Lilies forum: Short Stories of Lily History

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Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 2, 2015 10:01 PM CST
http://www.rhslilygroup.org/2013-2014_LR.pdf

I reposted this link in which Bob Gibson recalls some of the most memorable lilium hybridizers in North America. It reminded me of how the 'B&D Lilies' as we know them, actually came to be, and the story goes a little something like this. The setting begins about 1977-78.

Note: Edit Added Jan, 3rd, 2015: The following summary is written from memory and is based on information obtained by reading several printed documents and reporter interviews contained in various publications such as trade publications, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Local Newspapers of Oregon and Washington, Quarterly Bulletins, NALS Yearbooks and many others. Some of the information contained therein may or may not have been 100% accurate.

It was a rainy, wet morning in Port Townsend, Washington and Bob had been running in and out the backdoor with muddy shoes. When scolded to remove his boots, the cat which he had to trip over on the porch steps each time he went in and out upset him even more. He took off his boot, opened the door and threw it wildly at the cat. Well, he missed the cat and the boot landed in a pot of Dianna's lilies and broke them completely off. She had just bought them from one of those new fangled big box stores of the time called K-Mart. While Dianna, was forgiving, Bob felt really bad; so sorry, in fact, that he later made a special trip to a new 'upscale expensive garden center' across town and bought her 3 'very expensive' bulbs to replant. Dianna did and they turned out to be 'Pink Perfections'. From then on Dianna was hooked on lilies. Little did they know, then, that the new upscale nursery that just moved to town was actually 'Rex Lilies' of REX BULB FARMS, formerly of Newburg, Oregon.

Rex Bulb Farms had a very large mail order business selling bulbs to gardeners as well other business places across the U.S. They were heavily dependent on the Old Oregon Bulb Farms (Milridge), Strahm Lilies, and so on for their inventory, and the growing stock which would later turn out to be quite significant because it contained hybrid material of many of the great hybridizers of the time like Leslie Woodriff.

Soon, Dianna began working part time seasonally packing bulbs for Rex Lilies. Not 100% sure about this part but I'm going to say it's quite likely Dianna opted to take bulbs and seeds as part of her pay to expand her growing interest in lilies, herself. That was very common practice then. When Ruth Strahm did housework for Mrs Woodriff, she got seeds and bulbs because Leslie didn't have the money. Much of Harve and Ruth Strahm's lily stock was grown and expanded that way. At any rate, it wasn't long and Dianna was bringing left over bulbs from Rex to plant and resell
through the vast Rex customer mail order customer base.

In 1980, things at Rex Lilies started going downhill. John Shaver, the owner of Rex Lilies had a heart attack and then a stroke. Huge medical expenses forced them to close the business. In the months that followed lily buyers/contractors/salesman from all directions who would come to call on Rex Lilies found the place closed. By then every corner store in town knew about Dianna Gibson and her lilies, so all any stranger who came to town looking for Rex Lilies had to ask--and they were pointed to Bob and Dianna.

Here's a couple pictures from one of Rex Lilies catalogs just before they left Oregon. I have a few of these in my library. They offered a very extensive listing of bulbs and seeds.


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[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Jan 3, 2015 6:22 AM (+)]
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Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 3, 2015 2:56 PM CST
Another timely piece of lily history.

Jan de Graaff sold the Oregon Bulb Farm to Milridge, Inc. owned by another very prominent Oregon businessman named M. J. (Jack) Murdock in 1966. Mr. Murdock was the founder of Tektronix, Inc. a large developer and manufacturer of oscilloscopes being used by the Dept of Defense modern radar systems, hospital and medical labs and emerging television control rooms; sort of like the Silicon Valley of the 50's and 60's. But Jack Murdocks interests were more than just technical, He love flying and owned an aircraft distributorship and a bunch of garden supply houses. His interests included nature and flowers and with the acquisition, the Oregon Bulb Farm would become part of Milridge, Inc. Jack Murdock would continue to oversee the operations of the Oregon Bulb Farms until his untimely death in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 54yrs. He and an associate had been flying a float plane up the Columbia river when a sudden gust of wind flipped the plane upside down. Both he and his associate survived the crash and clung to the wreckage for rescue but when it didn't come, they tried to swim ashore. His associate made it but Jack did not. His body was never recovered. It took some time for Mr. Murdock's estate to work it's way through the courts and a new manager to oversee the Oregon Bulb Farms was hired. His name was Ray Whitcomb. Ed Mc Rae was chief hybridizer/breeder at the time. Mr. Whitcomb quickly noticed that while Ed Mc Rae had made many good crosses, his record keeping of those crosses was not one of his strong points. Mr. Whitcomb quickly set out to recuit a young scientist/geneticist graduate from the east coast to clean up Ed's records and to manage all laboratory functions.

