It all started with a lily bulb…
“Tall Oaks from little acorns grow”
Everyone knows the quotation above, 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 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 IOWA REGIONAL LILY SOCIETY GREW FROM THE INTEREST GENERATED BY A SINGLE LILY BULB THAT WAS PLANTED IN THE FALL OF 1968, AND ITS 1969 BLOOM.
THE LILY WAS AN ORIENTAL HYBRID AND THE GROWER WAS JOHN MERKEL OF URBANDALE.
The mission of the Iowa Regional Lily Society is to promote public interest in the growing of lilies; to exchange experiences in the growing of lilies among members; to assist individual members in the solution of problems in the culture of lilies and to keep all members acquainted with the latest developments in lily breeding and culture.
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.
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 Center. 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.
*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; Montgomery was program director for KDIN-TV, Iowa Public Television; and Gunther Stark was employed by the Des Moines Water Works on Fleur Drive.
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 OUR SOCIETY MOTTO!
Meet our Board of directors below!