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Spring 2024

Welcome to B&D Lilies®.

We Have Retired

Dear Customers and Friends,

It was a hard and difficult decision to make, but after 45 years of producing what so many of you have told us over the years were the finest bulbs they had ever received, it is time to close down the farm. At 74 and 73 respectively, we need to slow down and smell the roses as they say. Dianna will have more time now for the painting and vegetable gardening she so loves to do, and I (Bob) will have more time to devote to wood turning and also expect that a few fish will once again find their way to the dinner table as well.

B & D Lilies was born in the late Spring of 1978 when we planted our first crop of lilies for Rex Bulb Farm who had moved their warehouse operation to Port Townsend. At that time, Bob was employed at Crown Zellerbach in Port Townsend working on #2 Paper Machine and Dianna had her hands full with two young boys. During a strike at the mill, Dianna went to work packaging bulbs for Rex Lilies and Bob, during his spare time, undertook a remodeling project for their rented warehouse to facilitate their business. We were asked if we would like to plant excess bulbs, a job we were eager to accept, as we had a little land and it seemed like a good fit.

Our first real experience with hybrid lilies actually took place around 1974 when Dianna purchased 3 bulbs of 'Pink Perfection' from Rex Lilies, who was at that time located in Newburg, Oregon. The only thing I knew about lilies was that our local 'Tiger Lily' (Lilium columbianum) grew wild in our area and as a young boy, when picking black berries, would bring home an occasional stem for my mother. I fell in love with Dianna's first three lilies when they flowered and was hooked.  Like the first time I saw Dianna, it was love at first sight.

A year later, we were being plagued by a neighbor's Golden Retriever who relished tipping over our trash can at night looking for goodies to eat. One night, hearing him, I picked up one of Dianna's shoes, yanked open the front door and tossed the shoe. I missed the dog but managed to break two of the three stems of what were now our 'Pink Perfection' lilies and felt terrible. It was then I learned that you just didn't go out and find lily bulbs in July.

As our love affair for lilies grew, I began to correspond in 1976 with the then owner of 'Borbeleta Gardens', Julius Wadekamper, in Fairbault, MN. I was impressed that the owner of such a nursery would take the time to sit down and write (this was pre-email) letters in long hand answering all my questions about species, or wild lilies. Julius became a mentor and friend and we cherished our visits with him when he moved to NW Oregon years later. In fact, we were blessed in that all of the founders and important players in the lily trade were alive when we started, and each and every one of them took us under their wings.

Those who we owe so much for the success of B & D Lilies are all loved and cherished by us. Only one is still with us, Johan Mak and even he is getting up there in years, being a bit Bob's senior. The others though live on in our memories and our hearts. They live on in every bulb we have ever produced and shipped to you, for planting in your garden. Had it not been for their advice, freely shared knowledge, and simple pure and contagious love for a flower, our 45 years with lilies would have been far more difficult and challenging. It is to those special people in our life with the genus lilium that this, our farewell letter is dedicated. Guys, without you, it would have been a much more onerous, if not impossible road.

In 2013, as I set to paper the names of those who had touched us so deeply with this captivating flower while writing a requested article for the Royal Horticultural Society, I looked for a common thread. What was that one thing that tied us all together, that one point where our lives all met and intertwined? A few days later, while attending Mass and pondering my question, I heard a reading from James 3:16. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice”.

While being so closely involved in the lily trade, we saw more than our share of “envy and selfish ambition” as well as “disorder”, and unfortunately an abundance of what we felt was “evil practice”, but there was a common thread that ran through the lives of those who we could truly call friend. In them we found no signs of envy in the work or accomplishments of others nor the slightest hint of “selfish ambition”. They all had in common an all encompassing love and passion for their lilies and a love for those around them.

In no particular order, some names will readily be recognized by long-time growers of lilies, while others, though lesser known, nevertheless have been special to B & D Lilies as mentors, confidants, and friends. All gave the greatest gift we can give our fellow humans, that being, the gift of time. Time for us is finite here on Earth and to give it as a gift to another, is to give of our very lives to them.

