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 Prairie Lily Breeders: 

Herbert Sunley, Saskatoon, SK : Bruno Bear Hugs Lilies

NALS Yearbook 1994


  Everyone asks me about ‘Bold Knight. I don't blame them. It is a fine natural tetraploid with red outfacing blooms. I will start by telling about ‘Bold Knight’ and let that lead into my attraction to the genus. Oh yes, my nickname is Bruno and sometimes that includes, ‘Bruno the Bear’. This name was given to me once by a nurse in good fun and has been adopted by some of my friends for the humor value. Now, back to ‘Bold Knight’.

  Early in April of 1969, I decided to go visit Percy Wright. I wanted one or two roses for the south side of my backyard. I was pleased that Percy had little trouble digging up ‘Blanche de Coubert’ and ‘Ruth’, the two roses I purchased. These were bagged and we sat down on Percy's back stoop to enjoy the sun and talk about lilies.

  We were comparing notes about the lack of success in making certain crosses the summer before when Percy asked me if I would like some lily seed. "I wouldn't mind having some, if you have plenty to spare", I said, thinking about the lack of seed that we had just been talking about. Oh, he said, "I must tell you that it is old seed, some of which I harvested in 1961. It is sitting on the windowsill of the bedroom right above our heads. Do you still want it?"

  I said that I would give it a try even if it was old and Percy returned with several packets of his own seed. Most details were clear, but one packet had faded, illegible writing. I dubbed that package, “UNYI”, dutifully planted those seeds and was rewarded with two UNYI lilies. One eventually became ‘Bold Knight’. It was registered in 1971. In 1969, I harvested 269 bulbs and bulblets of ‘Bold Knight’ and it was thereafter offered for sale by Art Delahey of Riverside Gardens. It became fairly popular and I tried to breed with it. It didn't seem to set seed. At our 1984 NALS show, which our Regional CPLS hosted in Saskatoon, David Schultz told me that 'Bold Knight' was a tetraploid. Was I shocked, as I had been trying unsuccessfully to induce a tetraploid with colchicine. Here all the while, I had a natural one under my nose!

  Now as requested by your editor, I will tell you how lilies came into my life. About 1960 or 1961, I found bulbs of L. henryi and L. auratum at Early's Seed and Feed on Avenue A (now, Idylwyld Drive) in among the spring bulbs. I was hoping to find lily seed. I did not know about the North American Lily Society at that time. I remember having heard and read about L. regale; and it was the only trumpet lily I even had skimpy knowledge about. I had hoped to find a bulb of L. elegans or L. hollandicum (whose names I did not know) but which I had seen in many city gardens. I had to settle for L. henryi and L. auratum. These two bulbs were expensive to me then and cost all of $1.50 each and had been shipped from Holland. They probably looked good to me at the time, but now I would certainly consider them to be in bad shape.

  Into the ground they went, by the rose bushes in the front yard. They both struggled up in their weakened condition and bloomed and Bruno the Bear was very pleased. He promptly decided to cross the two sets of blooms. I do not have to tell you the results. They were crossed in late August when it was cool. The plants were weak. I couldn't have picked a pair of more unlikely lilies to try crossing.

  A disappointed Bear looked at the shriveled pods and said, "Bruno, what did you do wrong?"

  Next spring, the L. henryi came up strong and the weakened L. auratum came up late in 1961, but not at all in 1962. The irony of the whole situation was the fact that the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, which I had attended in the late 1940s had the world recognized hybridizer, Dr. Cecil E Patterson, on its faculty, in the Horticulture Department. Moreover, by 1962, I still had not heard of him. Fortunately, my next door neighbor was more fully informed than I. His name was Jim Hovell, a stationary engineer at the U of S Power House. In about July of 1963, he proudly pointed to his ‘Apricot Glow’ and asked me what I thought about it. I was fascinated by that gorgeous lily and pumped him daily for information and also about where I could get a bulb. Jim told me all about Dr. Patterson and his acres of lilies. In my mind, I still did not visualize that Dr. Patterson had acres of different colors and types of lilies. I only expected a few different orange ones in large clumps.

  It wasn't until 1964, that I learned that the U. of S. was selling about 20 different lily cultivars. That very fall, I met Laura Patterson, the widow of Dr. Cecil Patterson. She kindly acquainted me with the many hundreds of different seedlings her husband had bred in his home garden in the evenings. Laura gave me good advice on the breeding of lilies, and supplied me with breeding stock at extremely reasonable prices, until she sold her home to the Oblate Fathers. Then, Friar M. Doll became a good friend and we spent many hours together over lilies. Also in the autumn of 1964, Dr. S. Nelson, who was head of the U of S. Horticulture Department advised me that Bert Porter of Parkside, Saskatchewan and Dr. Frank Skinner of Dropmore, Manitoba, were two nurserymen growing lilies for sale. I wrote for a catalogue from each of them in the fall of 1964. 1 never looked back after that, so that by 1966, I had over 200 cultivars and several hundred of my own seedlings under trial. I also had about 50 different lilies from John Barber of Elfros, Saskatchewan.

 By 1967 and most years afterward, Bruno could be found in the lily patch, early in the morning, during noon hour, and in the evening up to dark from July to November. Of course being a Bear, I hibernated during the winter and dreamed of the summer and lilies.

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