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This is the white Marathon or Turk’s Cap Lily (Lilium martagon var. album). I grow these bulbs in the dappled shade of a cherry tree in my Woodland Permaculture garden. It is a notable late-flowering (June) woodland plant, creating bright highlights at a time of year when most other shade loving plants have finished flowering. It’s narrow profile enable it to be planted between lower growing plants which it rises above before flowering.
The stems of the Martagon rise to about 3ft (1 metre), with whorls of lanceolate leaves on the lower section. Each stem carries between 4 and 10 flowers which are held apart in a well-spaced arrangement which shows them off beautifully.
The individual flowers are small – compared to many lilies, being only 2 inches across (5cm), but they emit a delicate, sweet perfume. The recurved petals are waxy and robust, with a ruffled crest running down the back of each. The bright orange anthers and stamens add to their luminous glow. This one is dusted with pollen from the flowers above it.
Turk’s Cap lilies are found in the wild across Eurasia but naturalised in Britain in the seventeenth century having escaped from gardens. The typical colours of the wild types are variations on burgundy-plum — quite a difficult colour to work into a scheme and more easily overlooked in shade. The white variety is much more accommodating in my opinion, and classier too.
The stems can be cut and brought indoors where they will last well, but like all lilies the pollen will stain anything it falls on.
Once in flower the lilies attract pollen beetles as you can see in the top two flowers in the picture above. These harmless little pollinators are signs of a healthy eco-system, so we are pleased to offer them a home, sheltered under these pretty little canopies.
Grown from bulbs, these plants are easy and generally trouble free, except for one specific pest: Lily beetles. These ½” (1cm) long, bright red beetles, attack the plant in the spring (April onwards). The adults make sizeable holes in the leaves, mate and lay their eggs on the plant. The grubs that follow cause even more damage, and are surrounded by an unsightly, nay disgusting, smelly mucal foam making them look like a bird dropping. They will do far more damage than the adults potentially denuding the plant of foliage which may kill it.
The best solution I have found is a single dose of systemic insecticide the moment you see the bright red adults on the leaves. This will protect the plant through the high-risk period, but be cleared from the plant’s system by the time the flowers open (so pollinating insects are unaffected). Previously I tried picking them off, but this was laborious and pretty ineffective. Removing the slimy grubs is singularly unpleasant.