July. What could be more delightful for a tricky site?
In the wild they are found across Central Europe and from Poland to Siberia, Mongolia and Korea in meadows and woods up to 7000 and happiest in neutral to alkaline soil (ideal for Wiltshire!).
Bulbs are quite expensive and difficult to find but if happy when planted will seed themselves around quite freely. To make this state of happiness good drainage during winter is important so planting on a natural or man made slope helps. They like humus rich soil with grit added and a good mulch of leaf mould on top. Leave well alone as they are slow to get going and do not like being disturbed. (Great for a lazy gardener!)
Lily beetles love them so be vigilant and watch out for and sadly destroy them (they are a bright red colour and look really attractive, put your hand underneath the beetle otherwise it will see you coming, drop off and turn brown tummy up and become invisible). Both the bulbs and foliage are attacked - the larvae look like bird droppings!
The seed heads make an attractive feature in the autumn and winter and if left the seeds will fly in Frisbee fashion in all directions - the plants are easy to propagate from seed and should be gathered and sown fresh in the usual way. They may take several months to germinate and 3 - 5 years to reach flowering size, which can be speeded up by feeding and not disturbing the seedlings until an appreciable bulb is present.
One of the best places to see these bulbs in their thousands is Spetchley Park in Worcester where they stretch for a quarter of a mile down to the lake and are thought to have been started in the 1880s by Ellen Willmott.
First published in the Wilts & Avon Group Newsletter, September 2010
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 29.
© Copyright for this article: Alison Mayall
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.