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Regal lilies will be blooming here soon, and every year when their fragrance fills the air I’m reminded of this description written by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson, the great plant explorer who first brought them to America.
Of the 2000 plants Wilson collected in his eight trips to Asia, the regal lily was his favorite – although an avalanche broke his leg while he was collecting it and he walked the rest of his life with what he called his “lily limp.” In his 1917 book, Aristocrats of the Garden, he writes:
“Journey in thought with me for a moment or two, westward . . . to Shanghai, gateway of far Cathay; onward and westward up the mighty Yangtsze River for 1800 miles, then northward up its tributary the Min some 250 miles to the confines of mysterious Tibet; to that little-known hinterland which separates China proper from the hierarchy of Lhassa; to a wild and mountainous country . . . where mighty empires meet.
“There in narrow, semi-arid valleys, down which torrents thunder, and encompassed by mountains composed of mud-shales and granites whose peaks are clothed with snow eternal, the regal lily has her home. In summer the heat is terrific, in winter the cold is intense, and at all seasons these valleys are subject to sudden and violent wind-storms against which neither man nor beast can make headway.
“There in June, by the wayside, in rock-crevice by the torrent’s edge and high up on the mountainside and precipice, this lily in full bloom greets the weary wayfarer. Not in twos and threes but in hundreds, in thousands, aye, in tens of thousands. Its slender stems . . . , flexible and tense as steel, overtop the coarse grasses and scrub and are crowned with . . . large funnel-shaped flowers, each more or less wine-colored without, pure white and lustrous on the face, clear canary-yellow within the tube and each stamen filament tipped with a golden anther.
“The air in the cool of the morning and in the evening is laden with delicious perfume exhaled from every blossom. For a brief season this lily transforms a lonely, semi-desert region into a veritable fairyland.”
Thanks to Wilson, you can enjoy a bit of this distant fairyland in your own backyard. Simply order now for fall delivery! (June 2017)
Tiger lilies were Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite flower, and he grew masses of them in the gardens of Taliesin, his spectacular Wisconsin home and studio.
Taliesin’s Cultural Landscape Coordinator, Jessica Tripalin, emailed us earlier this summer saying, “The 50 tiger lilies you sent us last fall look amazing in the gardens here. The preservation crew is aiming to restore the entire estate to the year Mr. Wright passed. Our goal is to attain the look and feel of 1959. I am so happy with the results in the gardens this year. Thank you so much for your beautiful plants!”
Jessica also sent us this photo of a few of our tiger lilies blooming in front of one of Taliesin’s massive stone chimneys and the iron-pipe trelliswork that Wright designed for the gardens.
Tiger lilies are native to Japan and were frequently depicted in Japanese art. It’s easy to see how their simplicity, grace, and drama appealed to Wright, and no doubt they also reminded him of the months he lived in Tokyo while overseeing the construction of his early masterpiece, the Imperial Hotel.
To learn more about Wright’s gardens, read our review of Derek Fell’s The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright which we recently posted at our blog. (Sept. 2016)
In a recent post at her award-winning blog The Garden Diaries, Clair Jones writes that the “top draw for butterflies” in her Maryland garden is the gorgeous, easy-to-grow ‘Black Beauty’ lily. She even includes a short video of a half-dozen tiger swallowtails blissfully sipping nectar from the lily’s deep raspberry-colored flowers.
Clair’s post also introduced me to “butterflying,” which she defines as observing and photographing these beautiful pollinators. Along with helpful tips for attracting and taking digital photos of them, she offers some fascinating facts about butterflies. For example, did you know that butterflies taste things with their feet?
August is a great month for butterflying, with many of the 765 species in North American active then. To enjoy more of them in your garden, read Clair’s tips – and maybe plant a few ‘Black Beauty’ lilies this fall. (Aug. 2016)
Learning from You: Lilies in the Living Room
Speaking of lilies, here’s an unexpected way to enjoy them up close, from our good customer Kathryn Hubler of Falls Church, Virginia:
“I thought you’d enjoy this photo of the gold-band lilies we received from you last year blooming in our living room. We’ve discovered we like to grow them in pots so we can enjoy their beautiful blooms and scent indoors. A pot of them is now a necessity, so we ordered fresh bulbs from you this year and will rotate the old ones into the garden.
“I grow the lilies outside, protecting the pot in the winter, and then when the first bud opens I bring them inside by our sunny, south facing window. I started doing this by accident one year when I brought the pot indoors to protect the flowers during a big rain storm. They last longer indoors, they’re never damaged by deer, slugs, or earwigs, and their fragrance is divine!”
