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A lily worth gilding

Ron Gillespie and Joyce Merkel stand in the garden with the giant lily. - Leslie Kelly
Ron Gillespie and Joyce Merkel stand in the garden with the giant lily.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

It’s not Jack’s bean stock. But it’s close.

Instead, it’s Ron’s lily stock, and day-by-day Ron Gillespie and his friend, Joyce Merkel, watch as it grows taller.

“For the last four years, it’s just grown leaves,” said Gillespie. “Then this year, it just started to grow up and up.”

As of last Friday, it was about 13 feet tall and boasted a bunch of white blooms.

Gillespie, who is an avid gardener, said he bought the Himalayan lily, which goes by the scientific name of Cardiocrinums giganteum, at a plant sale at the Bloedel Reserve, on Bainbridge Island.

“I think it was one of Dan Hinkley’s plants. I think it was started at Heronswood,” he said of the gardens near Port Gamble.

He’s had it in the eastern portion of his garden and has been watching every year for it to bloom.

But until this year, he’s only seen leaves.

“Just look at this thing,” he said, pointing to the sky, “It’s more than twice of me and I’m six foot tall.”

According to Merkel, the plant is now “in.”

“It was featured in a garden column by Valerie Eastman recently,” Merkel said. “Cisco Morris says the are few if any plants more impressive than the giant Himalayan lily.”

Gillespie’s plant stock measures about four and a half inches in diameter. The plant is native to the Himalayan mountain range. It also grows in Brazil.

The blossom provides as many as 20 strikingly beautiful, wonderfully fragrant, red throated pendulous trumpet blooms, according to Morris. But unfortunately, the plant dies after it blooms once.

“All is not lost, however,” Morris said. “The mother plant usually forms several offsets in the form of underground bulbs.”

Indeed, Gillespie plans to leave them where they lie and hopes for a new clump of giant lilies to form where the old plant died.

The only problem is, that he’ll have to wait another four to five years to find out if he’s going to get any more 13-foot-tall lily stocks and blooms.

Gillespie’s been gardening most of his life. In 1970, he bought his current place in Tracyton and has a number of themed gardens which he often shows to others. Last year, he had about 100 visitors to his gardens that include flowers, vegetables and many uncommon plants. The retired teacher is in his gardens daily from early March through late October.

“I really got into gardening when I retired in 2000,” he said. “Now it’s just a way of life. I’m not sure what I’d do with my time if I wasn’t gardening.”

And getting surprises — like his lily this year —is what keeps him going.

“My gardens change all the time,” he said. “I’m never quite sure what’s coming up next.”

 

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