I was born in Quorn, a country town in the mid north of South Australia in 1942. It was busy railway hub where my father worked as a fireman in the state railways. As fresh food had to be trucked in from Adelaide once a week it was very expensive, and dad would grow as many vegetables as possible. So, as a young lad it was my job to water and weed the garden when he was away. Sometimes he would be gone for weeks as the rail line was subject to sudden flash flooding and washouts. Eventually the railways closed down and the family moved to Adelaide where we lived with my grandparents at St. Peters, a suburb in Adelaide.
My grandparent's property had every kind of fruit that it was possible to grow in our Mediterranean climate. The block next door was full of vegetables that were grown by my grandfather. He obtained seeds from all over the world and corresponded in Esperanto. I used this opportunity to collect the postage stamps from his parcels and letters. My grandmother grew Dahlias and exhibited them. I can remember her trophies and winning certificates. I think this is where I became interested in growing flowers.
After getting married and having a house built on block of land we had bought earlier, I decided to get a garden started. Our house was the first on the estate and the soil was pure white sand. My first planting was lettuce seedlings. During the night we had terrific winds and in the morning I was disappointed to see my seedlings sandblasted to pieces. I later learned that these gully winds were normal for this area. So I planted a front lawn to stop the soil from eroding away. Gardening then had to wait until we could afford to put up a corrugated metal fence around the property and before I made any more attempts at gardening. I have lived in this same location for approximately 50 years. The area is now a lovely place to live with well-kept gardens and lots of trees to break the wind.
The majority of my lilies are grown at my good friend Greg Lawrence's 5 hectare property in the Mount Lofty Ranges at Summertown. The soil there is clay and steeply sloped which required it be terraced. From my home in Banksia Park it's 50 kilometer trip.
My usual growing conditions consist of wet winter and long hot dry summers. The last 8 years we have suffered a drought and I have lost many lilies due to lack of water. I have too many seeds to bother with planting seeds in flats or foam boxes so I start them directly in the ground. The last 3 years I have lost all of my seeds planted at Summertown. I hope the people I share seed with have had better luck! The drought has forced me to start seeds at home where I can provide the water they need to survive. I grow them there for about two years. I also cover them with 70% shade cloth for the first year. Then, when I think they are strong enough, I replant them at Summertown.
I try to keep them growing as long as possible, and then I let the winter cold (June, July August) finish them off. Many of the epigeal germinating seeds planted in September will produce flowering stems the next season, and the rest will flower in the following season. Hypogeal seeds do take longer.
In the early years I mainly grew Trumpets and Aurelians as they did well at Summertown and set seed easily. My early hybridizing efforts consisted of crossing between these two groups. After 15 years I experienced some health problems, and I had to cut back on my work load, so I offered these bulbs to Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. They were glad to have them and sent a team of 6 gardeners to clear the beds out.
They were very efficient and in 4 hours had collected 15 crates full of bulbs. They then set off to plant them that day.
In our warm climate mulching is a requirement. To save money we use lawn clippings, which are dumped at Summertown by two lawn contractors. I find it difficult to get all beds mulched before the heat starts so I have been grateful for the help Greg Lawrence gives me.
In the early days there were very few lilies available. With a wife and two children to support and a house mortgage I could not justify buying lily bulbs! So I grew as many seeds as I could get. I read in our paper there was a South Australian Lilium Society starting up so I joined that group. They shared bulbs and seeds. It was then that I started pollen dabbling and raising my own lilies. I used the society's library and read the RHS and the NALS year books. In the 1960 s our society imported bulbs from the Oregon Bulb Farm. I ordered some but the only one to survive for me was Leslie Woodriff s 'Black Beauty'. In fact, 'Black Beauty' is still with me today. I love Orientals, but some are too highly perfumed and cannot take our extreme heat. So, the next best is the Trumpet/Oriental cross. I am trying to collect as many Orienpets as possible in order to have a large genetic base to work with.
My collection represents the hard work of many other hybridizers. 'Leslie Woodriff' was my first OT and is still going strong after about 20 years. My main goal is good hardy garden lilies. Tetraploids seem best and fertility continues to improve with each generation. I use mixed pollen to improve my chance of success. Much of my first Orienpet seed came from the NALS Seed Exchange and was donated by Dr. Griesbach, Joe Hoell, Ole Larsen, Ed Soboczenski and many more that my poor memory for names has forgotten.
I was fortunate to have many people encourage me along the way. Norman Smith from Ontario Canada sent me seeds from L. superbum and L. canadense, which I planted each year and lost each year due to inexperience in growing hypogeal seeds. He also sent Trillium seed which I had no better luck with. He was 75 years old when he started writing to me, and before he died only one L. canadense flowered for me. Next to help me was Harrison Peters. I once did an article on him in the NALS Quarterly Bulletin [Ed. March, 2011 issue]. I still have large clump of Harrison Peters' tetra White Star, it is fertile with tetra OTs and Orientals and I use it a lot in my breeding. Dick Thomas encouraged me to venture into tetraploid Asiatics. Dick, Eckert Schmitzer and I all shared lily material. Joe Hoell put an ad in the Australian publication Your Garden Magazine that offered L. henryi x L. auratum seeds for sale. I called him to order some seeds only to be told they were sold out and try again next year. The next year I was told the repeat cross failed and would I like a seedling he had grown called 'Tall Boy'. So began another friendship
My hybridizing goal is to grow garden hardy Lilium for my climate. Initially I concentrated on the Trumpet & Aurelian group but now I am mainly interested in tetra Orienpets. I want them to look more like Orientals, for example with colors like L. speciosum. I do very little culling myself but let the weather do it for me. If you are interested in hybridizing, my advice is to start young as it takes a lot of time.
You should grow as many seedlings as possible and only grow from the strongest with traits you want. It is also helpful to join a lily society in your area and share information and material. Back to Jeff's Images