Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter Lily Capital of the World

When I take long road trips, I love to visit botanical gardens and parks, it's such a relaxing pause from the driving task.  And as an avid gardener, it often give me lots of new garden design ideas or a totally new plant learning experience.
On a trip along the west coast, from California to Oregon, on and off highway 101, and after I passed the hills in Northern California, forested with giant redwood trees, I could see the Pacific Ocean sparkling in the sunlight. I went to a coffee shop and got into a conversion with a local about the area, and was wondering if there is a botanical garden somewhere in Del Norte County.  He explained me that this county and it's surroundings are the Easter Lily Capital of the world, producing 95% of all Lily bulbs and cut flowers. Ooops... I had never heard about it and got excited at the prospect of taking photos of large fields with millions of Lily blooms.  He gave me directions to one of the largest Easter Lily farms, but driving through tiny, winding country roads of the Smith River area, I could not see a single flower, nor any farm or nursery signs.
Finally I discovered a huge row of greenhouses and a commercial building. 
I drove to the place and went to their office, inquiring if I can take some pics for my gardening blog. They explained me that there is not much to see in terms of blooms, and offered me instead a tour of their facilities, which I certainly accepted. I like these little surprises when traveling. 

Lily Growing Tour.
A nice young lady gave me a wonderful 2,5 hour tour of their Easter Lily production (owned by a Dutch family) - through long rows of buildings and explaining the development of both, bulbs and cut flowers.  Letting the flowers bloom would negatively impact the bulb growth. They are harvested in the fall, packed and shipped to commercial greenhouses and nurseries, where they are planted in pots and forced under controlled conditions to bloom for the Easter holiday.  And for the cut flowers: Their blooms are still closed when packaged, as they have a long trip ahead before offered in flower shops or grocery store flower sections.  Greenhouses and huge bulb fields stretched for about a mile.  Almost their whole staff is Mexican, and when you go into the Cooling Buildings where the flowers are cut and packed for transport, you think you come to a party, with loud Mariachi Music.  The people might need some hot music, it's very chilly in there and the workers are bundled up like in winter.  


The company grows mostly bulbs and sells them to nurseries, the Lily flowers (or Daffodils, Tulips etc. in other greenhouses that they also grow), are cut flowers, and they package them long before they even show any colors or open their blooms - so, not very attractive in a photo.  I finally had to go to a nearby nursery to take some Easter Lily pictures.  Funny trip. 

Almost Perfect Climate and Soil.

The coastline known as Pelican Bay offers growers an almost perfect climate.   Lilium longiflorum, the Latin name for the Easter Lily, is native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan, from where the US nurseries ordered their plants.  After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, trade between the two nations ended, opening the door for West Coast bulb growers to expand their cottage industry as the value of Lily bulbs rose.  The soil is perfect too: mostly clay and gravel broken up by eons of organic matter washed off the coastal hills, perfectly suited for cultivating Lily bulbs.  They remain underground for almost three years to reach maturity.  During this time, they are harvested, sorted, cleaned and replanted three times.  Mature bulbs are harvested from late summer to mid-fall, and packed in boxes between beds of moistened peat moss.  The boxes are shipped in refrigerated trucks to nurseries throughout the United States and Canada. The bulbs are then potted, fertilized and timed to bloom for the Easter season.

Care for your Easter Lily Plants.
How potted Easter Lilies are thriving indoors - or outdoors, if you are a dedicated gardener and want to plant your spent bulbs in the garden - can be found in detailed infos on the Garden Helper website.  But be aware that Easter Lilies are naturally not blooming around Easter time.  As with most Lilies, they are showing their beauty out in your garden only in summer. 


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