Iowa Regional Lily Society (IRLS)
Growing Lilies in Iowa and neighboring states since 1973
Everyone knows the quotation, "Tall Oaks from little acorns grow", but few have heard how a
mighty lily society could start with one lily bulb. It doesn't have the same ring to it, but it is similar
to what happened here in Iowa. The Iowa Regional Lily Society grew from the interest generated
by a single lily bulb that was planted in the fall of 1968, and its bloom in 1969.
The lily was an Oriental hybrid and the grower was John Merkel of Urbandale. Flower growing
was a hobby with John so he had seen Asiatic lilies, but this fantastic blooming plant was his first
Oriental and he was impressed. He invited friends, Harry and Rose Miller, also lily growers, over
to see the stem. This started garden visitations, bulb trading and sharing with others who knew a
bit more about the genus Lilium. The others in that initial lily club included John and Evelyn
Montgomery, Mr. and Mrs. Gunther Stark and Dr. and Mrs. Robert Holdren. Dr. Holdren was an
economist teaching at ISU; John Merkel was a commercial plumber and instructor at Des Moines
Community College; Harry Miller was a Braille proof-reader at the Des Moines Library for the
Blind; Rose Miller headed up the claims department at Aetna Insurance Company; John
Montgomery was program director for KDIN-TV, Iowa Public Television; and Gunther Stark was
employed by the Des Moines Water Works on Fleur Drive. A diverse group to be sure, but they
had one thing in common; they all developed "Lily Mania". Clem Browner and his Sister,
Bernadine, were closely associated with that original group and he was the only professional
gardener and floriculturist. He was employed by Robinson-Parnham Nursery as a landscape
architect and later helped organize the green house department at the Des Moines Botanical
This small but dedicated group staged a 20 stem exhibition in the Merle Hay Mall in July of 1972.
Mrs. Montgomery remembered, "We stripped our gardens to get enough blooms to exhibit." The
effort was rewarded by signing up new members and promoting interest in the Lily. Records are
lost as to the number of new members to join at that time, but one known to have become an
enthusiastic member was Bertha Russell of Guthrie Center.
Following the success of that first exhibit, the group applied for membership in the North
American Lily Society, and drew up the necessary articles and by-laws to become incorporated
as a non-profit corporation under Chapter 504A of the State of Iowa. The applications were
accepted and a charter was granted October 26, 1973, to the Iowa Regional Lily Society. Harry
Miller was the first president, Rose Miller was secretary and Gunther Stark was treasurer.
Exhibitions were held in the Merle Hay Mall for the next year or so before an officially judged
show was staged.
In summary, interest in Genus Lilium has grown from one man and one bulb, to a society of
dedicated members whose activities have been responsible for thousands of lily bulbs being
planted in Iowa gardens. The annual show features many individual stems and artistic
arrangements now and each year bulbs are donated and planted in display gardens throughout
the state to increase lily awareness. In 1986, this Society hosted the North American Lily Society
(NALS) show which brought delegations from all over the USA and from five foreign countries.
Over the years we have grown as a Society, increasing both in membership and knowledge of
our favorite plant, the Lilium.
"Come Grow With Us" has become the motto of our Society.
ABOUT US: It all started with a Lily bulb.....
Trish and George Patrick Garden
L. lancifolium flaviflorum- species
Randy And Deb Hull Garden 2010 Lily Bus Tour
Spring 2010 Lily Bulb Sale
Des Moines Flower ,Garden and Lawn Show
Trish and George Patrick Garden