LeVern Friemann: LeVern Friemann quite possibly warms our hearts the most as he lived nearest us. LeVern started in lilies in the late 1930's with a great deal of his early work being focused on Trumpets, in particular L. sulpherum. He loved to relate a story of when Jan de Graaff of Oregon Bulb Farms paid his little Bellingham, Washington garden a visit in the early 1950's, a visit that left LeVern feeling humbled. Here was the greatest man in lilies in the US at the time and he requested permission to visit LeVern's garden. Mr. de Graaff was aware that LeVern had a number of excellent Chinese Trumpet selections, selections that later became the founding basis for the seed parents of his 'Pink Perfection', 'Golden Splendor' 'Moonlight', and 'Copper King' strains. LeVern said that he sold these treasures to de Graaff for $100, a full month's salary for him at that time. I asked LeVern once if he was sorry that he had not “held out for more” and his answer was a quick and adamant “NO!”. He said “Mr. de Graaff spread my lilies all over the world, something I could never have done”. I do believe had LeVern any knowledge of the future, he would have simply given Mr. de Graaff those bulbs and felt good in doing so, such was his love for his lilies.

LeVern's only “flaw” was that he wholeheartedly trusted everyone and it was because of that trust some, one a close friend, took advantage of him. Even after two occasions he mentioned to us where people he had welcomed to his garden stole what they wanted rather than simply ask, though they left him feeling hurt and betrayed, LeVern never lost his love for his true friends nor did he become bitter. To his last days in his garden, LeVern was always quick to share his creations asking nothing in return.

Eddie McRae: Known throughout the world and respected as a leader in the hybridizing of lilies, we will always hold a warm and special spot in our hearts for Eddie. The countless hours spent with Ed in his greenhouses, the OBF seedling beds, and especially the species house, along with many shared conversations over lunch will never be forgotten. Ed was a 'professional' breeder and though he derived his living from breeding lilies, he came across as his occupation being the most satisfying endeavor he could have chosen for himself.

Much has been written over the years about Ed's work with hybrids, but our lives intertwined for the most part with the species lilies and a common love for them. I believe that Ed worked as a breeder just to have the opportunity to spend time with his beloved wild lilies. I still remember an excited call from Ed over 35 years ago, when he had just flowered L. papilliferum for the first time urging Dianna and I to “get down here right away, you have got to see this”! No short trip, Ed's flower was nearly 250 miles away but we headed out the next morning. Upon arriving, we were greeted by an almost giddy man who could not wait to show us his new flower.  Also in bloom at that time was a nearly solid black L. taliense and he was wondering what he should do with it. This man, world renowned as a breeder, asked our opinion, we were flattered, actually, were more than flattered. Though he had flowered L. taliense a number of times, this was so heavily spotted it was near black and he knew there was a place for it in his gene pool.

Many hours were spent with Ed talking about the species lilies. Ed gave us boxes of slides of “his” wild lilies that he had flowered over the years, many of which can be seen today on our species knowledge base. A project that took over 10 years to assemble for our web site and continues to be built upon to this day, it was dedicated to Ed as we felt almost an obligation, though that is not the correct word, to honor his friendship and his love for the flower along with all the hours of his life that he freely shared with us. To this day we still thank Ed for his time, his friendship, and his firsthand knowledge and contagious love for his flowers.

Leslie Woodriff: The most colorful person in our lives, and another friend we truly cherished, was Leslie Woodriff. We did not meet Leslie until he was in his declining years. Our first trip to McKinleyville, California, 613 miles away was filled with excitement and anticipation. Not only a visit to meet a legend, the creator of 'Star Gazer', 'Black Beauty', and 'Casablanca', he was the man considered by many in the trade to be the father of the Oriental Hybrid. We were also on a family camping trip as well and looked forward to roughing it with our two sons. In what became an annual trip until his passing, when we found his location for that first time, we were dismayed by the site of crumbling, wood framed greenhouses, and felt we couldn't possibly be in the right place. But, we were. Pulling up in front of his house, we were enthusiastically greeted by Winkey, his daughter, who said “Dad has been waiting to meet you” and led us to the row of wood framed greenhouses that had all seen better days.