Two of the most influential gardeners of the 20th century, Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, would probably approve of Kathryn’s technique. Both recommended growing fragrant lilies in pots and then moving them onto the terrace, near doorways, or alongside garden benches when they came into bloom, as they did in their own famous gardens.
Kathryn planted her lilies in the fall which gave them plenty of time to develop a good root system before they had to start growing above ground. Spring-planted lilies may be more of a challenge in pots, but we plan to try gold-band and ‘Uchida’ ourselves this spring, and we’ll let you know how they do.
For tips on growing all sorts of bulbs in containers, see our Bulbs in Pots page. Have fun, and send us your photos! (Dec. 2015)
Madonna (Lily) Blows Up Our Facebook Page
Grown in gardens since 1600, Madonna lily is still a superstar — or at least our recent photo of it in bloom here with larkspur and poppies prompted so many likes (1,854) and shares (5,246) that almost 400,000 people have seen it so far. Yes, 400,000! And that’s a global fan-base — appreciative comments were posted in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Thai, and Filipino.
Enjoy it yourself at Facebook.com/HeirloomBulbs — and to make sure you see our next big hit there, check “Follow” under the “Liked” button near the top of our page. Thank you, and happy gardening! (July 2015)
To Protect Your Lilies, Plant Alliums
Our good customer Amy Reynolds of Saint Louis, Missouri, emailed us this helpful tip:
“Your lily bulbs are fabulous! I popped them in the ground immediately. To protect them from an abundant local rodent population, I’ve planted them (as I always do with lilies) with several allium companions. I’ve found that squirrels and chipmunks won’t excavate past the alliums to get to nearby lily bulbs while they’re dormant, and the rabbits won’t go near allium foliage come spring.”
To try this yourself, why not order a few of our fabulous lilies
right now? (Oct. 2014)
Grow Your Own Ryan Gainey Bouquet: Tiger Lilies and Crocosmia
Ryan Gainey, the celebrated Atlanta-area garden designer, has a special affection for heirloom flowers, including many of our bulbs. A while ago he sent us photos of a bouquet he’d made in a quirky old jug with tiger lilies
— the iconic pass-along plant — combined with yellow ‘George Davison’
crocosmia, antique montbretia
(which is also a crocosmia), and the berried stalks of Arum italicum
. See Ryan’s bouquet here
, and if you like it we’d be glad to send you everything you need to recreate it at home — except, unfortunately, for the Arum
and the jug. (Please note: Since tiger lilies are fall-shipped but the crocosmia are spring-shipped, you’ll have to place two separate orders for them.) (Aug. 2014)
Stone Cold Survivors: Tiger Lilies Thrive in Voyageurs National Park
Starting in the 1940s, Chicago businessman Jack Ellsworth and his wife Elsie built a monumental terraced garden next to their summer home on the shores of Lake Kabetogama, deep in the wilderness of what is now Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. At its peak in the early 1960s the garden included 62 rock-edged beds planted with thousands of lilies and other flowers and ornamented by 200 rock sculptures.
When the Ellsworths left Lake Kabetogama in 1965, the forest soon began reclaiming their garden. By 2001 when the National Park Service began implementing a preservation plan for it, decades of neglect, overgrowth, and zone-3 winters had taken their toll, and almost none of the garden’s original plants survived. Photos from the 1960s
, though, showed the garden ablaze with thousands of tiger lilies, and after we confirmed the identity of these incredibly tough lilies, the Park Service ordered 500 more to replant in the garden a couple of years ago.
Learn more here
, and if you’re looking for a beautiful, historic lily for your own garden, consider planting some Lake-Kabetogama-tough tiger lilies
this fall. (July 2013)
Lilies for Bright Shade
“Lilies are perceived as sun-loving plants, but there are many that enjoy a little shade,” writes Gene Bush of southern Indiana’s Munchkin Nursery in the October 2012 issue of Fine Gardening
. “The top three on my list,” he continues, are Lilium speciosum
, L. martagon
, and L. canadense
. We’d only warn you that Gene is talking about light, bright shade, and the further north you garden the shadier your shade is going to be — so proceed with caution. Another lily to try in light shade is ‘Mrs. Backhouse’
which thrives here in our Michigan garden in the bright afternoon shade of an old pear tree. (late August 2012)
“Plant These Lilies!” Say Two Famous Garden Writers
As lily season unfurls in all its glory, trying to decide which of those luscious beauties to add to your garden can be overwhelming — so here’s some helpful guidance.
