Monday, January 10, 2011

A Year in the Life - Lilium 'Black Beauty'

Lilium 'Black Beauty'

There I was, at the Yard Garden & Patio Show last spring. Anyone who has been to one of those shows knows how overwhelming they can be. Tons of people, tons of products. I made it over to a small booth for the Lily Pad Bulb Farm, where they had baskets of lily bulbs as big as my fist. I picked up one of the giant bulbs, labeled 'Black Beauty'. The photo on its label showed a blossom like something from a dream, deep raspberry-red flowers with a white margin and darker red speckling. Most inportantly, it had those lovely, recurved petals, what I'd later learn was referred to as a "Turk's Cap Lily". I bought 3 of those giant bulbs, giddy with the idea of having my own lilies.

'Black Beauty' was created by Dr. Leslie Woodriff around 50 years ago, a cross of Lilium henryi and Lilium speciosum, and is officially classified as and Orienpet lily (cross between and Oriental and a Trumpet). Apparently it was the first of its kind, and seen as a huge step in breeding.

Extremely hardy and long-lived, mature plants can top 7' tall and will reproduce to form large colonies if they are happy. I'm not sure of their hardiness, but from looking online, they seem to be hardy to at least zone 4. Like most lilies, they like deep, rich, moist, well-drained soil. They also prefer to have their tops in the sun, but their feet kept cool.

Always make sure your bulbs are nice and firm without any trace of mold. Keep them stored in a cool, dry place. I believe they can be planted any time the soil isn't frozen. I planted these 6" deep in late February or early March, as soon as I could after purchasing them. Now comes the hardest part, the waiting. I can be a bit neurotic, and will have to admit, I checked the spot where I had planted them every morning, looking for any sign of activity.


Here is a photo taken April 7, right as the first lily is emerging (about a month after planting). In areas prone to late frosts, I would definitely cover the buds with some leaves should frost threaten. In general, they are not bothered by pests, but slugs would happily feed on the new shoots. I constantly apply slug bait around the lilies for the first month or so, especially after a heavy rain.


Believe it or not, this picture was taken after only another week or so, on May 16. As you can see by all the lovely white pellets, I was still scattering slug bait at this taking chances!


Here are the same plants on May 4, about 2 weeks later. As you can see, by the time they reached this size, I had stopped with the slug bait. Yes, that's a lovely garden hose in the background :-) I believe just after this pic was taken I decided to plant a Sanguisorbia in the middle of these three lilies, to cover the bare ground and give a little more interest...lily flowers are lovely, but their bare knees could use a little covering-up. The "naked ankles" syndrom is exacerbated by the fact that my garden is on a slope and they were right at the top of that slope.

Aha...the buds appear! While most lilies seem to bloom in late spring/early summer, 'Black Beauty' has the distinction of being one of the last lilies to bloom, right around August. Sure enough, during the last week of July, the buds started to elongate, ripe with the promise of blooms to come! I believe 'Black Beauty' topped out around 4' this year in the garden, and despite their large load of blooms, none of the stems required staking, which surprised me a bit. Also, right about this time, as the lilies were days from blooming, I had several stems of my Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' "harvested" by strangers during the night. I was glad I had decided to plant the lilies further up the hill, away from the sidewalk, where they may have also have been a tempting target.

This seem to be the time of year that liles (at least the ones I've had in the past) can use a bit more water. I've had other lilies drop their buds if they get too stressed during a heat wave, especially if the soil gets too dry. I try to keep the plants consistently moist (but not wet) during the entire growing season. I also mulch them fairly heavily to keep the soil cool.

And here we have it! These first few blooms are the most precious, they open slowly at first, 1 here, 2 there...then suddenly the whole plant seems covered in shimmering blooms. I didn't keep good count, but it seems each plant produced between 10-15 blooms and the bloom period started during the last week of July and lasted about a month, which seemed quite impressive for only 3 bulbs planted that spring.

I'll admit, I generally prefer plants that produce a multitude of smaller, simpler flowers...but lilies may be the one exception. There is something so regal and exotic about them...I can't quite describe it.

If 'Black Beauty' has one shortcoming, it's that it does not possess much (if any) fragrance. This may actually be a benefit for those can't stand the smell of lilies. My old roommate said the smell of lilies reminded her too much of funerals. Well, lucky for me, the scent holds no funereal recollections. I love that spicy-sweet perfume. In any case, while some claim 'Black Beauty' is "lightly frangrant", I could detect no fragrance at all...pity.



Here is a full-on view of the garden, warts and all! 'Black Beauty' is circled on the left hand side. Pretty much that entire 1/3 of the garden was planted this spring, so was still a little empty this year. Hopefully things will fill out this coming year and all the gaps and bare ground will be covered.


