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.

The Ellsworth Garden in 1963, jam-packed with thousands of tiger lilies
complemented by a beautiful blue sky.
One of the 200 sculptures and a bed
outlined with white quartzite.

When the elderly couple left Lake Kabetogama in 1965, the forest soon began reclaiming their garden. By 2001 when the National Park Service started to implement 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 in 2010.

Learn more here, and if you’re looking for a beautiful, historic lily for your own garden, consider Lake-Kabetogama-tough tiger lilies!

Another shot from 1963. The terraced beds are built on
and around massive stone outcroppings.
The garden several years ago, cleared of overgrowth but mostly unplanted due to budgetary constraints.