“I’ve never seen an Asiatic lily I didn’t like,” wrote Allen Lacy in his 1992 The Gardener’s Eye
. “I do have, however, a personal favorite: ‘Red Velvet’
. It is easily the most magnificent plant in my garden in July . . . [with] dramatic trusses of as many as twenty-five outfacing flowers to a stalk. The red is intense and, somewhat to my surprise, the plants look wonderful in combination with deep pink achilleas.”
We’re big fans of Henry’s lily
, as was Gertrude Jekyll, arguably the greatest garden writer of the 20th century. In her 1901 Lilies for English Gardens
she wrote, “It is a handsome thing, the flower being much like that of L. speciosum
but of a strong and yet soft orange color. To see the plant growing it impresses one with a feeling of vigor and well being. When established it will rise to a height of six feet and bear as many as twenty flowers. In short, though we have known it but a short time [it was introduced from China in 1889] it can be confidently recommended.” (June 2012)
Are Martagons and ‘Mrs. B’ Chipmunk Resistant?
Possibly. Our good friend Nancy McDonald who gardens near Lake Superior in zone-4/5 Grand Marais, Michigan, writes: “The martagon lilies
have me grinning widely. They love our climate and soil, apparently, and for some reason the chipmunks don’t eat them — whereas Asiatic and other lilies are nearly as popular with chippies as crocuses. I planted some martagons in 1998 and they’re still going strong. ‘Mrs. Backhouse’
is, too, and she has martagon in her.”
Nancy also emailed us photos of a beautiful clump of ‘Mrs. Backhouse’ blooming in a wild corner of her garden. Give yourself a treat and take a peek
. (Sept. 2010)
Can Regal Lilies Ease Arthritis Pain?
“Don’t sub any other flower,” Janet Weymiller wrote on her order for 25 regal lilies
, “because my mom uses the petals in an arthritis remedy that really works.” We’re not doctors, but we know that flowers have been used medicinally since ancient times, and Nature is constantly surprising us, so we asked Janet to tell us more.
“This remedy really does work!” she emailed us. “It doesn’t cure arthritis, of course, but it takes the pain away. My mother grows regal lilies (in her New Albin, Iowa, garden). When they bloom and the petals start to turn brown, she takes them off the plant and cuts them up into chunks. Then she puts the petals into a glass jar and covers them with rubbing alcohol. She lets them sit for one month, drains off the liquid, which turns brown, and rubs the liquid onto the sore arthritic spots.”
The remedy was suggested to Janet’s mom by a local doctor who learned about it from a patient from Russia. Although we’re intrigued and hope it works, please remember that we are NOT doctors and are NOT endorsing it in any way. (August 2010)
Tiger Lilies and Dahlias in The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright
Beyond his iconic Fallingwater, few of us know anything about the gardens and landscapes that were always an important part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision. Now Derek Fell, the renowned garden photographer, sets out to change all that in The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright
(2009). It’s a beautiful and informative book, and any gardener with a taste for art, history, or nature will find plenty to like in it.
Be sure to check out the photos of our ’Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlias
and Wright’s favorite flower, tiger lilies
, at Taliesin, Wright’s home and studio in rural Wisconsin. Tiger lilies, which are native to Japan and have been pictured in the country’s art for centuries, may have reminded Wright of the months he lived there during the construction of his landmark Imperial Hotel.
Dahlias figured in one of the saddest episodes of Wright’s life. While he was away from Taliesin, his live-in companion, Mamah Cheney, and her two young children were murdered in a fire set by an employee gone berserk. The next morning as Wright walked among the smoldering ruins with a Chicago Tribune reporter, “a crushed dahlia flower attracted his attention and seemed to raise his spirits. He picked up the flower and stirred the earth around its roots to give the plant a new lease on life.” Later, Wright “gathered all the flowers he could salvage from the garden and made piles of dinner-plate dahlias, summer phlox, long-stemmed zinnias, and armloads of peppery-scented nasturtiums” to fill Mrs. Cheney’s casket. (June 2010)
“Martagons Won’t Do Well in Your Zone,” We Said, But . . . .
Last fall when Master Gardener Linda Cobb of Spartanburg, South Carolina, ordered our martagon lilies
, we told her we didn’t recommend them for her zone-7b/8a garden. But Linda loves a challenge, and this past June she wrote us happily:
“I visited England last year and fell in love with martagon lilies. I rushed home and ordered both the pink and white ones from you. You warned me that they might not grow in my South Carolina garden. But persist I did, and planted, watered, and waited. They came up and bloomed! I planted them in my shade garden because our shade is like the rest of the country’s sun. My soil is red clay but I amended it with 1/3 compost or peat moss and 1/3 sand which I’ve found works well in South Carolina.