Her name was Judith Freeman. Smiling
[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Jan 3, 2015 3:01 PM (+)]
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Name: Neal Linville
Winchester, KY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Bulbs Cottage Gardener Roses Irises
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gemini_sage
Jan 4, 2015 9:16 AM CST
Cool thread Lorn!

I enjoyed reading about Leslie Woodriff- I need to see if I can find that article. I was left with the impression that he was sort of a mad scientist with his lilies- I bet he was quite the character!
"...and don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous." Rumi
Name: Tracey
Wisconsin (Zone 5a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Tomato Heads Pollen collector Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle Cat Lover
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magnolialover
Jan 4, 2015 9:30 AM CST

Moderator

I have only heard bits and pieces of the Oregon Bulb Farm story. You filled in some gaps. Thanks for the history lesson. Love reading about lily history and there seems to be different perspectives on it, depending on who you speak with. One common theme, these people were very inspired by lilies and many have done great things to advance the lilium.
Tracey
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
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Oberon46
Jan 4, 2015 10:29 AM CST
Really interesting. Just like that radio program where the man (forget his name) would end up a story with the name of the main person the story was about. And then say "and that is the rest of the story." We would always try to guess who it was before the end. Thumbs up
"What a person needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge in it" Charles Dudley Warner (spelling edited by Dinu lol)
Name: Neal Linville
Winchester, KY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Bulbs Cottage Gardener Roses Irises
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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gemini_sage
Jan 4, 2015 12:16 PM CST
Paul Harvey! Yes, I enjoyed those stories Smiling
"...and don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous." Rumi
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 4, 2015 12:57 PM CST
Neal--are you referring to the article I posted on Gerry Danen's Facebook forum? I intend to re-write that up here soon; as soon as we get a little break in the action, maybe after the Tasmania season. It's a little long for the scope of this forum but maybe I can break it into part 1, part 2 kind of thing. I wouldn't say Woodriff was a mad scientist at all. Quite the opposite. Woodriff was a kind hearted gentleman who hobbled around most of the time with the use of a cane and sometimes two. His work methods were anything but scientific. I will say he was obsessed with deep interest for hybridizing and the outcome/ result, so much so, that others were able to take advantage of his work and ,in some cases made millions while he could hardly afford a loaf of bread. But he was happy with what he was doing, nonetheless. Yes, Woodriff was without a doubt the most colorful and interesting and most likely the best liked of all the great American hybridizers. He led a very eventful life, full of stange twists and sometimes bizarre turns.
Name: Neal Linville
Winchester, KY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Bulbs Cottage Gardener Roses Irises
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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gemini_sage
Jan 4, 2015 1:11 PM CST
I didn't see that article, but would certainly like to read it! I believe I was thinking more of an absent minded professor type than a mad scientist, which probably isn't accurate either, but was sort of the impression I was left with (probably because of the twists and turns of his life, and the description of his greenhouse appearing somewhat chaotic). His love of Lilies and passion for what he was doing surely left me with feelings of fondness and such appreciation for his work.
"...and don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous." Rumi
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Jan 4, 2015 5:02 PM CST
Great stories, Lorn, and told by a good story teller! nodding