Instructing our two boys to wait outside, fearing this structure might collapse at any moment, we entered what could only be described as a severely overgrown jungle. Potted lilies and begonia's everywhere with not an empty space on the benches or the floors to be found. To walk between the benches also meant holding back plants so as not to step on them while also keeping an eye for potted begonias hanging from the rafters waiting to meet our heads with a dull thunk. Then all of a sudden, Leslie emerged with a smile bigger than life. We soon forgot our fears of being caught in a collapsing structure and spent all that afternoon trying to keep up with a man walking with the support of two canes while weaving our way through his primeval greenhouse jungle. Much to Dianna's dismay, it seemed that around every corner, there was another smiling garter snake, waiting eagerly to startle her.

What was so fascinating to us on this first visit was that Leslie had his pockets full of match boxes all containing mixes of pollen. Whereas we could see no markings to identify what was what, Leslie would stop from time to time, pull out several matchboxes, select the one he wanted and make a cross without missing a beat or the slightest break in the conversation. After relating our meeting to another breeder, we found that that person looked down upon Leslie as being little more than a crackpot or an old coot that in their words “knows nothing about lilies”. This breeder could not see beyond their ego, whereas Leslie had no ego. He was looked down upon as he did not keep paper records, this genius of a man kept it all in his head and I truly believe, until the day he died, he remembered the parents of every cross he ever made.

Leslie and Jan De Graaff, founder of the old Oregon Bulb Farms had an immense respect for each other. Leslie once related that he named a lily 'Empress of Mars' after telling De Graaff “you have used up all the good names”. Leslie claimed that at the end of Lily shows, Mr. De Graaff could be seen carting Leslie's entries out one end of the building while Leslie was carting off De Graaff's entries at the opposite end. Both men gladly turned a blind eye to the theft of their entries and the pollen they produced thinking they were getting the better of the deal. Theirs was a relationship of mutual respect and admiration.

Our fondest memory of Leslie? On each and every visit, the same story was told to me whenever we came upon 'Black Beauty'. Keeping in mind this was during the 1980's and at the height of the Cold War, Leslie would always stop and say, pointing with his cane, “You know Bob, they say if there is a nuclear war, only cockroaches and rats will survive. MY 'Black Beauty' will be there for them to look at”.

Leslie's life ended in poverty. A man who one Dutch acquaintance told us was looked upon in Holland as almost a god, as with LeVern, with whom he shared genetic material and knowledge, Leslie was a breeder and lover of his plants. As such, as with LeVern, he was taken advantage of but never lost his love of life nor his zeal to share his love of lilies with others. And of that first visit with Leslie while taking our boys on a week long camping trip? Each stop, we unloaded 6 potted lilies, all in full bloom and set them around our tent so as to make sure they got enough light. Yes, a few people asked about them, but most campers only looked on in wonderment.

Harve & Ruth Strahm: The Strahm's were very intertwined with Leslie Woodriff in the early years in that Ruth worked for Leslie and when he could sometimes not make payroll, she eagerly would take bulbs as payment. Along with their son Gary and his wife Sonya, the Strahm name was synonymous with the best of the best in Oriental Lilies and both families were key elements in the growth and success of B & D Lilies.

Our first meeting with Harve and Ruth was at the peak of bloom at their home in Brookings, Oregon. As we pulled up to their farm, we were greeted with acres upon acres of magnificent Oriental hybrids and in every direction were ribbons of white, pink and red. Entering their display greenhouse, we marveled at the 8 and 10 foot giants surrounding us, noting that everything was labeled for their visitors and the Strahm's were buzzing around like hummingbirds answering questions. Ours was a relationship that spanned over 30 years continuing on with Gary and Sonya until their retirement and Gary's untimely death from cancer.

Again what we found with the Strahms was the willingness to share with all what they had in their gardens and the first hand knowledge of their lilies. They loved what they did and derived much of their pleasure in life with sharing that love with those around them. A close knit, deeply religious family, they all worked together, Harve as the breeder, Ruth in marketing, Sonya handling cut flowers, and Gary out on the tractor in the field. None of them were ever too busy to stop and talk flowers with visitors.

As our relationship developed, our visits to the Strahms were always met with an offer of something to eat and a place to sleep for the night. The most amusing story I recall from Harve was while out in the field plowing for that falls planting, he hit something “big” that broke the shear bolt off his plow. Knowing that field was cleared of rocks, he went back to investigate what he had hit only to find about 4 bushel baskets of Oriental lily bulbs from the neighboring field. He had found the food store of a family of gophers for the coming winter.