“Now we wait to see if they come back next year. But in the meantime, I am so happy I was able to grow them in my own little English garden in South Carolina.” (July 2009)
Summertime. . . and the Lilies are Blooming
Despite plenty of competition, lilies
are one of the iconic flowers of the early summer garden. In “Growing Old Lilies,”
our good customer Sara Hartley sings the praises of her favorites. “Most recent hybrids,” she writes, “tend to blur ubiquitously: large, upward facing, rigid, stocky, scentless, differing from one another only in tint. I prefer species lilies and the old breeds most evocative of childhood memories and painted tableaux. For a New England garden into which frost intrudes, these are my favorites for a full season run . . . .”
Sara ends her essay with a few kind words about us and a shout-out to all who are growing heirloom bulbs. “Bulbs survive only by keeping the continuum growing, generation after generation,” she writes. “We gardeners form a necessary and pleasurable part of the chain, by our purchases and support of dedicated providers such as [OHG], and by perpetuating cherished bulbs in our own soil types, climates and aesthetic settings.” (June 2009)
Black Beauty Lilies Thrive in Zone-8 Florida
Our good customer Judy Little of Cantonment, Florida, writes:
“When I ordered your ‘Black Beauty’
lilies a few years ago, you warned me that they might not do well in my zone-8 garden. They have done fantastic! Now I can’t wait to try the new lilies I’m ordering. Thanks!” (late Oct. 2008)
Martagon Lilies “Worth the Wait” Says Garden Gate
Though wonderful — and newly stylish again — martagon lilies can disappoint gardeners because they’re often slow to reestablish themselves after transplanting. Here’s some advice from Deborah Gruca in a Dec. 2007 Garden Gate magazine article titled “Worth the Wait — Six Plants for the Patient Gardener”:
“Good things come to those who wait. It often takes more than five years for martagon lily to start blooming in your garden. [OHG note: That is definitely the worst case scenario!] But you won’t mind the time once you see a mature clump of dozens of plants with up to 50 of the 2-inch, downward-facing flowers on each stem! . . . .
“The large mass of flowers makes an impact in any sun to part-shade garden. The sturdy stems hold whorls of deep green leaves and don’t require any staking to keep them standing tall. Mark the spot where you plant the bulbs so you don’t accidentally dig them up — sometimes the plants don’t emerge for a couple of years after planting! [OHG: Again, this is an extreme.]
“Tip to Hurry It Along: Buy the biggest plants or bulbs you can find [OHG: Ours!], but more importantly, once you plant them, don’t disturb or move them.” (Oct. 2008)
Hurricane Ike Survivor: ‘Rubrum’ Lily
Our condolences to all of you touched by Ike’s devastation! Here’s one happy report from our good customer Stephanie Murrey-Alonso who lives in Pearland, just south of Houston:
“One of my ‘Rubrum’ lilies
had just started blooming a day or two before Hurricane Ike hit us, and the next morning when I walked out there was one flower on the stalk still untouched by the Cat 2 winds. It was the most beautiful thing to see after such a ferocious storm. Your lilies are the best, and hurricane resistant, too!” (Oct. 2008)
New York Times Interviews Scott, Praises Our Lilies
Anne Raver of the New York Times
is always worth reading, and we especially liked her recent column about lilies. She quotes Scott extensively and writes that “he sold me my first ‘Black Beauty’
bulbs years ago, and they have bloomed from mid-July to early August without fail ever since, in ever-widening clumps.” She also credits us with introducing her to ‘White Henryi’
, “the classic trumpet lily” of ivory and amber, and praises another half-dozen of our heirlooms including the wild Lilium superbum
whose “iridescent green throats . . . guide their pollinators — fritillaries and swallowtails — to the nectar inside.”
To read it all (and find out what prompted Scott to tell her, “Don’t print that!”), click here
. (Sept. 2008)
Just in Time for Summer: ‘Red Velvet’ (Lily) Cake Recipe
is a wonderfully deep-colored lily, but I had always puzzled about its name because it didn’t match any red velvet I’d ever seen. [Our former office manager] Rachel set me straight when she pointed out that it’s the color of old-fashioned red velvet cake. To see for yourself, try the recipe
from our friend Matt’s Grandma Opal. Topped with white frosting and blueberries, it’s the perfect treat for a Fourth of July picnic! (June 2006)
Garden Design’s “Way Hot 100” Includes Three of Our Bulbs
Every year in March, Garden Design magazine names their “Way Hot 100.” These are, editor Jenny Andrews says, “insiders’ top picks . . . what designers and avid gardeners are wild about this spring.” Many are brand new, but of the 11 bulbs listed we’re proud that three are heirlooms we offer:
: “This heirloom bulb is back in vogue,” Jenny notes, and she praises its rich fragrance.
