Friday, July 1, 2011

Perhaps the most famous lily of all...

"Star Gazer" 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beloved "Star Gazer" lily which is blooming right now next to a bench in our vegetable garden. This morning I noticed a hummingbird fluttering around it. Despite the location being shaded most of the day, it has performed nicely here for years. The only requirement is a stake to keep the winds and storms from knocking it down.

This lily has quite a history, filled with legal issues, tainted friendships and lost fortunes. Leslie Woodriff, of Brookings, Oregon was passionate about hybridizing oriental lilies and begonias but a little disorganized and short on business sense. Enter businessman Ted Kirsch, who created Sun Valley Farms in the late 60s in Arcata, California. Kirsch recognized Woodriff's talent and offered him and his family jobs at his nursery in exchange for his lily collection. Woodriff, in dire financial straits and suffering from health problems, took him up on the offer.

Woodriff's lily collection was cultivated at Sun Valley Farms and Kirsch quickly saw potential in the lily that would become the world famous "Star Gazer". He applied for a patent in 1976 for although he credited Woodriff as the lily's creator, he had bought the collection and the rights to name and patent them. 

Relations between the two turned sour when Kirsch fired Woodriff less than a year after their agreement. Kirsch stated that Woodriff and his family were unemployable, failed to take orders from supervisors, never showed up for work on time and were removing lilies from the premises. Woodriff filed a breach of contract stating the contrary. In the spring of 1974, a judge awarded the Woodriffs $5,000 in recognition of transferred property but rejected the Woodriff's claim that the lily collection could generate great profits in the future.

The saga ended bleakly for Woodriff who felt that he had been cheated out of the "Star Gazer" fortune but Ted Kirsch didn't get rich either. He sold 3,000 bulbs to a Dutch company for $15,000 in 1976 but, in a written contract, agreed not to apply for grower's rights in Holland. The Dutch went on to sell millions of the lily without having to pay royalties to Kirsch.

Kirsch and Woodriff died within one year of each other, Kirsch in 1996 and Woodriff in 1997. There are 36 million "Star Gazer" lilies sold annually.

If you'd like to read more about this fascinating story, check out "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

16 comments:

  1. Ah bulbs, you can always rely on the Dutch to sell bulbs with gusto. They turned tulips into a currency at one point in history.

    Stargazer is justifibly popular.

    That's such a sharp image you've taken by the way.

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  2. I didn't know this story. I am glad you brought it to our attention. I just love this lily. It has stained more than one blouse and tablecloth at my house. It smells so good too.

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  3. Piękna Ci ona ,,uwielbiam ich piękno i dostojność .....pozdrawiam Bogusia.

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  4. Beautiful... our lilies should open any minute now! I haven't checked on them this afternoon but it's 105 heat index and i suspect that should be an encouragement to them! Larry

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  5. That has to be the most beautiful lily I have ever seen. No wonder it has sold millions. I have a space for them in my back garden. When do I plant lilies, spring or fall?

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  6. It is stunning!

    I moved my 'Starfighter' (a sibling) beside my monarda 'Raspberry Wine' but the bee balm bloomed early and the lily still hasn't bloomed. So much for timing! Maybe next year!

    Do you grow regal lily? It's supposed to be deer resistant, maybe because it grows so tall? LOL

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  7. I'm still waiting on mine to bloom. Looks like maybe another week or so. Mary

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  8. What a sob story, it sucks when creative people don't get to profit from their genius, due to bad business sense or just plain bad luck. Thanks for sharing, your Stargazers are stunning!

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  9. I can almost smell these thru the screen! I love stargazers (heck I love all lilies!)

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  10. Plants coming from a long line of vultures :)

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  11. Great history lesson. I just love them in the garden where the fragrance can spread out without harming anyone's delicate fragrance issues.

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  12. I'll remember it as the flower at our wedding, and not part of an ugly, but fascinating story.

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  13. So interesting. I grew it for years, but I guess the heat finally made it disappear. I do love it though.~~Dee

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  14. Interesting story... didn't sound like either man had a whole lot of business sense..

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