Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • Living Treasures from the Past
Read More: Lilies
Our Madonna Lilies Bloom at the Washington National Cathedral
It’s always good to hear from our customers, and we love seeing photos of our bulbs in your gardens – such as the one here from our good customer Adrienne Schopf of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
“I just wanted to send you guys a few pictures of the Madonna lilies that we planted last fall,” Adrienne wrote. “They’re doing well in our Bishop’s Garden. They’re planted in an area we call the Hortulus where we have different herbs that were planted at monasteries in the 9th century, so these lilies fit in perfectly.
“We’d been having a hard time finding them and were very excited that you offered them. We’ve ordered more from you guys for this fall. Thank you for providing such great plants and keeping the older varieties around!”
You’re welcome, Adrienne, and thanks for sharing these deeply historic lilies with your many visitors!
To enjoy this fragrant beauty in your own 21st-century garden, order now for October delivery.
“There are few plants as rewarding and foolproof” as bulbs, Dan Cooper wrote recently at his Frustrated Gardener blog. Most are “bold, colorful, long-flowering, and best of all inexpensive, giving gardeners plenty of bang for their buck. In short, they are one of the plant world’s best investments.”
Regal lilies are one of Dan’s favorite summer-flowering bulbs.
“Here’s a bulb with class, elegance and history,” he writes. “No wonder it was named Lilium regale, the regal lily. It was introduced to England from China in 1903 by Ernest Henry Wilson and quickly became a favorite of Gertrude Jekyll, who used it prolifically in her garden designs at a time when it would have been quite a novelty.
“Jekyll would frequently plant large clumps of Lilium regale in strategic spots, creating height and drama at pivotal points in her schemes. In addition to stature, the lilies also contributed intoxicating scent and blushing white flowers that stood out well against dark foliage. . . .”
“There is no flower so exquisite as Lilium regale at dusk on a warm June evening, glowing in the gloaming and sharing its intoxicating perfume,” Dan writes in closing. “Plant plenty, and then plant some more.
We couldn’t agree with him more! To enjoy these intoxicating beauties in your own garden, order now for delivery at planting time this fall.
Which Lily to Choose? Swiss Expert Recommends 8 of Ours
It’s lily season! The martagons are blooming here in our Ann Arbor gardens, along with the last of our iris and masses of peonies. Coral lilies will be next, and then regal lilies, Madonna lilies, and on and on well into August.
To help you decide which of these dramatic flowers to add to your garden, here’s what Swiss lily expert and nurseryman Pontus Wallsten had to say about eight of ours in the January 2018 issue of Gardens Illustrated.
In order of bloom-time:
‘Golden Splendor’ – “A vigorous, fragrant trumpet hybrid. The yellow flowers have a darker, purple reverse, and are held on strong stems. Bulbs will eventually reach the size of a small melon. RHS AGM.”
Coral lily – “This little gem has a spicy fragrance.” (Spring-shipped.)
Regal lily – “By the wall of my house is a small clump of bulbs that have flowered faithfully for the past nine years, filling the summer air with the sweet scent of jasmine, and requiring no particular effort on my part. RHS AGM.”
‘African Queen’ – “Fragrant, vivid-orange flowers. Very vigorous and long-lived, it is happy in any well-drained, humus-rich spot in full sun or afternoon shade. RHS AGM.”
‘Pink Perfection’ – “A superb trumpet hybrid that produces big, highly fragrant flowers in July. It is very disease-resistant and will thrive in any well-drained spot in full sun or afternoon shade with very little care. RHS AGM”
Henry’s lily – “A vigorous and long-lived species, producing 40 flowers or more, July to August. Best in part shade as color can fade in full sun. Stems can arch towards light, so may need staking. RHS AGM” (Spring-shipped.)
Gold-band lily– “Produces some of the largest, most fragrant flowers of any lily.” (Best in acid soils.)
‘Black Beauty’ (pictured at top) – “An almost indestructible hybrid with sturdy, bamboo-like stems that can hold more than 50 dark-purple flowers with a green-and-black center. Each peduncle usually produces a secondary bud that opens once the first has finished so flowering lasts for almost two months.”
We hope this helps. Order now for delivery at planting time – and next summer you’ll be raving about them yourself!
Underappreciated Henry’s lily is one of my favorite lilies, so I was happy to see it featured not once but twice in the September 2017 issue of The English Garden.
In the gardens at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire, “history and heritage meet modern planting techniques” inspired by Piet Oudolf. There “the soft orange flowers of Lilium henryi are used abundantly throughout the herbaceous borders,” combined with great swaths of hollyhocks, agapanthus, and American natives Joe Pye weed and Rudbeckia.
Henry’s lily also plays a major role at West Dean Gardens, a “formidable horticultural powerhouse” in West Sussex. This glorious two-page photograph of the historic walled garden there shows it blooming exuberantly (center and right) in the Hot Border which “smolders across the length of the kitchen garden’s greenery.”
Henry’s lily “grows like stink and is a real good do-er,” says gardens supervisor Sarah Wain. It’s one of the “stalwarts” of the border, along with “heleniums ‘Butterpat’ and ‘Moerheim Beauty’, daylilies, Solidago [goldenrod], Sedum, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Potentilla ‘Gibson Scarlet’, and Rudbeckia fulgida.”
California poppies, nasturtiums, and ‘David Howard’ dahlia also figure prominently in the Hot Border, along with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ As luck would have it, I planted a clump of ‘Lucifer’ next to the Henry’s lilies in my backyard this summer, and though it may not have been West Dean’s Hot Border, they did look great together.
To give this wildflowery, easy-growing lily a try in your garden, order a few now for spring planting!
Regal lilies will be blooming here soon, and every year when their fragrance fills the air I’m reminded of a scene described 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's heroic efforts, it’s easy enjoy a bit of this grand fairyland in your own backyard. Simply order now for fall delivery!
Our Tiger Lilies “Look Amazing” at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home
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.
Jessica Tripalin, Cultural Landscape Coordinator at Taliesin, 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,” she continued. “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 intricate 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.
‘Black Beauty’ is Blogger’s “Top Draw for Butterflies”
In a recent post at her award-winning blog The Garden Diaries, Claire 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.
Claire’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 Claire’s tips – and maybe plant a few ‘Black Beauty’ lilies this fall.
2016 Great Plant Picks: They’re Not Just for Humans
Every year since 2001, Seattle’s Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden has released an annual list of Great Plant Picks. Although especially well-suited to gardens in the Pacific Northwest, many of these plants are also outstanding choices for gardens across the country.
Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are the focus of this year’s GPP list, and Rick Peterson provides an excellent introduction to it in Pacific Horticulture.
A few species tulips are also recommended, including T. clusiana and T. sylvestris which will have bees “bustling around the garden with satisfaction” and, in the right spot, will “reliably return year after year.”
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!
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.
To make sure you see our next big Facebook hit, visit us at Facebook.com/HeirloomBulbs and click “Follow” under the “Liked” button near the top of our page. Thank you, and happy gardening!
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 and alliums right now?
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.
“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 garden in Iowa. 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 them 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.
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. 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.
Anne Raver of The New York Times is always worth reading, and we especially liked her recent column “Striking Lilies, Ready for Revival.”
She quotes Scott extensively and writes that Old House Gardens “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.”
Read it all – and find out what Scott was talking about when he told her “Don’t print that!”