I remember writing away to get the Rex Bulb catalog, probably with a dollar or two sent, as was the norm back then. But I don't remember if I had ever ordered from them.
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 4, 2015 10:25 PM CST
Thanks for the compliment, Rick. But when it comes to story telling about lily history, Johan Mak takes the cake. Once he gets on the roll with lily history, his stories come through with excitement, even in writing. It makes me chuckle inside with enjoyment while my mind is so captivated, the whole world around me is vanished for a few moments in time and space. I've never mentioned much on the forum at least, about all the lily history junk I've collected over the last 25 and more years. Mainly, I guess, because most people don't really care about what the parents to that pretty lily they just bought were--or even how it came to be. I have a whole former bedroom piled high with boxes on top of boxes of old books, newspapers, trade papers, flower magazines and so on, even court documents--anything that had something to do with lilies is in there. For an idea, here's something that many on this forum can relate too; I have one full 'mint' set of NALS yearbooks and every quarterly NALS quarterly bulletin but three in there. But those yearbooks, while they are informative to an extent, they cannot tell all about what the real world of lily farming in North America was really like and how it worked as a livelihood for many farmers in the Northwest, not just the few well knowns that most people know of. And, most all the information I have is from old printed material before the days of the internet. Nowadays, if it happened after 1990, it's pretty easy to find anything.

Overtime, I've become acquianted with a lot of lily people and as time passes, you learn more and more about each of them and there's always more than just the common interest of growing lilies. Johan Mak also is very interested in lily history and has a much larger collection than I do--I would guess probably 3 to 5 times more. Luckily for us, we both have understanding wives who let us store all this old stuff in the same house they live in. Rolling on the floor laughing
[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Feb 26, 2015 11:03 AM (+)]
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Lincoln, NE
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Moby
Jan 6, 2015 11:47 AM CST
I tip my hat to you.
Where are we going, and why am I in this hand-basket?
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 7, 2015 7:32 AM CST
Although best known for his hybridizing of lilium, Leslie Woodriff's greatest passion with flowers and hybridizing was actually with begonias. Almost all of those were sold to locals. Woodriff never registered or patented a single lily and only patented two of his begonias, claiming he didn't have time to keep up with patents and royalties--that he would rather spend his time hybridizing and breeding instead. Leslie called his nursery farm FIARYLAND, and it was open to the public. The pictures of Woodriff's business card and the shanty 'sales' portion of his greenhouse below are from Johan Mak's collection.
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[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Jan 7, 2015 8:39 AM (+)]
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Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Jan 20, 2015 2:09 PM CST
Some interesting reading about Dr. Chris North. http://www.parkheadgardens.com/images/parkhead/Mylnefield%20...
Name: della
hobart, tasmania
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2015
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dellac
Jan 31, 2015 4:01 AM CST
Finally found the moment to read this thread - it's been tantalising for weeks! Thanks for sharing. I love that business card!
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Feb 15, 2015 8:41 PM CST
I'll write this from memory of information I've learned over many years of collecting and reading articles in trade magazines, trade monthly and quarterly bulletins, newspaper articles, financial publications, court documents and more, including a book authored by Amy Stewart called: Flower Confidential, The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful. Since this is derived from the written accounts of others, there may be inaccuracies and different perspectives.


PART I

This is a story about two men and a lily. The story centers around two men: Ted Kirsch and George Leslie Woodriff and goes a little something like this.

Ted Kirsch began his career in a small Oregon town as an agricultural teacher at a local high school. He grew daffodils and other bulbous plants as a hobby which grew steadily larger and more profitable. Eventually, with a little financial backing he moved his hobby work a short distance south in northern California to a small town called Arcata. There he started a business called Sun Valley Bulb Farm. Ted Kirsch was an astute businessman who kept excellent records and believed that time plus production was money. He ran a clean and sanitary operation and was profitable. By contrast Leslie Woodriff's (of Harbor, Oregon) top priority was cross pollenating and hybridizing, and keeping good records, whether with lilies or personal finance--it was way down the list. His obsession with pollenating and seeding and to see the results became so overwhelming that many other things were 'let go'. His house needed repair and his greenhouses were a mess. A fellow tradesman once said 'if it was a Woodriff lily, it had to be hardy because it survived his greenhouse'.

Along about 1969, whether book keeping lead to it or not, Leslie Woodriff ran into financial trouble and faced foreclosure. It was common talk within the trade and when Ted Kirsch got wind of it, he decided to approach the Woodriffs about working out a deal which would benefit both.

