Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Gerard mentions the martagon lily in his list of garden plants in 1596, and it was much loved in Elizabethan gardens. Common from Eastern Europe to Mongolia, where its bulbs were dried and eaten with cow's or reindeer milk, it probably only grows in the wild in Britain as a garden escape, and is another plant of woodland edges. It doesn't appear in our British herbals, probably because it was never common in the wild, but the (poisonous) bulbs were used medicinally elsewhere for heart complaints and as a diuretic.
It's not a fussy plant, growing quite happily in our heavy clay soil yet also thriving in lighter, sandy soils, and it will take both semi-shade and sun. The flowers, fragrant at night, attract moths, so it is a plant that has had a place in my garden for 30 years. I love its reflexed flowers - its other common name is turk's cap lily - and its muted purples.
(It has been suggested that martagons are the Biblical 'lilies of the field', but it seems likely that this is a confusion with lilium chalcedonicum, the scarlet martagon).