Julius Wadekamper: Julius was a gem among gems. My first contact with Julius, as mentioned earlier, was a letter written in 1976. Trying to build a species lily collection, I had found his name in a North American Lily Society yearbook and received one of his 'Borbeleta Gardens' catalogs which was to me like discovering that Santa was indeed real. I wrote Julius with a multitude of questions not really expecting a reply. Not only did I get a reply, but there was an invitation to write back should I have any further questions. Julius had a wonderful assortment of species lilies and I wanted them all, but knew I lacked the knowledge to be successful with everything he grew and Julius soon became my mentor and a dear friend. We first met in person at a NALS show in Des Moines, Iowa. One of the show principals, Julius dropped everything upon our arrival and took us to lunch. An encyclopedia of lily information, Julius was an open book and an easy read.

Upon his retirement and moving to Hood River, Oregon, many were the hours spent among his lilies and hemerocallis. Again, Julius was never too busy to share with us his time or his love for the plants that surrounded him. Our last summer with Julius was one in which he asked if we would be interested in offering his new introductions, a request that we felt honored by, and answered with a very enthusiastic YES! He said he was getting “tired” and it showed as he often stopped in the field to rest. He said he felt he just could not keep up with his mail order business any longer. We came to an agreement and set everything in motion for the following year. That November however, Julius called asking “do you have a few minutes to talk Bob” as if he needed to ask. I told him, “always for you Julius”. He then told me he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, that it was inoperable, and he would not see next year's bloom. We were devastated by the news. That phone conversation was followed with a hasty trip to Hood River, some 5 hours away the next day for a visit. Though we were in the midst of our busy fall shipping, we simply dropped everything to make time to visit our dear friend knowing it was the right thing to do.

Our last visit with Julius was when he and his close friend Eddie McRae stopped by our sales booth at the Portland Flower and Garden Show in Oregon that February. Julius looked exhausted and attending that show was a real hardship for him, but he knew our spring schedule and he was there with Eddie to say “goodbye”. Julius was a man who never envied the work of others and I believe felt humbled by his own success. Following his death, his sister told us that his Hood River garden had been pillaged by individuals who justified their thefts by saying they were “saving the lilies”. They were not aware that Julius had already funneled off the best of the best to his circle of true friends. They saved nothing, but they stole much.

Don Egger: My first meeting with Don Egger was while standing in a field of about 50 acres of Oriental lilies just south of Portland, Oregon. At a time before the closing of the old Oregon Bulb Farm, I had just come from a meeting with the then CEO Jack Krone who had taken an early interest in B & D Lilies and readily went out of his way to help us whenever he could. On a scale of the size of OBF, we were but a gnat, but Jack always had time in his day with an open door policy (no appointment needed) for us and even after the closing of the old OBF, we maintained close contact with Jack until his death years later.

On the day I met Don, having earlier left Jack's office, directions in hand to a field I had never visited with a signed business card as the land was posted, I had worked my way through about 80% of the acreage in bloom, having already shot over a dozen rolls of 36 exposure 35mm slide film. All of a sudden, this 'crazed man' came crashing through the lilies towards me, obviously upset about something and stepping on everything in his path. Don's first words were “I can have you arrested for trespassing” to which I replied, “I don't think so” which stopped him in his tracks. I presented Jack's business card and told him who I was.

Don had just taken the position as head hybridizer and though he knew of B & D Lilies, he had never met either Dianna or myself. Long story short, we became close and life long friends up until his far to early death. With the demise of the old OBF, Don contacted people in Holland who, as I understood, bought up most of the R & D material giving birth to Cebeco Lilies U.S. with Don now being in charge of the US operation. From that day forward, until Cebeco closed its doors in Oregon, I was given free run of the fields and the breeding houses and from time to time over lunch we re-lived our first meeting with a chuckle. As it had turned out, new lilies were being stolen from that isolated field, and Don thought he had caught the guilty person, pollen stains and all when he discovered me. I believe I was the only one trusted with a key to the breeding and seedling houses and was never patted down before leaving, such was the friendship that developed. Asking questions about the parentage of new hybrids was a fruitless task, as that was proprietary information that belonged to his employer. But, any general questions about breeding were followed by a PhD level dissertation. To Don I owe much to my understanding of genetics.

