Why don’t more northern gardeners plant martagon lilies?
They are the first lily to bloom each year; they are rock-solid hardy in our area because they are natives of wide swathes of Europe–from Portugal to Siberia. They are the perfect complement to hostas and other shade-loving plants. But…and this is a big but, martagons are slow to propagate and slow to spread. As a result, they are not as available as they might be in the nursery trade. However, those who know martagons — also called Turk’s cap lilies — love them, and much of breeding work in martagons is done by amateurs.
If you are lucky enough to come across a martagon at a nursery or know someone who is giving away plants, grab one, because martagons are the perfect addition to a shade or partial shade garden. Martagons are 3 feet tall with whirling foliage and attractive upside down blooms along the stem. They are a highlight of the June garden. They grow best in dappled shade with moderately rich garden soil. A bit of fertilizer early in the season will ensure bloom as will adequate moisture. Martagons are not fussy plants, and while they may be slow to spread, they will bloom year after year, even in far northern climates. Even better, they are attractive to bees and hummingbirds.
Among the most commonly available varieties is ‘Claude Shride’, with its deep purple-red blooms. Another popular variety is the yellow ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’.
For more on martagons and their care, go to the Northern Gardener archives and click on the March/April 2010 article called “Martagon Madness” by martagon breeder-extraordinaire Frans Officer.