Last night I had the chance to watch the documentary First Flower, that aired Tuesday on PBS. I was reminded of the story of English botanist Ernest Henry Wilson. Wilson is credited with discovering Lilium regale while on a trip to China sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. While collecting Lily bulbs Wilson's expedition was hit by a landslide and his leg was broken by a boulder. He splinted his leg and was about to make his way out of the area when a mule train came down the narrow path they were using. Not being able to move Wilson decided to lay on the ground and hope that the 50 mules would step over him.
Luckily for Wilson the mules stepped over him and he narrowly avoided having to have his leg amputated but for the rest of his life he walked with a limp that he affectionately called his-"Lily limp."
I have no idea how many gardeners remember this story or were even aware of it but the next time you're planting bulbs or anything else that you ordered on-line or bought wrapped in plastic at your favorite garden center think about the people who made it possible. If you're interested in learning more about the history behind popular plants in the garden I recommend reading "100 Flowers And How they Got Their Names" by Diana Wells. It's a small book and can probably be checked out of your library and read in an afternoon.
Do you have a "Lily limp" story? The closest thing I have to a story like Wilson's comes from my college days when I would hop a train and bus to the nearest garden center. One particular day I got the urge to buy a houseplant right as a snow storm was approaching. I put on a couple of sweaters and two winter coats so I could stuff the plants I bought under my coat to keep them from freezing as I waited for the bus and train.
On the trip home with plants firmly held under my coats I had to wait for an hour and a half at an uncovered bus stop. As the snow began to pile up around my feet and my toes began to go numb I told myself that if I managed to make it home without freezing to death I wouldn't ever go out looking to buy new plants if a storm was coming. I have yet to keep that promise to myself. If some spring you read a story of a guy being discovered in Chicago beneath a melted snow bank frozen solid clutching a houseplant that will probably be me.
If you want to read about a modern day bulb hunter see this entry from last July.