And here we have 'Black Beauty' this autumn, just before a hard free stripped the stems of their leaves. I can't remember if other lilies I've had turn such a lovely shad of yellow in the was definitely a nice surprise!

So there you have it, Lilium 'Black Beauty', a lily I can heartily recommend for its easiness to grow, toughness and stunning beauty. I'm hoping my 3 bulbs are happy in their spot and come back this year, and that they multiply to create a nice colony. I've already got visions of 7' tall stalks with 50 blooms each dancing in my head :-) Do any of you grow lilies...if so, what are your faves, your disappointments?



  1. Morning Scott. I just planted 6 lilies two days ago, it was from a mixed bin. Only know they are Oriental Lilies. In Virginia I had Casa Blanca and Stargazers...I love the fragrant ones.
    Loved seeing your year in the life of a lily. Sorry that one isn't fragrant.

  2. Thanks for sharing Scott, I like the coloring on these and I really like the Turk's Cap style flowers, but don't have any yet myself. I can see why people get really hooked on lilies, the ones I have are trouble free and the flower factor is huge. I've been considering joining the new Lily study group that formed at the HPSO.

  3. Thanks for posting this, I love lilies! Unfortunately, when I lived back in Massachusetts I had to give them up because of the red lily leaf beetle, they just decimated the plants every year until nothing came up, and killing the beetles and their horrible offspring was so hard to stay on top of.

    I just planted Stargazer this fall, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they do. I've heard there are no lily leaf beetles here. I'm looking forward to seeing how Black Beauty does in your garden this year too, I hope you show pics (of course you will!)

    And I just love the picture of your entire front garden, had to click on that to make it bigger so I could take everything in. It looks spectacular!

  4. This one just got added to my shopping list! Your garden is beautiful.....stop apologizing for thin spots!

  5. ' Black Beauty' certainly lives up to its name Scott. I have never tried growing lilies in the ground but confine them to pots. I am trying a couple of new ones this year but my favourite is the deliciously scented 'Casa Blanca'.

    Scott, in answer to your question over at my blog re. melanoselinum decipiens I got them from :
    If you would be happy with just a few let me know and I would be happy to send you some.

  6. I have to agree with Tim...your garden looks amazing and there are no thin spots! As for the Lily question I keep meaning to buy a few Casablanca...I love the pure white with that amazing fragrance. I inherited a few of what may be Stargazer with this garden. Once I loved them to a less 'front and center' place we get along just fine.

  7. I love the turk's cap, but they don't seem to love me back--LOL.

    I have quite a few Asiatic lilies--they are my current favorite flower to plant in my main garden.

    I am not a fan of the aromatic Stargazers, though I have a few of them. They don't do well in my soil. I love how they look - stunning--but I don't like anything that has an overpowering smell--no perfume for me!

    I hope your 3 bulbs turn into six this year!

    I just placed my first flower order for 2011 this morning.

  8. oh man, now I need Melanoselinum decipiens too, and I already did my order from plant world (i'm very happy with my orders, but shouldn't order any more!). Scott, if you order this plant, let us know how the growing goes.

  9. Beautiful garden and I love the "Black Beauty"!

  10. What "warts"? Your front garden looks lovely and full! That lily is a showstopper. I love our little native tiger lily (Lillium Columbianum) with its turks cap shape, too. I'm looking for that one for my garden.

  11. A friend just gave me a bag full of small pips/pups from her lily, but I can't remember if she said they were Black Beauty or Black Jack. I am hoping for Black Beauty.

  12. Wow, 'Black Beauty' is truly a beauty ... stunning capture in full bloom! Not a huge lover of heady lily fragrance, this might be for me.

  13. When I was cleaning today, I came across the tag from one of the few lilies I bought from Lowe's a few years ago at 75% off. I planted them as plants. I went up to see what kind it was, but couldn't remember where I put the tag. They aren't the turk's cap kind, though.

    I love your photos! I haven't seen as many photos of your house from the front as from the corner. I sure don't see bare spots like you do. You have a beautiful property!

  14. Thanks for the in depth on Black Beauty one of my favorites. I do love orange tiger lilies and, Lilium regale,and Easter lilies, Madonna lilies, I have so many, I was a lily-a-holic for a while. Some can be finicky and slug banquets, not good when you live on the edge of a swamp. Oh, and swamp lilies, Lilium superbum..... And Cardiocrinums, giant lilies.... I can't stop

  15. Janet: I love the fragrant ones, too..I'm definitely looking to add some this year...most likely Casa Blanca...can't wait!

    Ryan: I'm a big fan of the Turk's Cap style...I just like their elegance and simplicity. I've actually been considering joining the is it?

    Alison: Oh no...I've heard horror stories about those beetles...luckily, I haven't seen any around here...let's keep our collective fingers crossed we stay beetle-free!