Don took a great deal of pride in his accomplishments and was justified in doing so. But, he was not one to flaunt nor to brag. He learned early on that you did not keep all your eggs (lilies) in one basket as his seedling houses, which were skinned only in poly, were often cut into and bulbs were taken. He remarked how it amazed him how often those thefts happened when a certain person was in the Portland area and always just before that person caught a flight out of PDX back to Holland.

One of the highlights of my relationship with Don was when he stopped by some new seedlings, first time in bloom, and said “what do you think Bob” remembering that 12 years earlier he was going to have me arrested. From that first encounter, we progressed to the point where he truly wanted my opinion about his new selections. I had my own special flagging tape that let Don know at a glance of anything that I had an interest in. His employers had first right of refusal, but anything they were not interested in for the forcing trade was ours for introduction. Over the years B & D Lilies introduced over 90 of Don's creations.

Johan Mak: Unlike all those mentioned earlier, Johan is still very much alive and is I believe the top breeder in the world though I would never admit it to his face. I tell him he is in the top three believing it keeps him on his toes. When he asks “who are the other two” my reply simply is “you know who they are”.

I honestly can't remember when I first met Johan, but it was in the early / mid 1980's. It was after the closing of the old Oregon Bulb Farm that Johan went into production with his own lilies and after turning that operation over to his son, he became a full time breeder. Many are the trips over the years to his home to wander the seedling beds and tagging lilies of interest in the greenhouses. 'Fang' and 'Cujo', as I called them, who were there to protect the property, quickly turned into tail wagging friends rather than guard dogs to be feared. It is amazing what you can do with a handful of kibbles and a pat on the head.

These past years have always been a joy as Johan would almost lead me by the hand through towering plants in his breeding and seedling houses asking “what do you think”? One memorable moment was back in 2008 when we stopped next to a new selection. “What do you think”? to which I replied, “I like it”. Johan asked, “got any idea what it came from”. My reply, “I see 'Barbaresco' in it but no guess after that”. Johan stood there and finally said, “how did you know that?” That lily is shown on our web site at 2008MIOT5. Though it did not make it through garden trials, it truly was then, and still is, one of the most breathtaking lilies I have viewed in my life.

I owe much of my knowledge of lilies to Johan. Never was there a subject or a question that was off limits as we talked about his work. Johan never held back any information from me about his breeding, knowing that what was talked about in the greenhouse or the field stayed there when I left. Though it usually took about 20 minutes into each visit to get my mind to filter out the heavy Dutch accent, Johan always proved to be a flowing fount of information.

There are others, lesser known individuals that are near and dear to us which are not named here. To try to do so would be impossible and would take weeks, if not months, of going through file drawers of letters spanning over 4 decades and covering much of the world. From directors of world renowned Botanical Gardens to simple backyard “pollen dabblers” to all of them, we owe much. To just say “thanks” doesn't even begin to express what we feel for all of them. We only hope that through the years others have found us to be as helpful in nurturing their love of the genus lilium as in doing so, it gives even greater honor to the lily pioneers that helped and guided us.

To continue with the story of B & D Lilies, in 1987, Crown Zellerbach (my day job) sold out a foreign interest and I lost my job. We had two sons, 10 and 11, and Dianna had just announced to me that she was pregnant. I received a severance check of $5000. which we decided to put into a color insert into our small, black and white catalog / mailer. By that time we had acquired planting stock of many of the Asiatics bred by David Stone and Henry Payne of Piedmont, Connecticut and had expanded our growing operation for Rex Lilies. Our feeling was that the $5000, though all we had, was not going to make a difference in our survival, and stepped out in faith that God was directing us in our nursery pursuits and that He would see us through. He did. It was touch and go for many years and there was a time that for nearly three years, on paper, we were bankrupt. I took a job as a delivery person for Port Townsend Baking Company, a sheltered workshop for developmentally disabled adults to help support the nursery. When I was at home, pregnant and all, Dianna was riding around town on a Honda moped selling and delivering Avon. Long story short, with a great deal of prayer and a strong faith that God would see us through, we made it. Without that faith, I am sure we would have given up early on.