Red spider lily, Lycoris radiata
: Its “sea-urchin-like flowers” are showcased in a full-page photo. (Please note that we recommend it for zones 7-10 only).
: “One of the few tulips that will perennialize (especially in the South), thriving in dry soils.” (We offer the hard-to-find, original, red-and-white T. clusiana.
) (March 2006)
‘Black Beauty’ Showcased in Family Circle — And in Front of Our Barn
In the September 7 issue of Family Circle
, our good friend Cynthia Van Hazinga has included us in her “Plant Picks from the Pros: 15 Garden Showstoppers.” One of five nursery-owners featured in the article, Scott recommends the indestructible ‘Black Beauty
’ lily, Byzantine glads
, and our Heirloom Fall Bulb of the Year, Tulipa acuminata
To see a July photo of the big clump of ‘Black Beauty’ outside the Old House Gardens barn, visit http:/www.oldhousegardens.com/blackBeauty.asp.
Ten bulbs planted five years ago yielded over 45 stalks and more than 450 blooms this summer! (Sept. 2004)
For expert advice on lilies, you won’t find anyone who knows more than our good friend, Eddie McRae. After a lifetime working with lilies commercially in the Pacific Northwest, he now helps direct the Species Lilies Preservation Group. His new book offers chapters on growing, propagating, and hybridizing, along with complete information on 93 species — many long in gardens — and the development of modern hybrids. Far from an introductory handbook for casual home gardeners, this is a book that’s dense with specialized information for, as the title says, growers and collectors. (Jan. 2004)
Wow! 75 Flowers on One Regal Lily Stem!
Sometimes our bulbs surprise even us. Click here
for a look at one of our regal lilies that’s loaded with close to 75 blooms on ONE stem.
Though we’d like to take credit for this magnificent display, it’s just the result of fasciation, a weird process that leads to those huge, crested cockscomb flowers, too. In lilies it’s often triggered by random mechanical or weather-related damage to the growing tip in spring, and typically it’s just a one-year thing.
Thanks to our good customer Carol Cote of Shady Grove Gardens in Rochelle, VA, for sharing this incredible photo with us. (Jan. 2004)
Two Great Lilies for Alkaline Clay
Many lilies prefer well-drained, acidic soil, but here‛s some good news for the rest of us. Garden-writer Lauren Springer, author of The Undaunted Garden
and other terrific books, writes in the August 2003 issue of Horticulture
magazine: “The jaunty tiger lily
, L. lancifolium
, and its taller, paler orange cousin, L. henryi
, are the only lilies to thrive and return year after year in my heavy, alkaline clay soil” in zone-5 Fort Collins, Colorado. (Oct. 2003)
Who Is Mrs. Backhouse and Why Is She in My Garden — Twice?
Ever wonder about the people whose names grace our flowers? We’re going to be introducing you to some of them here in our Gazette.
First in line is Sarah Elizabeth Backhouse (1857-1921), a gifted hybridizer of daffodils and other bulbs. She lived at Sutton Court, near Hereford, England, and with her husband worked for years trying to develop a daffodil with a red trumpet. Their efforts resulted in many award-winning varieties, but their greatest achievement was the luscious, pink-cupped ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’ daffodil
of 1921. It’s still so well loved that it’s one of our perennial best-sellers.
But that’s not all! Mrs. B. also bred crocus, snowdrops, colchicums, hyacinths, and lilies, including a lovely, pink-and-amber martagon named ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’
. (Feb. 2003)
Denise’s Favorite Lily: ‘Black Beauty’
If you’ve ordered from us by phone in the past year or so, chances are you’ve been helped by fabulous [former employee] Denise Lynne. She writes:
“I first fell in love with the BULBS of ‘Black Beauty
’. As they lay in their bins, waiting to be picked and sent to their new homes, they looked like huge, ripe, purple plums — plump, firm, and gorgeous. When Scott gave them an adoring tribute, I ordered 25 bulbs on the spot.
And my evaluation after their first season in my garden? I wish I had room for 50! In my small cottage garden, entirely visible from the street, ‘Black Beauty’ was a tremendous success. Tall and sturdy, its many blooms were bright, cheery, and subtly fragrant. Their dark raspberry color seemed to glow in the sunshine and at twilight they looked almost like velvet. My many garden visitors — both friends and passersby — always seemed to comment on them. I can hardly wait for next year’s show. Like all lilies, they should be even more spectacular their second year — which hardly seems possible!” (Nov. 2002)
For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.