(The first flower on Lilium Henryi or Henry’s Lily)
By flowering in Adelaide on January 17th it helps connect me in 2016 to a man who could not be further removed from me even if he tried. This man was the Irish plantsman and China expert Augustine Henry. He worked from 1881 as a doctor in Shanghai, China. In 1882 he was sent to the interior to study plants used by Chinese herbalists. By the end of his Chinese sojourn, he had collected over 15000 specimens for Kew Gardens. 5000 new plants were among these. Among them was an orange lily that he discovered in the limestone gorge country of Hubei, home to the massive Three Gorges Dam. My lily is descended in a sense from that distant plant, both in terms of years as well as physical miles. As I look at the flower, I wish I had met Henry, who was a man of science who also knew Yeats and Shaw and retired from China as a Mandarin. In England he helped to set up departments of forestry at a number of universities.
Even though this lily can grow up to eleven feet tall, it hasn’t done badly in a pot in half shade here. Perhaps it will feel at home and reach full potential if I plant it in the limestone soils of Adelaide after it finishes flowering for this season.