By Tom Poland
The flowers you see here need no introduction. Nonetheless, I will give them one. They are stargazer lilies. Their fragrance is a subtle floral trace yet intoxicating and if their pollen touches a white blouse or shirt a yellow stain results, one impossible to remove.
I rescued the flowers from my late Mom’s yard. I was checking her place for storm damage Sunday, June 23, when I spotted stargazers blooming along the front yard’s fence line. Were she alive those blooms would have been in a vase gracing her table. Abandoned strays, I rescued them. I cut a stalk with a flower in full bloom and two soon to open and ferried them across the Savannah to my place.
Stargazer, such a lovely name. Mysterious and majestic. I’m no botanist but I can research things. Lillium stargazer, a hybrid, belongs to the Oriental group. People often label stargazer lilies incorrectly as “Rubrum” lilies. Rubrums’ flowers point toward the ground. That nod earthward gave people the notion the blooms had wilted. Leslie Woodriff, a lily breeder in California, did something about that. In 1974, he developed a lily that looks up. Thus, did he name it stargazer; its blooms face the sky.
Flowers and family make a memorable tandem. Back when my parents were alive, their yards bloomed throughout spring and summer. From daffodils to stargazers to butterfly bushes to rose bushes to snowballs and crepe myrtles, you could count on seeing color, bees, butterflies, and birds in their yards. To me it seemed a paradise and it was, but no more. With apologies to English poet John Milton, I best describe my parent’s yards today as paradise lost.
How easy to spot a home where no one lives. The house itself can look as it did when people lived in it, but mournful yards betray it. The loving hands that wielded mowers, shears, hoses, and weed eaters are no more. Some plants turn feral and take over the place. Weeds choke others. Like their owners, some die.
A few weeks ago, I pruned shrubs and pulled Virginia creeper from my parent’s home. That helped its appearance, but I could do little for the roses, overtaken by grass and weeds. I could, however, rescue the lilies. It was like having my parents back one more time. You see, Mom used to cut a few lilies each June and send them home with me. She and Dad finally gave me my own stargazer bulbs to grow and I did. For years, they bloomed until men cleared a nearby forest. Uprooted deer spread out and discovered my yards. They’ve eaten the blooms for five straight years. So far this summer deer have not come to munch on the blooms. Fingers crossed. (I don’t believe Mom knew that her lilies could kill bloom-eating cats. She loved Tiger and Socks more than her flowers and yet she brought the toxic blooms inside.)
My stargazers are blooming. Staring into the sky, they add a touch of paradise to my yard. I’ve holding my breath that deer don’t rob me of their wonderful blooms, hopeful that paradise blesses my yards for the first time in five years. And I look forward to the day when other loving hands restore my late parent’s yards to their rightful beauty, a place of blooms aplenty.
Tom’s work appears in publications throughout the South. His books include South Carolina Country Roads, Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II. He writes about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and culture. He’s member of the SC Humanities Speaker’s Bureau. Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom for his body of work on South Carolina. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Georgia. He lives in Irmo, South Carolina.