Daily Flower Candy: Lilium martagon ‘Arabian Knight’


Phew! What a scorcher the weekend was. Whilst I had the right idea on Saturday, spending much of the day at my friend’s beach hut in Whitstable sipping chilled rosé, on Sunday I needed to crack on with the garden. I went outside early, before the sun arrived in the Gin and Tonic Garden, but remained there until tea time, by which time it was hot, hot, hot.

The original garden (which I now need to find a suitable distinguishing name for), has become cooler and shadier over the years as trees have grown up on the north and east boundaries. This has seen off a few sun-loving plants, but others have prospered. Season after season I replanted Lilium ‘African Queen’ before someone who knows better told me that they prefer acid conditions. I had been growing them over pure chalk, so it’s no wonder they took umbridge. All is not lost, because there is a group of lilies which enjoy mildly alkaline conditions and these are called martagon, or Turk’s cap lilies. They come in all sorts of colours from white, to yellow, pink, orange and red. After planting the they tend to sulk in my experience, coming up blind and then withering away prematurely. As with anything, or anybody sulky, the best thing to do is to ignore them. Provided the bulbs don’t dry out too much they will return the following season with renewed vigour and lots of flowers. Don’t be expecting the whopping blooms that are produced by oriental lilies: Turk’s caps produce small, strongly recurved blooms in abundance, typically 20-50 per stem at maturity. Planted amongst herbaceous perennials they look much more natural than their large-flowered cousins.

At Hampton Court Palace Flower Show last year I purchased six bulbs of Lilium ‘Arabian Knight’, a fragrant variety blessed with orangey-yellow flowers spotted and overlaid with dark mahogany-red. The first blooms have just begun to open, in a lightly shaded spot beneath a tree, surrounded by Salvia ‘Amistad’ and Digitalis canariensis (formerly Isoplexis canarienesis). The effect, I anticipate, will be volcanic, and I already want to plant more. It takes a few years for martagon lilies to reach their maximum height, which might be between 4ft and 6ft depending on the variety, but I’m in this for the long game.

If you have a patch of alkaline soil in a sunny or lightly shaded spot then martagon lilies are an excellent choice for height and early summer colour. Just add plenty of organic matter, avoid the bulbs drying out in summer and have a little patience. The rewards will be great and the display will be blistering, even if June isn’t. TFG.


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