My Mother’s Lily
My mother’s lily was supposed to be a lavender. She loves the scent of lavender and had long wanted it growing in her garden; so, one spring, I bought a pot of it and planted it in a sunny spot at the corner of the shed behind her mobile home. But the lavender wasn’t happy there (or anyplace else I subsequently tried to grow it on her property!). The following May, when it was clear that the lavender hadn’t survived, I planted in it’s place a ‘Casablanca’ oriental lily that my mother had admired at a nursery the previous summer. Although the lily started out as a kind of consolation prize, it grew to be her pride and joy. The first year, when it had four enormous wonderfully fragrant blooms in August, she was pleased. Two years later, when the lily boasted more than twenty spectacular flowers and was a neighborhood phenomenon, with people stopping by to see it, she glowed with pride. The year after that, the plant had two stems and more than thirty blossoms. This year, it grew four stems with 7-10 flowers on each.
But my mother didn’t get to see her lily bloom this year. In mid-May, she was stricken, not by the massive heart attack or stroke that she always thought would get her eventually, but by some kind of difficult-to-diagnose growth in the brain that causes seizure-like muscle spasms and partial paralysis. In August, when her lily was in its glory, she was in the middle of a medical crisis that took her on a downward spiral from plans to return home after a hospital stay and rehab, to being readmitted to the local hospital, to the neurology inpatient service at Massachusetts General Hospital, to two different rehab facilities and the realization that she would never be able to live independently at home again.
Recently, my siblings and I have been cleaning out my mother’s house. As part of that process, I have been taking care of some gardening tasks. Since my mother’s lily had four stems this year, those stems were shorter than they had been in previous years, and each stem had slightly fewer blossoms, I thought that the lily probably needed to be divided. A bonus to dividing it now was that each of my sisters and I hoped to claim a piece for our own gardens.
I had never divided an oriental lily before, so I did a little research, read descriptions of the process, and planned my work. But in gardening, as in much of life, things do not always go as planned. First, I had forgotten about the hostas we planted around the lily to protect it from the lawn mower; I had to cut them back before I could get my garden fork anywhere near the lily. Then I wasn’t sure from my reading what the lily divisions would look like. Would they be extra “cloves” on the outside of the bulb (as in Asiatic lilies) or would they be lots of little bulbs (as in daffodils)? When I finally got the plant lifted out of the ground, I didn’t really find either. Instead, I found lots of outer bulb scales that I had apparently obliterated in the process of trying to get my garden fork under the plant. Among them was one intact clove. I also found one miniscule bulblet hidden in the roots just under the soil line.
I’m not sure whether either the clove or the bulblet will actually grow into a plant, so I’ve planted them in my nursery bed to see what happens. I put the original bulb (or the two-thirds of it that was left) back into the ground and feel fairly confident that it will produce lilies next year for my older sister, who is taking over ownership of the mobile home. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the pieces I salvaged will grow and that years from now, after my mother is gone, my siblings and I will all be blessed each August by the beauty of my mother’s lily in our own gardens.