The lily family, Liliaceae, comprises 16 genera and just under 650 species, which are mostly native to temperate and subtropical regions of the Northern hemisphere. Plants in this family typically have simple, strap-like leaves, flowers with six semi-fused petals, and capsule-like seedpods. The blooms tend to be elaborate as plants in this family have evolved a close relationship with pollinators. For this reason, many popular garden plants are members of Liliaceae, including Erythronium, fritillary, lily and tulip. Most species have an underground storage structure, such as a bulb.
Snake’s head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris
Snake’s head fritillary flower
Snake’s head fritillary has bell-shaped flowers in various shades of purple and occasionally white, with a wonderful chequered patterning. Hardy and trouble-free, it’s ideal for growing in a variety of situations including containers, sunny spring borders, wildflower meadows and areas of long grass. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Height x Spread: 30cm x 5cm
Erythronium ‘Harvington Snowgoose’
Dog’s tooth violet, Erythronium, is so-called because the shape of the bulb is said to resemble a dog’s tooth. Its recurved petals resemble small Turk’s-cap lilies. It’s easy to grow if given the moist soil and shady conditions it’s used to in the wild.
H x S: 35cm x 100cm
Lilium martagon has dark green leaves, from which tall stems of fragrant, purple turkscap lilies appear in summer. It thrives in well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. It makes an excellent cut flower.
H x S: 1.5m x 30cm
Native to parts of Asia, Asiatic lilies are stalwarts of the ornamental border, bearing slender, glossy leaves and huge ornamental flowers in a variety of different colours. Hardy and unfussy, they deliver dramatic results for little effort. One drawback: they have no fragrance.
H x S: 50cm x 30cm
Native to Japan, oriental lilies are taller than Asiatic lilies, less hardy and need acidic soil conditions to thrive. They bear enormous blooms in shades of white, pastel pink or yellow, with a heady fragrance.
H x S: 1.2m x 30cm
Foxtail lilies, Eremurus
Foxtail lilies are hardy perennials grown for their impressive spikes of flowers in June or July. Their unmistakable, spidery bulbs have a central core and radiating, long tentacles. Each flower spike is made up of hundreds of star-shaped flowers. They have huge ornamental value and are extremely attractive to bees.
H x S: 1.2m x 90cm
Tulipa ‘Purple Dream’
One of the most commonly grown spring bulbs, there are many varieties of tulip to choose from. It’s not immediately obvious that they’re members of the lily family, but their strap-like leaves and six fused petals give them away. If you let them seed you’ll see that their capsule-like seedpods resemble those of lilies, too.
H x S: 50cm x 30cm