Lilies are one of the most graceful and elegant plants of summer and with so many colours and sizes there’s one for any sunny border. Bulbs are reputedly hard to grow and aren't cheap – a few can cost £18 – which is fairly off-putting, but give them the right growing conditions and they’re worth showering with TLC.

First, decide where you will plant them and mark the spots with a stick, leaving the stick there after planting so you don’t mistakenly drive a fork through the bulbs. Although some lilies tolerate a little shade, the sunnier the site the better for most of them. Plonk lilies in deep shade and they may survive, but will rarely flower.

Many lilies perform better in a border than in a pot and clumps of these gorgeous, long-flowering plants will add zest to your summer display. For best effect, lilies, like clematis, need their heads in the sun and feet in the shade so the surrounding foliage in a border helps keep bulbs cool.

The soil must be cool and moist, never wet and poorly draining. And if you have clay ground, break it up with compost, leafmould and grit.

So, when first planting bulbs, be sure the ground is acceptable. Mix in horticultural grit and sharp sand – the kind you get at a garden centre, not builder’s sand. And plant 20cm deep to ensure the ideal cool environment. You can either plant in the autumn or early spring, and, irritatingly, each has its pros and cons.

Bulbs should not be allowed to dry out as, unlike daffodils, they don’t have a protective outer coat to keep them just moist. So, bulbs should be in better shape in autumn rather than spring. And, if planted as early as September, they’ll start establishing before winter. The downside is they could rot over winter and molluscs find them attractive. If you choose spring, check bulbs are still plump and firm and haven’t become dry and shrivelled.

Whenever you plant, check your chosen variety suits your type of soil: some only thrive in acid soil, others in alkaline, but many are happy with both. Lilium lankongense is a delightful, pale pink flowered species lily. This low-growing, sweetly scented Chinese plant insists on good acidic soil.

On the other hand, tiger lilies (L lancifolium) are for alkaline conditions. Splendens rewards you by flowering over a long time and, with up to 20 blooms per head, you get your money’s worth. Four clear, soft, almost luminous orange blooms open at a time, and are reliably replaced as they fade.

Undoubtedly, the classic and ever popular martagon lily is the easiest choice, thriving in any soil type. I’m convinced low-growing L martagon var album is up there with the best, but L martagon var cattanniae wins the prize. The petals of its dark, almost black flowers are coated with a fine glossy sheen.

With so many stem heights available, you’ll want a variety to suit the overall size of the bed. The first rule of good design is getting shape and balance right. An overly tall lily would look just as ridiculous in a small bed as a dwarf in an impressive country house border.

Black Beauty, a cross between L henryi and L speciosum, is perfect for a large bed. Though not black, its flowers are dark raspberry with white borders, and pleasantly fragrant. During the first year the flowering stems reach a metre, but will settle in and double that the following year.

L pardalinum, the leopard lily, is a tough specimen, producing large clumps of stems, 2.5 metres tall. The gracefully nodding dark orange flowers, like so many lilies, are darkly freckled.