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Fred Tarlton, Edmonton Alberta : Half a Century of Martagons

Eugene Fox, Millet, Alberta

The North American Lily Society Yearbook 1994


    I bet it was good fun to be in a class offered by Fred Tarlton. He was a teacher of mathematics and did stints as principal as well before he retired. It is always a pleasure to  be in the audience whenever Mr.Tarlton talks about lilies. He has such a great backlog of lily information and weaves humor galore into his lively presentations. Often his anecdotes are about himself or Helen, his life and gardening partner. Fred and Helen live in Edmonton, have a big backyard garden and since Fred sold his country acreage, even the front yard has become a perfect large garden of lilies.

    Fred was born in 1910 in Derbyshire, England, but has been a Canadian since the age of three. His father became a hardware merchant and tinsmith in Canada as a result of purchasing such a dual business on his arrival. Fred worked in the family business from an early age and prior to going to university. He often still creates exquisite trays and pots in galvanized tin to use to grow his seeds.

Fred credits two local plantsmen and hybridizers with igniting his passion for horticulture. These two were Georges Bugnet of fame for hybridizing roses and Robert Simonet of fame for many things, including creation of the double hollyhock and for Asiatic lilies. Fred thus had Asiatic lilies growing in his garden by 1950. He obtained some L. martagon var. album seed from an Eastern Canadian mail‑order firm in 1953. By the time 10 years had elapsed Fred had a very creditable collection of martagon species and martagon hybrids. He never neglected his Asiatic hybrids and continued to hybridize a few every year. He also pioneered growing various non‑native species lilies in Alberta from both purchased bulbs and seeds from NALS and other contacts. On the country acreage he also owned for a few decades, naturalized in among the trees of a small fruit tree orchard were healthy L. michiganense lilies. Beyond that, a colony of L duchartrei flourished and increased. Yellow and coral forms of Lpumilum often appeared. Right into the aspen or poplar woods on the property, some L. martagons volunteered from strewn seed. Other species grew there over the years such as L. canadense. Some of the other species he managed to flower from either seed or bulb acquisitions were: Ll. cernuum, concolor, davidii, lankongense, candidum, wilsonii, formosanum var. pricei, szovitzianum, monadelphum and kesselringianum to mention but a few.

    Before Mr. Tarlton's efforts with species no one had any idea what would persist in Alberta where winter temperatures can plunge to 45 below zero F. or C. At the acreage, rows of Asiatic seedlings were in a constant state of flux always as bulb increases were dug and given away to gardening friends or in later years to the bulb sales of the Alberta Regional of which Fred was a founding member. Since there was no home on the acreage Fred had constructed a garage to provide cover and storage for his tools and rotovator and under which to escape summer rain squalls. Martagon hybrid beds were likewise changing constantly. They varied in location and quantity and type as Fred planted new seedlings yearly and selected some exquisite hybrids for registration or prolonged observation. For a few years, a huge bed of trumpets graced that property while Fred pursued isolating some healthy and hardy trumpet stock. Diligently, he gathered trumpet seed from many sources which he grew and planted out. Those that survived the winters were crossed and eventually some very hardy trumpets were created. This observer can still close his eyes and see Fred standing beside a large bed of 6 feet tall pink trumpets with startlingly deep coloring and sweet fragrance. Fred has registered several Asiatic hybrids and several martagon hybrids. His yellow upfacing lily, 'Amulet', is a clean sulfur yellow not exactly duplicated in any other modern yellow. When Fred was doing the breeding work on 'Amulet', it is worth noting that there were no widely available yellow upfacing Asiatic hybrids on the market. Another fine Asiatic clone that many enjoyed over the years was 'Corianne'. 'Corianne' is a white with cherry pink petal tips. The aspect is upfacing and the petals are broad and flat. In the martagon lines, the blackberry red, 'Sarcee' is incomparable in deepness of flower color and in the decorative foliage whorls. He has many others such as the pink, 'Attiwa', which will attain 6 ft and yield 30 or more blooms when established. Another favorite is 'Charlene' which is a tall yellow martagon hybrid that has all the graces and purity of color.

    It was a long drive from his city residence to the country acres and the time came a year or more ago to consolidate. Fred sold his rural holding and moved everything he could to his city yard and to the commercial fields of Marvin Joslin at Spruce Grove. Fred continues to hybridize martagons and to make crosses on a few other types of lilies and plants as well. One of his aims is to breed some martagons which regularly have secondary buds. Hearing of such a lily in a grower's garden, Fred hopped in his vehicle and drove more than 80 miles to secure some pollen from that promising martagon. Once back home, he pollinated some of his own martagon hybrids with the newly acquired pollen. Consider that Fred had to wait for the seeds to form, await the pods to dehisce, then plant the epigeal seed. He also had to give the seed a warm, simulated summer, a cold, simulated winter and then caretake the vulnerable baby seedlings for 5 or 6 years before the first bloom. It is quite a 7 or 8 year undertaking.

    Given the fact that Fred was 80 years old at the start of the project gives a perspective on this dynamic lily man. Fred is still an agile, compact man who double­ spades parts of his yard to make ideal lily beds. He knows the genus and species names of every plant he grows on sight. His generosity with plant material is delightful. He was given the "Mentor Award" by the Alberta Regional Lily Society in recognition of his huge role in giving a start in lilies to so many.


Note: Fred Tarlton was awarded at the NALS 2003 show the E. H. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to the genus lilium.

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