I went to Tilden's Botanical Garden (aka EB Regional Parks Botanic Garden) yesterday after meeting a new client for a garden design project. I went for inspiration. I saw six-foot tall lilies in bloom. This one and others:

   I was impressed, learned it's name, Lilium humboldtii, and then bought seeds from the visitor's center. The volunteers at this botanical garden propagate seeds from the specimens they have, and then sell them to help support the place. The seed packet has the following information printed on it:

Lilium humboldtii ocellatum

Humboldt Lily

  • Bulb, Perenial to 6'
  • Blooms: orange, early summer
  • Habitat: yellow pine forest
  • Cultivation: shade, well-drained soil, late summer rest
  • Seed Treatment: sow in early fall outdoors

   I spoke with the gardener and the director about the Humboldt Lily. I was told that it does best without irrigation in dappled shade. I was also told that it may be available at some nurseries in Southern California where it is from. I have not seen it available in the trade up here. This was growing all over the garden, and just coming into bloom now. I did not notice them on my last visit a couple weeks ago. So that probably confirms Early June as the start of blooming. The ones I saw were located in grassy beds, and with cover nearby. So while they were in full midday sun and heat when I visited, those conditions did not persist all day. I believe they are periodically hand watered, but do not quote me on that.


   I do like this lily. But my interest in this is not just in this particular plant, but rather in my recognition that I have the opportunity to source plants unconventionally and directly on my residential garden designs. I have wanted to do stuff like this for awhile, but previously been restricted by my boss's interests, and that of the contractor who was doing the install and thus deciding where to source plants. I do not have any of that stuff in my way on these residential garden projects. I can pretty much work it all out directly with the gardener and the client, and have no one else to answer to.
   There are a few groups who harvest wild plants and propagate them themselves. They are not set up as commercial nurseries, because that is not their mission, usually that is conservation, but they do sell to the public. The Tilden Botanical garden is one of these groups.
   There is risk in using these plants as they tend to have more diversity in their characteristics and form. They are less predictable. Commerical nursery stock on the otherhand is bred for narrow focus of particular characteristics in each variety, and for success in a garden. But to spice up the garden with a diversity of wild flowers, with the unexpected, and to allow beautiful surprises to bloom in the right locations, that is one place that these unusual wild plants can be put to good use. In time I will learn more about them, and become more skilled in finding places for them in the garden.
   Incidentally I had a conversation with the current head of the garden, Bart O'Brien. He co-wrote a book about gardening with unconventional, native Californian plants, Californian Native Plants for the Garden. I mean, granted, that book is mostly about using the natives that have been bred at the nursery, but I will be talking with him again the next time I am there. These people at Tilden know what they are doing. I volunteered there before college, a lifetime ago. I know that they know. I sat there quietly listening to them in the morning as a kid, watching the old folks talk about some obscure location on a mountain somewhere in California where they found the specimen they were talking about, and someone in the room would know the damn spot, and talk about the microclimatic conditions related to the plant, and then some other detail, and then a story about some old dude from ancient times who collected some other plant they were currently propagating in the shed, and... you get the idea.
   It was fun catching up with Bart about what happened to all those people, and who is still around. Most are retired. But the garden is a hub and a great resource. They always come back. Like I do now.