Lily Turf

'Lilac Beauty'
Lily Turf

"A song of the good green grass!
A song no more of the city streets."

-Walt Whitman


Two genera of lily are evergreen & form mounds of elegant turf: Ophiopogon sp. which includes the popular cultivar called Black Mondo Grass, & Lirope sp. which incudes among others L. muscari 'Lilac Beauty' & the variegated L. muscari 'Silvery Sunproof.' These hold their appearance year-round, & additionally provide flowers & decorative seedpods for months on end.

Lily Turf flowersThis patch of Asian & Southeast Asian lily is shown here growing beside a Bog Bowl arrangement which serves us as a little waterfall & pond. The first & second photos were snapped in July (2002). Visible in the first photo is the background, with some grass in the water, which is actually Dwarf Cattails. The third photo is from September (2003), with some blossoms of a Dwarf Fuchsia 'Little Giant' showing. The rhododendron leaves showing in the first & third photo are the lower limbs of R. concinnum.

In 2004 it became necessary to dig up this area of the garden. The Lily Turf was carefully dug up, divided into several substantial plants, & transplanted to an area of deep shade that had had some rich humusy soil heaped in. 'Lilac Beauty' now grows alongside variegated Vinca major 'Maculata' & Hedera helix 'Golden Curl.'

The cultivar name 'Lilac Beauty' refers to its spikes of pale lilac-purple flowers, which in our garden last beautifully from July through much of October.

The blooms are lovely, but lily turf is nevertheless grown foremost for the decorative grass-like evergreen fronds. On younger plants than ours, the spikes raise entirely above the foliage, but on a mature clump such as this one, the flowers are nested among the grassy leaves.

Lily Turf flowersThrough late autumn, the flower spikes are producing berry-like black fruit which begin to appear in late September or mid-October, & can remain through much of winter. Either the summer & early autumn flowered spikes, or the berried spike of mid autumn, will also last quite some while in flower arrangements.

'Lilac Beauty' stays under two feet, which is a mite shorter than the species; ours clumps are only a foot & a half high. It likes moist humousy soil & prefers a position with morning sun though it also does well in deeper shade. As it ages it may may need refreshing, which can be done by digging it up every third spring for division, more often if you're eager to plant some of it elsewhere too.

Hardy under most conditions, its weaknesses include a tendency to brown-tip its foliage in long cold winters, so may need to be positioned where it won't get struck by winter wind, or in a sheltered spot near enough the house where it won't get too frosted in winter. In our Zone 8, this is not an issue, as our winters are quite mild.

The second potential weakness is that it will yellow if damp soil drains poorly. Though regarded a stream-side or pond-side plant, it actually survives short droughts better than it survives wet-foot. It adapts to dryish shade better than it adapts to poor drainage, though moist good drainage is going to be what keeps it looking its best.

It will not recover quickly if it does experience something that harms the appearance, & will need any browning bits clipped out of it immediately. A clump that has gotten scruffy might as well be clipped to the ground so it can start over. For the most part, it is care free requiring very little fertilizing or trimming or anything.

There are many other varieties & species of Liriope but the differences in appearance & behavior tend to be pretty subtle. The one that spreads most rapidly is L. spicita which can become rampant rather than clumping, but is a finer choice for dryish rather than moist shade groundcover. Because L. muscari is a very slowly widening clump it functions better for the ornamental grass effect.


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