Victorian gardeners loved lily auratum.
Recently I have been reading about lilies and the frenzy they created in the late nineteenth century, both in England and in America. Everyone wanted lilies.
Among the popular lilies appeared the plant called lily auratum.
The nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick praised this lily in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly. In 1880 he wrote, “All of our readers have heard about the celebrated Auratum Lily, and it has no doubt been seen by nearly all.”
Then he spoke of its origin.
He wrote, “The lily is a native of Japan and abounds in the mountains, where the bulbs are gathered and shipped to this country in large quantities.”
Nicolette Scourse says in her book The Victorians and their Flowers that the English plant hunter Robert Fortune brought this lily from Japan in 1860 or 1861.
In Restoring American Gardens Denise Wiles Adams claims that the Parsons plant catalog from New York first listed it in 1861.
I went in search to see where this lily might be available today.
I found it in the catalog from White Flower Farm. [below]
The plant’s dotted white flower with yellow lines is as beautiful as Vick wrote about it in the nineteenth century.
Vick loved the flowers on this plant. He said, “We have received many reports from our readers of plants that have given from ten to thirty blossoms each year for several years.”
Today nurseries still sell this plant, originating in the nineteenth century, thanks to an English plant collector who traveled to Japan to find plants for the English garden.
The Elliott Seed Company catalog of 1891 included this illustration of a child standing next to a lily. [below] Though perhaps not the auratum, the image reveals the importance of the lily to gardeners.
The six-foot lily auratum gave off a strong vanilla fragrance. One of Vick’s customers wrote him and said, “It filled the air with its sweetness.”
Based on the frequent mention that Vick gave this lily in his magazine, it remained popular for Victorian gardens for decades.
A reader once wrote Vick, “I hope your customers will try an Auratum.”