They did. The two had known each other for many years through the flower trade. The terms of the deal were that Kirsch would pay the $12,000 default on Woodriff's place called Fairyland Lily and Flower Garden, plus $1000 for all of Woodriff's lilies which were to be moved to Arcata. In addition, Kirsch would provide the Woodriff family a house to live in with reduced rent. Leslie was to become the chief hybridizer/scientist at Sun Valley at about $2.00 an hour. His wife and one daughter were given jobs at $1.60 per hour. In addition Woodriff was to receive a 5% royalty on all profits. This would at least give the Woodriffs a new start. So, in Early 1970, a 7 year work contract was drawn up and filed. The Woodriff's moved to Arcata along with 1000 plus of Woodriffs hybrids (which Kirsch now owned).

Little by little, but steadily, the deal began to sour. Leslie, who felt he was supposed to be the head hybridizer, found himself assigned to heavy carpentry work around the greenhouses, a job he could not do because of a bad back due to an injury when he was young, and the Woodriffs felt they had been deceived. Further, the Woodriffs had been farm people all their lives and just could not adjust to a set work schedule of 8 to 5 hourly type jobs. Meantime, the 1000 or more Woodriff hybrids were coming into bloom and one morning when Kirsch was taking his walk through, he suddenly noticed a burgundy red lily with a white border pointing skyward. Kirsch instantly knew he now owned a ready made million dollar lily of the century. It would be called Stargazer which Kirsch quickly patented with no recognition of Woodriff. Tensions grew much worse and there was strong evidence that the woodriffs were hiding and hoarding bulbs under their bed to smuggle back to Fairyland.

More to come in PART II.
[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Feb 17, 2015 7:09 AM (+)]
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Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Feb 15, 2015 10:39 PM CST
Two Men and a Lily, PART II

Infuriated and scared to death that his beloved Star Gazer was missing, Kirsch filed an 'early termination' in accordance with the contact citing inability to perform work as required, and for premature removal of bulbs from the property and, namely, the most important bulb in the works project (Fall preparation of selections for cloning). The Woodwards were forced to return the bulbs. It was never established if Star Gazer was one of the bulbs that went missing.

To make matter worse still, Kirsch then selected about two dozen of Woodriff's hybrids to patent and quickly plowed the rest under. after all, with Kirsch, time was money and he wasn't about to spend time baby sitting anymore of Woodriff's exotic hybrids. That must have been shear devastation for Woodriff to see his life's work destroyed like that. Woodriff sued, claiming early breach of contract and $300,000 for the potential value of the plowed under bulbs that Kirsch had destroyed and was eventually awarded only, $5000 plus legal expenses.

In 1975, Sun Valley and Kirsch registered Star Gazer as parentage unknown, giving credit to Woodriff as hybridizer. In the years that followed, Sun Valley and Kirsch would register 26 more hybrids, 25 of those as parentage unknown ( maybe Woodriff's? ). Kirsch later sold 3000 Star Gazer bulbs at $5.00 each to the Dutch but overlooked getting a legal documented contract for protection of Breeder's Rights within the Netherlands. Because of that there was no limit to acreage and anybody could grow as many as they wanted without paying a penny royalty to Kirsch and Sun Valley while the Dutch made millions. And, while Leslie Woodriff could see his Star Gazers in floral arrangements everywhere, he did not own one. It would be another 10 years before he would once again hold the bulb he had created. After the breakup with Kitsch, the Woodriffs moved back to Fairyland where Leslie and his daughter Winkey would continue to hybridize and operate Fairyland until the time of Leslie's passing.


Ted Kirsch eventually sold Sun Valley Bulb Farm to Milridge. When Milridge went bankrupt, much of Sun Valley stock and Milridge stock was obtained by the newly formed Cebeco, USA, headed up by Don Egger, the former chief hybridizer at the time for Milridge. When Cebeco USA decided to close its USA operations, it's field stock was destroyed. Much of that which was left was purchased by Mak Breeding. In the mix of all this business activity and immediately after the Milridge bankruptcy, Sun Valley Bulb Farms emerged from the ashes with new financing, under the management of Lane De Vries, formerly George Heublein's hand picked young man to run Sun Valley as a cut flower entity of Milridge. Under De Vries leadership, the old Sun Valley Bulb Farm is now the largest cut flower producer in North America. I believe it's now called the Sun Valley Group.