    Tim: Hahaha...thanks...I guess every gardener is a little over-aware of their own shortcomings!

    Anna: Thanks so much for the I'm a little obsessed with their site...I can feel my pocketbook getting lighter as we speak ;-)

    danger garden: I love Casa Blanka...they are definitely on my list of plants for this year.

    Zoey: I feel your pain, some plants that are easy for some to grow just seem to hate me...I'm sure it's spite, not any deficiency on my part ;-)

    Ryan: I know how you feel...I'll keep you updated on it's progress!

    Ginny: Thanks!!!

    MulchMaid: Thanks! I love those too...every time I'm hiking and see one, I have to stop and admire charming!

    Les: I'll cross my fingers for you...although I'm sure Black Jack is nice too :-)

    Joey: Go for it...It's a lot of lily with none of the scent!

    Sue: Thanks for the kind words...that's what my partner says too...but you know how we gardeners are...sometimes we fixate on what ISN'T there...and kind of forget what is :-)

    Daniel: Same all the forms of lilies...they are all so charming and lovely!

  16. Great photos, especially the four across the top. I think black beauty might be the coolest of the hybrid lilies. They come up really late here, compared to all the other kinds of bulbs. I always find myself doubting they'll be back, but so far they have. The full of view of your front looks good, not warty at all.

  17. Oooh I love a good lily, and this looks a lovely one. I know about the lily supplier of which you speak. May I recommend you check out this lily supplier if you get the chance....I love their Orienpets, mine get over 8 feet tall! Prepare to drool:

  18. I've been a huge fan of orienpets for a number of years as they perform much better than orientals do here. Black Beauty is a fantastic variety even if it isn't fragrant. I can't stand the smell of lilies indoors, but in the garden the fragrance is beautiful.

  19. Ryan: I share your concern...I always convince myself in the spring that things aren't coming up...I really do have to restrain myself from digging down to check!

    LeLo: I have to admit I've been stalking that site all winter! 8' tall...that sounds like a lily for me!!! Which ones would you recommend?

    Plant Geek: I agree totally...all the beauty with a minimum of fuss. I also think you're spot-on about the fragrance...I think it's only indoors where it's concentrated and gets a bit intense for some people.

  20. Scott this is one of my favorite lilies and I've planted quite a few of them. They get bigger and better every year and require little care. My new favorites are the Orientpet lilies a cross between trumpets and oriental lilies. I'll post some pics shortly so you can be lured in to planting some of these robust, fragrant flowers!

  21. Hi Scott. Now you know I love lilies. LOL! I do not have any Turks Caps in my Lily Patch though. I love the looks of your Black Beauty.I will have to visit The Lily Pad Bulb Farm on line. This could be a big mistake though. LOL! Your Front garden is just beautiful in front of your home.

  22. I was on a lily kick two years ago and ordered this one, along with some others. There were a few blooms last year and I'm hoping for more this year. Your front garden is amazing and your photos are so sharp and beautiful - I've noticed that when I upload mine from my server into Blogger, they are not as sharp as the original. Any idea why this is?

  23. Phil,

    Blogger is probably resizing the images, the bigger they are to start with, the worse the resize looks. Are you uploading really huge original versions to blogger? You might try resizing them on you computer to something closer to the size you want.

    I upload all my images to flickr and they get resized automatically into several handy sizes. Flickr allows me to easily copy and paste html code for any of the sizes right into my blog posts. Flickr seems to do a really fantastic job of keeping image quality when it resizes the photos.

  24. Excellent post! I love not only the lily flowers, but the green tops when they just appear from the ground. They are so powerful, and you can guess how beautifull the blooms will be.

  25. Tom: I can't wait to see your pics!

    Hocking Hills: Thanks...I've got a ways to go before I can compete with you, lily-wise!

    Phillip: Oops...looks like Ryan beat me to the punch! I believe it is Blogger, if you upload pics directly into it, it scales them and leads to some nasty artifacts. I also use Flickr to upload and organize my photos. You can just grab the HTML address for the images and paste them into your blog posts (you can even specify the exact size if you want). I believe you can try it out for free, as long as you keep your total uploads under a certain amount, beyond that, I think it's $25/year for a membership...I could be off on that, however.

    Ryan :-)

    Tatyana: much of the joy of gardening is in the anticipation!!!

  26. Thank you Scott and Ryan for your suggestions! They are very helpful.

  27. Your garden is amazing. I am addicted to lilies now, too. Not sure how. I just ordered a bunch of casa blanca lilies from White Flower Farm before the credit card company shut off my credit card. At least my flower garden is going to look killer this year and the neighbors will be jealous. Your web page is amazing. I'm so glad you took the time to blog about all the stages--I've never seen anything like this before. You did a great job. And thanks for everyone's links and comments. I wish there were more sites like this one. You did an awesome job.