Lunn's lillies

Cedar Rapids woman grows nearly 600 lily varieties

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“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” — (Luke 12:22-34)

CEDAR RAPIDS — They may not be the proverbial “lilies of the field” but they are still clothed in that glorious raiment so heralded in the biblical quotation. And the lilies are in glorious abundance in the spacious yard of Wanda and Bill Lunn at 526 Bezdek Drive NW.

Wanda Lunn, an International Lily Show judge, excels in border gardening. The perimeter of the half-acre Lunn yard boasts all manner of lilies, from daylilies with their regular root systems, lasting only as long as their namesake day, to the classic “true lilies” that are grown from bulbs and bloom for five to seven days.

The lilies go from “shorties” of a few inches to some that can spiral to 8 and 9 feet. Their colors play out in a panoply of beauty, running from elegant whites and ivories to, shall we say, Mae West throw-caution-to-the-winds explosions of color: bright crimson, roaring scarlet, buttercup yellow, vibrant purple, lively tangerines and knock-your-socks-off electric pink.

A softer color palette is seen in delicate lavenders, pale yellows, soft pinks, and, of course, the pristine whites. “I’m partial to the pinks and the roses because you don’t get that in daylilies,” Lunn says.

Even the blossoms have variety, ranging from the small yellow daylily “Baby Tiger Paws” to Georgia O’Keeffe-size blossoms in the raspberry-colored true lily “Esta Bonita,” which at 3 feet “is still a baby,” Lunn says, smiling. “It’ll get to be 6 to 7 feet tall.”

Lunn has 269 types of true lilies, 325 kinds of daylilies, and more than 300 kinds of iris (she’s also an iris expert.) The true lilies include Asiatic, Oriental, martagons, species, trumpets, orienpets and more. However, she says, “there’s much more diversity in shape and height and color in true lilies than in daylilies.”

And to show she’s not a lily snob, she displays that good ol’ Iowa staple: peonies — 30 varieties.

There’s a lot to learn in the lily world (did you know there are upfacing/downfacing and outfacing true lilies? The clever little nippers face in each of those directions!) Lunn’s expertise is seen in her background as an accredited lily judge who has judged five International Lily Shows, the last one being a coup for Iowa. It took place in West Des Moines in late June. The previous one that Iowa hosted was in 1987. Attendees in 2013 came from England, Holland, Korea, Canada, and the United States.

What does it take to be a successful lily gardener?

“No bunnies — and patience,” Lunn says with a laugh. “Rabbits love lilies. And you need to know where to put lilies. Some need sun, others shade, some need to be staked. …. Iowa has ideal weather for lilies: Usually plenty of rain and lots of sun — and fertile soil.”

But lilies are not her only flower interest. She’s also a member of the national Historic Iris Preservation Society, and is one of its 40 display gardens. She has an annual open garden for the public in May. She grows historic iris dating back to 1840 through the 1940s, besides more modern iris.

“My great-grandmother taught me how to garden,” says the 63-year-old gardener. “I planted my first iris when I was 3 years old.”

The horseshoe-shaped Lunn garden is not all lilies and iris. Scattered throughout for visual interest are red geraniums, the dainty blue forget-me-nots, a bushy low sedum, a shady hosta area, and several stunning clematis, including one purple beauty accenting a corner of the garden.

Also sprinkled throughout are some whimsical garden sculptures: a fierce dragon draped in silver beads, a dog holding a basket and a resting ange/ For a good touch of humor there’s a sea serpent “undulating” in and out of the ground, and at the end of the garden — just before a person hits the road — is a gargoyle riding a motorcycle.

That was a gift from Lunn to her husband, Bill, on their 25th anniversary some years ago, a tribute to the couple’s love of riding their Harley-Davidson.

In the early spring and late summer, Lunn spends a lot of time each day with her flowers, but during the summer, normally “just” a couple hours a day. However, she spends another hour taking pictures of the individual lilies for her photo albums. When new ones go in the album, the old ones come out — to be made into colorful note cards.

It’s not just the flowers. She loves mowing, too.

“I’ve mowed once since last summer,” says Bill Lunn, 58.

For Lunn, gardening “is very calming and very rewarding. It teaches you to live season by season instead of day by day …. I help the neighbors out, too. And little children in the neighborhood come to gather bouquets.”

Her favorite lily?

“Whatever opened this morning,” she says, laughing.

Asked about the biggest compliment she’s ever received on her garden, Lunn replies that ‘Some people say ‘It looks like heaven.’ Well, with the lily scent, it can smell like heaven, too.”

One incident that sticks out in her mind happened in her iris garden at an open garden day about five years ago.

“A gentleman came, stopped, paused and just stared at the iris,” she says. “He stared for so long I became alarmed, thinking maybe he had a health problem. I asked if I could help him. When I looked closely, though, there were tears running down his face. He said ‘You’re growing iris that my grandmother and great-grandmother grew and I haven’t had these memories for decades.’ He was here for about an hour-and-a-half, just savoring it all.”

Savoring. That’s what gardens are all about.

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