Ted Kirsch passed away in 1996. Leslie Woodriff passed away in 1997. Don Egger passed away in 2000.

end of PART II. Open to questions and comments. Photo of Leslie Woodriff (left) at Fairyland)
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Edit Added: For the record, the gentleman with Woodriff is Willem Meijles, a sales person for Van Ti Hartman. Pictured below is Ted Kirsch and wife.


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Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Feb 17, 2015 7:57 AM CST
Leslie Woodriff was never bashful about his big smile. If you look close in the picture above, you'll also see a little box strapped around Leslie's neck---that's actually an old portable radio that he carried with him while working in the gardens most all the time. Although you can't see it, you can bet his pockets are full of little match boxes of mixed pollen---he always used mixed pollen--always! Notice the 'No Smoking' sign in the picture. Leslie, his wife, Ruth and one daughter died of cancer. Other living members of the Woodriff family have always blamed the pesticides being used around the lilies. The sign is there for good reason, to keep tobacco products away from the lilies.
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Feb 19, 2015 7:25 AM CST
Another fact about Leslie Woodriff that is well known within the lily trades is that during the early to mid 1980's when the Dutch farmers were making millions on Star Gazer, their perception of him became more and more over embellished with each passing year. They had never met Woodriff but in their minds had imagined him as a scientist dressed in a white lab coat in a fancy, well equipped laboratory; someone who lived in a big white house surrounded by sprawling fields of test lilies. It was decided that Piet Koopman would come to America and spend a few days with Woodriff to learn more about their American super hero and a report was to be published in an upcoming trade journal. On his flight back home, Koopman began writing his rough draft of report. He was confused; what should he say? He knew what the tradespeople and growers expected and wanted to hear, or should he tell the truth. He decided to write it exactly as the saw it. His report was published and the response was tremendous. In describing Woodriff's plight and in a collection started by Piet Koopman, about $45,000 was collected amongst the tradesmen and growers to help Woodriff.

Edit added. I have a couple pictures of Piet Koopman here somewhere. I'll dig them out and post them sometime in the near future.
[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Mar 24, 2015 5:19 AM (+)]
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Name: della
hobart, tasmania
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2015
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dellac
Feb 19, 2015 4:26 PM CST
I've enjoyed reading these bits of history so much. Knowing the stories behind the lilies makes them all so much more meaningful. The part about all of Woodriff's breeding work being ploughed under - I can't fathom how anyone who appreciated lilies could do that. I can understand in dollar terms, but dollars aren't the only thing that drive human decisions. I can only imagine things must have been really bitter if a grower prefered to destroy all of Leslie's seedlings and breeding stock rather than let him retrieve them. What an amazing family the Woodriff's must have been to have kept going after such circumstances.
Name: Lorn (Roosterlorn)
S.E Wisconsin (Zone 5b)
Lilies Seed Starter Pollen collector Bee Lover Region: Wisconsin
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Roosterlorn
Feb 19, 2015 7:30 PM CST
I'm glad you enjoy them Della. I encourage everyone to ask questions they might have. There are so many interesting stories of lily growing history in heydays of good times in America. Farmers could make good money growing lilies back then and there were lots of good stories that went right along with that. I was just looking at a 1960 catalog price list and OBF was getting $2.00/bulb back then. Taking inflation rate of 10 to 12 times into account, that translates to about $20 to $25 dollars per bulb today. In de Graaff's declining years he would often refer to them as 'the glory years'.

EDIT ADDED Concerning the relationship of Kirsch and Woodriff, there was a lot of talk in the trade circles that Kirsch really took advantage of Woodriff in that he knew all along that Woodriff had possibly several Stargazer like lilies from which he could make lots of money. They said Kirsch got what he had coming when he screwed up his grower protection agreement and lost his millions. Then there were those who happened to believe that Kirsch really was honestly trying to help the Woodriffs. I believe Kirsch meant well. I've never read nor heard of Kirsch being dishonest with anyone. The sad irony is that both men had a bulb worth millions and they let it slip right through their fingers.
[Last edited by Roosterlorn - Feb 19, 2015 8:08 PM (+)]
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