Jumping ahead, as B & D Lilies became better known, we were fortunate enough to find a couple of truly fine sources for the best of the best in planting stock out of Holland. These men greatly expanded our horizons in growing B & D Lilies. They took great pleasure in finding for us the finest in new varieties, keeping in mind that we were not part of the forcing trade, but looking for hardy, garden worthy lilies. It came to pass that those contacts in Holland led to others who began looking for lilies they felt would be suitable for our needs and it seems it became a source of pride for some of them to see their lilies being showcased in our catalogs. It was a win-win for us all. Their efforts are the reason that B & D Lilies was always on the cutting edge and without them, things would have been much different. Thank you to, in alphabetical order, Frank, Homme, Johan, Jack, Jan-Willem, Ko, Paul, Piet, Robin, and Ryan.

As briefly touched upon above, all was not a bed or roses (lilies). There were some really tough years, years that reminded us that we were getting too involved with the business and putting God on the back burner. We were being selfish with our gift of time for Him, the same gift of time that so many gave freely to us. It all held together though and we survived. Early on, my mother, who was a banker, told us we should have a meeting with their SCORE Business mentor. At that meeting we were told that the two largest businesses failures were #1 Nurseries, and #2 Mail Order. Bingo, two strikes and we had not even seen year three yet. Again, feeling this was the direction we were to take, we continued to step out in faith.

So, here we are today, now 45 years later. Some will be wondering, will the new owners make any changes or will they be just like Bob & Dianna? In answer to that question, we are not seeking a new owner, for a reason. From St. Thomas Aquinas, “to those who have faith, no explanation is necessary, to those without faith, no explanation is possible”.

Through a number of what we can only consider minor miraculous events in the life of B & D Lilies, there was so often that we could see it was the Hand of God that kept us alive and viable. Like all of the persons mentioned above, none knew us from Adam in the beginning, none owed us anything, but all welcomed us as part of their family and it was not simple chance that brought our lives together. Other events, too many to mention, did nothing but further strengthen and confirm our belief that God was indeed watching over us. We knew we were where He willed us to be. We firmly believe that B & D Lilies was a gift from God, there is no other explanation as it was nothing we did on our own, we were simply stewards of a gift, a gift we did our best to honor The Giver. Should someone show up, we will consider them, but they will have to be of the same mindset and nature as Dianna and I. It is up to Him to decide the next step, He will decide who, if anyone, will pick up where we left off. Thine will be done.

His greatest gift with the nursery was that He gave us the opportunity to always be there for our children. During their school years, no event was ever missed. We simply took the time needed and then worked extra hard to catch up again. It allowed for Dianna and I to spend most of our now 53 years of marriage working side by side with a common goal. We have had people ask “how on earth do you stand being with each other all the time”. It is simple, we don't just love each other, we are truly IN love with each other, a gift that is rare in these times of throw-away relationships. Together, we have truly become “one” as God so ordained.

We want to thank all of our customers, many of whom over the years have become friends. Most we have never seen, but we know so many of you through phone calls, letters, and emails. We have reached the age where many ask themselves, “did I make a difference”? We feel we have for a great number of people which makes for a complete and full life. One in particular, just one of those who was touched in a special way by our bulbs, a person we will never forget, we will leave you with.

We received a letter a number of years ago from a woman who had lost her mother. She told us that she was having a terrible time letting go. She said that one day, she finally mustered up the strength to go to her mothers home to start sorting and boxing things up. She said she felt all alone in the world and finally walked out the back door to the garden that her mother so loved, and sat there in tears. Next to her, in full bloom, were the 6 bulbs of 'Journey's End' that she had helped her mother plant the previous fall. She said she was totally overcome by a feeling of love, and at that moment, knew her mother had completed her earthly journey and was being held lovingly in the arms of God. All was well, the despair and feelings of emptiness were now gone and she was ready to move on. She simply signed it, Thank You, as we do now.

Thank you. Bob & Dianna

Thank you for the opportunity to help beautify your garden.
[Website updated -Monday, May 6, 2024]
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