Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Graceful Martagons

The specific term Martagon is a Turkish word which also means turban or cap. The name Turk's cap lily, which also applies to a number of other species, comes from the characteristic reflexed shape of the petals on their flowers. The Lilium martagon is a species of lily.  It has a widespread native region extending from eastern France east through northern Asia to Mongolia and Korea.

'L. hansonii' Lilium at Missouri Botanical Garden
L. hansonii Lilium
Martagons have been cultivated for centuries. John Gerard, author of the famous Elizabethan “Herbal,” mentions them in his 1596 list of plants growing in his garden.  In Uppsala, Sweden, martagons bloom under ancient trees in the garden of 18th century naturalist Carl Linnaeus, a famous botanist that devised the system we still use today for naming living things.

Lilium martagon was used in hybridizing with L. hansonii at the end of the 19th century by Mrs. RO Backhouse of Hereford, England. Their glossy foliage rise in whorls along sturdy stems and add a distinctive shape to the garden while you wait for the flowers. One stem may carry dozens of downward facing “Turk’s Cap” type flowers.  They self-seed and, unlike many lilies that fade away after a few years, martagons can outlive the gardener who plants them.

Martagons do not have the large showy blooms like Trumpets, Aurelian’s, and Oriental hybrids, nor their intense scent. Some people even claim that martagons have an unpleasant scent; they have a light ‘wild flower’ scent.  I have noticed that they have a subtle sophistication that their dramatic relatives lack.  A slight breeze will start them dancing rather than falling over. They also have the advantage of fitting into the larger garden design, unlike the big, flashy hybrids which demand to be noticed.

'Terrace City' Martagon
'Terrace City' Martagon,
photo provided by Chuck Robinson
Horticulturally the species martagon is part of the Division 9 classification, but the hybrids and cultivars derived from these species are part of Division 2 - Martagon Hybrids classification.  They have stem-rooting and they are 4 to 5 feet tall. They also have a wide range of flower colors; pinks, mauves, scarlet and wine reds as well as white, yellow and orange.  The flowers are usually lightly scented, and numerous flowers are borne on each plant...between 40 to 60 flowers can be found on vigorous plants.

Martagon lilies are very cold hardy and flourish as far north as the Arctic Circle!  These rare forgotten jewels are under-used and may be hard to find, but our friends at B&D Lilies have a nice selection of Martagon Species as well as their hybrids.
In the St Louis region there can be many challenges when growing Martagon’s.  Due to our hot and humid summer weather you will probably need to grow them under dappled shade conditions.  They also like soil that is amended with lime every year.

Chuck Robinson, our Lily friend from Kansas City, who provided the gorgeous photograph of 'Terrace City' above and the other photographs below, shares some of his experience with Martagons in the Midwest; "I have had them for a few years. I am still learning. They require good drainage and strategic watering, which means while they are active. Of course, it is easy to water them when you are anticipating the flowers and while they are in flower. Diligence is required to keep them well watered after the flowers have gone. On the flip side, if your garden is well irrigated, that can be a problem too."

'Claude Shride' Martagon
'Claude Shride' Martagon
Orange blooming Martagon
An Orange blooming Martagon

White blooming Martagon
A White blooming Martagon

'Pink Taurade' Martagon
'Pink Taurade' Martagon

What are your experiences with Martagon Lilies?  

Are you willing to try something new in your garden that has been grown for centuries?

--By Lynn Slackman

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