Reading a whole book called Lily may not intrigue you at first glance but take a look and you will be amazed at how interesting the subject is. Author, Marcia Reiss, starts out by telling us that if the lily were a person it would be diagnosed with multiple personalities and she proves her point as she traces the cultural and social impact of the lily in art, literature, mythology, religion, horticulture, and popular culture from ancient to modern times. Although focusing on true lilies, she includes plants that bear the name lily such as water lily, calla lily, and lily of the valley.
After defining what she means by lily, Reiss goes on discuss the presence of the lily in civilizations from its appearance in the wall paintings in Knossus on Crete c1550 BC to new lilies be found in China in the last ten years. She traces the role of lilies in the gardens that had the greatest influence on Western design ending with Vincent Callebaut’s ‘Lily Pad City’ a model for a floating self-contained city designed like a mega-size water lily pad that would accommodate 50,000 people. Amazing!
Reiss discusses the changes that occurred in botanical illustration in response to historical events and new interests and needs, and then takes up the mythology associated with the flower touching on the origin of the milky way as well as the association of the lily with purity, chastity, and the Virgin Mary. We learn that female horses are more likely to receive garlands of lilies when they win while male counterparts receive garlands of roses, and that the calla lily went from a symbol of female innocence to the sexual flower of the twentieth century as seen in the works of Georgia O’Keeffe. Reiss notes the importance of the lily in dealing with the mysteries of life, hope, death, and the reminds us of the take-charge attitude of the tiger lily in Alice and Wonderland. She points out the value of the lily in herbal medicine and concludes with reasons why you should consider eating the bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, buds, and flowers of lilies with caveats for doing so.
If you have lilies in the garden or enjoy them in the vase this is a book you will enjoy. It is filled with historical facts, entertaining anecdotes, and lots of illustrations many of which are not widely available. A great read for anyone interested in horticultural history or who just love lilies.