Who was your first?


This hybrid is an L. auratum copycat.

Many of the gardeners I know have a specific reason they first became interested in gardening. Sometimes it’s a particular plant. My friend Gordon, now the owner of a showplace garden that overflows with two ponds, multiple vines, shrubs and perennials and annuals seemingly on steroids got into it because he wanted water lilies. I suspect my friend Cheryl might never have established a garden had her husband not wanted tomatoes, and I know many people who got into gardening to grow roses. (They usually get over it.)

From the first time I saw one and knew it for what it was, not just a big flower in a bouquet, I was enchanted by the idea of growing oriental lilies. When I started my present garden, I rushed right out and bought a stargazer plant, which was pretty much the only kind the local nurseries had at that time. Then I learned about mail order and bookmarked every single place that sold the bulbs. I tried Madonna lilies (candidum), which bloomed once and never again, and asiatics, which failed to thrive in partial shade and heavy clay.

It turned out that species types like martagon and henryi, trumpets, orienpets, and several oriental hybrids were the best fit for my garden.

This is an orienpet whose name I have forgotten.

I don’t think I would have flung myself so passionately into gardening if it had not been for lilies; indeed, the garden wouldn’t look like much without them (mainly because I have so many and can’t plant too much where they are in fear of gouging them).

Whatever our gardens turn out to be though, I think there is usually one element that starts the ball rolling, whether it’s a small herb plot that expanded or a inspirational bearded iris or peony that deserved better companions.

Trumpet, orienpet, and hybrids, all blooming at once. Usually there’s a progression.

I think of this now because for whatever reason, I have so many different lilies blooming at once.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I think my first love was the soil…I just had to dig and it seemed that as long as I was digging I might as well plant something.

  2. Who was my first? Well, there was this boy in first gr… wait, you’re talking about flowers, right? My first would be a lowly six pack of annuals, probably marigolds, that my dad let me plant myself using a kitchen spoon, when I was about in first grade.

  3. I’ve learned so much about lilies this summer. When I have the space, lilies will definitely take up a large part of any future gardens. Yours are beautiful.

  4. My first were hybrid tree roses; I got over them quickly. Then came hostas, after that I branched out to anything that would thrive in my midwestern garden, especially native plants. But this year I fell in love with bearded iris and now I am collecting daylilies. Basically, I now love everything. But I am so missing the bees. Working in the garden without that lovely “buzzing” on a summer afternoon is so sad for me.

  5. Delphs were my first. And now, lo and behold, they grow like giants around my garden. I think my spidey sense somehow knew they’d thrive in my fussy garden.

  6. Nothing in particular got me INTO gardening but I’ve gone through a few stages of collecting plants, then getting sick of them for some reason. Astilbes, hostas and day lilies come to mind but there are many others.

  7. It started with a few sad phalaenopsis orchids inherited by my bf a few years ago. Just looking up how to care for them on the internet hooked me on orchids (the collection rapidly grew to 50+, thanks ebay…) and the love of all plants grew from there. I truly went off the deep end with the purchase of my first house just about a year ago. Having actual dirt to plant in made all the difference.

  8. I started with food, actually. My first garden consisted of the following herbs and veggies: 3 kinds of tomatoes, peppers, 2 kinds of oregano, chives, and 4 kinds of basil. I planted some echinacea in with the herbs with a vague awareness that they had some herbal use (not that I’ve ever used them, though) and I planted some marigolds along the outside because I’d heard that they help keep the garden pest-free.

    From there I dug a little deeper into companion planting, redid the front foundation planting to get rid of some horrendously overgrown yews… and now, at this new house, I have very little grass and almost all garden. And the eggplants are mixed in with grasses and perennials, and quite a few herbs are used as pretty groundcovers, and I’m a total mishmash gardening addict.

  9. For me, it was moving into the country and have an old home that needed flowers, than trees, than rock walls and picket fences, then more shrubs and than I discovered hostas and daylilies. 11 years later, I realized I have a garden to drink coffee and wander around in the morning. The best part is that there is always something new to see.

  10. My first garden was a patch of annuals on an apartment patio, but my first perennials in my first house were foxglove. They’re still my favorite, though I share Elizabeth’s fondness for those tall, fragrant lilies.

  11. Oh, my. I was digging in my grandparents’ galvanized washtub garden (basil, tomatoes, peppers, garlic) when I was about 4 years old. I had to work in my parents large garden, and that almost cured me. But then I got out on my own. I started with large houseplants on my balcony in my Colorado apartment. Then, when I bought a house, it was spring bulbs and other things. When I moved to the mid-Atlantic, it was impatiens – I had a shady back yard in my townhouse, and the darn things seeded themselves and took over. And I loved them for it. I also grew tomatoes in the one sunny corner. When I bought a home, it was everything, just everything. I suppose my favorites were basil, rosemary and cottage garden plants. Oh, and daylilies. And orientals. Today, in my “new” home, it’s hosta, lilies and grasses. And basil. It’s the one constant, so I guess it was my “first.”

  12. Beautiful lilies! I started gardening because of herbs. I bought my first two on a bargain table and was hooked. I had to have more, and it just took off from there.

  13. Iris, iris, iris. They’d been my favorite flower for as long as I can remember, and I was so excited when we bought a house and I could actually grow my own!

  14. It actually wasn’t anything i planted but rather something I discovered when i bought my firstt house in CA. The large garden had been abandoned years prior and was a mess. What looked like huge a dead vine wrapped around a old pergola turned out to be a 60 year old chinese wisteria. Blew my mind in April and set off a chain reaction of garden craziness that will never end.

  15. My grandmother took me to a garden featuring old garden roses somewhere in the greater Sacramento area–perhaps in the gold country, perhaps in Sacramento proper. I don’t remember where it was, but that was all it took–I was hooked for life. I don’t grow all that many roses (if you count maybe 20 varieties total “not all that many”) because I’ve degenerated into a total flower floozy. I have yet to meet a genus or species I don’t crave. And of course, I have to try ALL of them.

    After planting a bulb 5 years ago and wondering if it would ever bloom, I at last have a Crinum blooming in my garden. Now I need more of them. Of course. I am determined to successfully grow a Hamamelis as well–I’ve now killed two of them. Hey–I still have one more failure before I’ll allow myself to give up.

    Earlier today I had resolved to not return to the home I share with my mother after I graduate with a new degree in two years; that Crinum reminded me why I stay. Until I can acquire an adjoining property to this one, I know I won’t be able to leave. I can leave my family, my friends, even my beloved cats, but I can’t leave my garden.

  16. I’ve read they can be invasive in places and people hate dead heading them, but my Mom’s Buddleia bush got me into gardening. I loved how it was airy and just covered in butterflies.

  17. Herbs. I was 16, suddenly taken with the idea of not eating meat, and my newfound vegetarian ways were extremely bland without some kind of seasoning. I’m no longer vegetarian, but my present garden still is pretty heavy with herbs, though they’re interspersed among flowers, shrubs, and vegetables.

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