SATURDAY AT THE NEW ENGLAND LILY SHOW

The first Saturday after the Fourth of July is typically the date for the New England Lily Society Show, and I hate to admit it, but I think that I’ve been to nearly all of them since – here I go – 1974 or so. Yes, I am that old! Actually, I started when I was about a very nerdy 14 year old – when the NRLG, or New England Regional Lily Group used to hold their shows at the old Horticultural Hall in downtown Worcester, MA, the home of the Worcester County Horticultural Society,which today has moved and become Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

For whatever reason, the Lily Show is my favorite – and sadly, nothing like it used to be ( like most flower shows – why aren’t more people getting interested in joining and competing in plant societies anymore?). I think that the first plant society show that I ever attended aside from a spring flower show, was the lily show ( maybe 1971 or so?). By 1974, I started entering, although I must admit, I am quite guilty for not joining the lily society. I did join, once or twice over the years, but honestly, I belong to so many plant societies right now, that I have decided to just enjoy raising lilies – I can join when I am retired. Not setting a good example here folks, but, it is what it is.

Lilies are confusing to many new gardeners, and even to relatively experienced gardeners, as there are different types which can be confusing. Asiatic and Oriental seem so similar by name, but they are easy to identify – Asiatics are earlier blooming, usually have upright flowers although some are outfacing or pendant ( most of the lilies in this show are Asiatic)whilst Oriental lilies have larger, later-blooming flowers, and, they are often highly fragrant. Just think Casa Blanca, the most typical and iconic Oriental. Trumpets are, well – think Easter Lily, but there are many named varieties of Trumpets. Naturally, to confuse things, there are species lilies ( those found in nature) in all categories – for example, there are many types of wild trumpet lily species. Turkscap lilies are generally a term which includes the Martagons ( with waxy, down facing turkscaps) and some of our native species such as Lilium canadense here in the North East, and then there are those ‘tiger lilies’. Sure, they could be considered ‘turks cap’ in style, but generally speaking, all ‘tiger lilies’ are Lilium tigrinum, a species form.

Looks just like a Tiger Lily (L. tigrinum) but believe me, this has moved to numero uno on my must get list – you just have to see it in person. This tetraploid is a cross between Norris Star x Tetra Nutmegger. Meet ‘Nutcracker’, more spots. more color, deeper vivid orange that grabs you.

To confuse things more, of course, Tiger Lilies are sometimes what folks call the wild orange day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) that has naturalized all over much of Eastern US. Not a true lily, even though it’s common name has ‘lily’ in it. Simply said, true lilies grow from bulbs, Daylilies grow from rhizomes.

Onto lilies at this years’ lily show. Last years show was SO spectacular with so many later blooming Oriental and Trumpet crosses (often called OrienPets or Tree Lilies), that I had high hopes this year but this was a show dominated by Asiatics, and at that,not that many. I have a weakness for trumpet lilies, Orientpets and mostly down facing Asiatics – if I have to admit it, I really hate up facing asiatics – hey, we all have our thing. I think I was influenced by a member of the lily society back in the 1970’s who first turned me onto exhibiting and growing lilies – fellow lily grower and illustrator Giny Howie (Virginia Howie) who was so kind to take me under her wing at one of these early shows, and encouraged me to grow and exhibit lilies. She gave me one of her autographed books, and I read it on the bus all the way home, clutching it so tightly. I still have a copy (and you can still get on here).

Some of the original Virgina Howie sketches were on display at the New England Lily Society Lily Show this past weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. ©Virginia Howie

Virginia Howies illustrations reminded me of my fathers illustrations that he used to do for the local newspaper, so maybe we related on that level – regardless, I somehow visually wanted to recreate in my own garden these very illustrations – some of which were on display at this lily show, which was very nostalgic for me.

Downward facing Asiatics are my favorite lily form, both in the garden, and when picked, but it seems breeders are focusing on upward facing lilies more, which I think is sad.

Those early lily shows often had table with many lilies not seen anymore – I remember ‘Connecticut Yankee’ and many wild down facing Lilium canadense (illegal to pick today, but one can raise them from seed or bulbs purchased). I miss these ‘Virginia Howie’ style lilies, but many of the new Oriental-Trumpet crosses look even more like her sketches than many of the down facing Asiatics do.

Many of Virginia Howie’s sketched show downward facing lilies.

The newer OrienPet crosses seem to offer a little of everything for the lily grower, size, vigor, color and fragrance.

Even though Virginia Howie’s sketches captured those moments in the Worcester County Horticultural Societies summer exhibitions, the new exhibition halls at the societies new home at Tower Hill Botanic Garden are equally as nice, and the lighting is better.

Recently, some Chinese species such as Lilium langkongense are being used in breeding. The results are these ‘Lankon’ types. I have yet to try some, maybe next year? After all, they are speckled, species-like AND down facing!
I think I imagined that this would be me someday – wait a minute…..
I enjoy seeing many of the old officers and trustees of the 200 year old Worcester County Horticultural Society displayed on the walls at Tower Hill – now that I am a trustee, I wonder when my painting will be made? I will probably have to grow a beard first, and that just isn’t gonna happen.
There will be a lily auction in the fall this year ( check the Facebook page of the New England Lily Society). I plan on attending, and surprisingly, most lily bulbs are very reasonably priced – best of all? They get better with each year and often divide.
Even though I am not a big fan of up facing Asiatics, a few capture my attention, and yes, I do grow some.
Many of the dark or spotted forms are appealing.
Dreaming of blue ribbons and silver bows……how I remember taking time to examine each of Virginia Howie’s illustrations, dreaming of actually raising my own lilies from seed – still need to do that, although my first seedlings may bloom next year.
Of course, speaking of breeding, some breeders are working towards this – thoughts? Meh.
Not sure that I hate this new seedling. Orange Cremesicle, right?
This one, well, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Pine cone or artichoke might have been a better name, but it’s called “Mystic Dream’
Another cut stem of Mystic Dream, this one with more color. Mmmmmmaybe.
Summer in New England. The awesome view from Tower Hill’s parking lot of Mount Wachusett in central Mass. This weekend, Joe and I are headed to Stowe Vermont for a well deserved special mini vacation – more on that in my next post. Vermont Cheese Makers festival anyone?

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