Shauna and Terry Willoughby bring new meaning to the term “flower power.” In 1997, they first met through the Alberta Regional Lily Society. Shauna was a new member. Terry was one of the founders of the club. When they met, each had collections of thousands of lilies. In 2007, after eloping in the Abkhazi Garden in Victoria, B.C., they combined their collections in a rural spot just north of Spruce Grove.
Growing and creating new lily hybrids continues to be their passion. The pair have registered six Asiatic lily varieties that they hybridized, and more are waiting to be approved. “Bruno,” “Olivia’s Moondance, “Caitlin’s Sunrise,” “Diamond Willough,” “Garnet Embers” and “Tobin” are all recognized by the Royal Horticultural Society, which is in charge of registering new hybrids. Two martagon lily varieties that the pair created, “Cloud of the Butterflies” and “The Dark Knight,” will soon go to the RHS for approval.
Why do they love lilies so much? They say it’s because they are simple, yet beautiful. Six petals – and many can withstand Alberta’s climate, including the one variety native to the province, the lilium philadelphicum (or wood lily).
TERRY: “All lilies are native to only the northern hemisphere. There are no species that are native to the southern hemisphere. So, basically they are divided into a classification system. There’s Asiatic lilies. The other group that’s interesting for hybridizing purposes are the martagon lilies. And those are found all across Europe east through Siberia all the way to China.”
SHAUNA: “With hybridizing martagon lilies, it can take seven years from when you plant the seed till you see a flower. We’ve got that down to four or five years. After seven years, you see the flower and, if it looks like everything else you’ve seen; it’s just garbage. But if you see something new, then we try to see how hardy it is – if it improves well, then it can be evaluated. After evaluation, then you can name it and register it with the Royal Horticultural Society.”
TERRY: “It would take a minimum of 10 years to evaluate any lily. Although an Asiatic will bloom one year from growing from seed and will have a mature bulb within three years, they still need to be evaluated. We send our best bulbs to our best friends around the world. They give us feedback and use them as breeders. In terms of registering martagon lilies, you’re looking at 20 years to register it. It takes four to seven years to bloom it. To get a few stems, it would take a minimum of 10 years to get a few bulbs.”
TERRY: “To create a hybrid, first off you have to select two lilies that are compatible.”
SHAUNA: “It’s like this: You can’t just breed a dog to a tiger. Yes, they are both mammals, but the genes don’t work. You also have certain kind of lilies that will go with only certain other types.”
TERRY: “What you want to do is transfer pollen from one plant to the stigma of the plant that you want seed to be collected from. There is a lot of trial and error. A lot of plants are fertile, but some plants are not as fertile as others, so you’re not always guaranteed that you’re going to get a successful crop. We do protect the many hand-pollinations we make. We roll up a little tube of aluminum foil and cap the end of the stigma so other pollen can’t get in.”
SHAUNA: “We call it a tin-foil condom! Once you put your pollen in, you have to watch for the other things that come along, like moths and hummingbirds and people brushing by, that can move pollen to another flower.”
TERRY: “We need to maintain our lilies, and that means we need to divide them. With Asiatic lilies, which are the ones most people grow here, when they are in the ground for three or four years, they deplete a lot of the nutrients in the soil that are all around them and tend to choke themselves out. So, you should lift the bulbs every three to five years, depending on the variety.”
TERRY: “Some varieties are susceptible to viruses and we cull those varieties as soon as we spot it. The most common virus we’d see in Edmonton is the colour-breaking virus.”
SHAUNA: “An example of that would be in the Renaissance period; there were tulips that used to be multi-coloured. They were red with white splashes in them, and they were all the rage for many years. Then they found out this was actually a virus causing problems with the tulips. That was called tulip-breaking virus, and there are similar viruses that can affect lilies. You’ll have a lily, half of it will be red, half of it will be yellow, or it will have streaks in it. And that’s a virus. And the virus can attack the plant and actually kill it.”
SHAUNA: “You need to plant in the fall. They need some time to set their roots before the winter.”
SHAUNA: “In temperate climates around the world, there are lilies growing. There are wild lilies in Asia and in Europe. From England in the 1800s, they had people going out on expeditions to China to look for lilies, to discover new plants. They came upon sights they’d never seen before.”
TERRY: “What all these explorers were looking for were plants that grew at higher elevations. To get hardier plants for European gardens they had to find them in the temperate zones, not the tropical zones.”
SHAUNA: “In England, they’d bring the stuff back and half of it would die off because it was too wet.”
TERRY: “To be a (judging) apprentice you have to judge at three shows, one of which has to be a national show – a sanctioned North American Lily Society Show.”
SHAUNA: “It’s just like a dog show, except that you’re judging inanimate objects that are standing, waiting to be judged. Nothing is going to bite you.”
TERRY: “There is a point scale. The number-one thing is condition, then vigour, placement, substance of flowers, form of flowers and then colour of flowers.”