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My Encounters with Jean Ericksen

by Barrie Strohman


On September the 25th Jean Ericksen peacefully passed away in her sleep. On__ her desk lay four finished letters which would be posted later by her son Marius. Already in the outgoing mail was a letter to a man who had never meet Jean but who was a recipient of the Jean Ericksen Award at the local regional lily show. There was a letter for my son Nigel suggesting an article for a future newsletter and a letter that I will tell you about later.

Jean was a prolific letter writer. Over the years she corresponded with folks throughout the world, Lords and Ladies, lily explorers, both amateur and professional lily hybridizers lily people and nurserymen and thus became affectionately dubbed "the Lily Lady of Saskatchewan". It was close to twenty years ago that I felt it was time to meet this intriguing lady and view the results of what she was accomplishing. After a two-hour drive, we were most graciously welcomed, enjoyed her western style hospitality and were not let leave to go home without being treated to a home cooked meal prepared on her wood stove. This was after we had visited a while, toured her lily garden which contained many species, Asiatics, martagons, Caucasian, trumpets and seedling batches of all kinds. Of course, Jean said "bring that shovel" and what ensued was the digging up of several specimens that she thought we should have plus the dishes of some started seedlings. What was intended to be an hour visit ended up to being a most enjoyable 6‑7 hour stay. As we were leaving a carton of fresh country eggs was thrust into our hands as a parting gift. This first meeting turned into a close friendship and resulted in sojourns to Jeans on a basis of two or three times a year. Of course, we would take some new lily cultivars in pots or as bulbs but Jean would always best us with some "treasures" she had and a carton or 2 of eggs as a parting gift. What was to be an hour visit always ended in us driving home in the dark and always with a warm feeling in our hearts towards this loving sharing person. Whether it was Joyce and I, Nigel and I or others visiting with her, Jean would always make sure we have a cup of tea before we would leave but then she would bustle around and a meal would appear as well. Over the years we got to know and appreciate a little about this diminutive bundle of energy, her accomplishments, her deeds and her contacts with those of the lily world. Most certainly a book of her life could be written but I am sure it would be expanded to several volumes.

Jean was the recipient of many prestigious awards in the horticultural and especially in the lily world. On every occasion, she felt that she was not deserving of such but that others were more so. Such was her humbleness. On one occasion I had the distinct privilege and pleasure to present her with one of these awards. It was the New Zealand Lily Society's medal of honor given in recognition of her sharing of seeds and information and her work in promoting the genus lilium. Jean graciously accepted it as she said in a small measure for myself but in a greater degree to all those wonderful lily people who have shared so many things with me. This I think describes Jean to a tee.

It was several years after this in 2000 that Claire Patten and Stuart Bennet from New Zealand came through on their quest to meet this charming lady and to see if they could also see the native L philadelphicum. Dr. Reg Gallop brought them out and we proceeded with a bucket of chicken toward Jeans along Highway 8. Here we were able to photograph the lily in the ditches and meadows and arrived at Jeans to enjoy the chicken, a cup of tea and a slice of home made saskatoon pie. Jean was overwhelmed that they would come all that way to see her. The folks were overwhelmed by her hospitality and I was overwhelmed by being part of the occasion. All in all, an overwhelming day! This was but one of the many experiences in Jeans life. Her activities can be summed up in her words. "My adventures with lilies have been as a whole been a rewarding labor of love crowded into a work schedule that could have easily kept three people on the run. As a child less than three years old, I experienced the newly opened prairie lands and recall the pastures of virgin grasses. Each July the prairies were red with the native lily and each year I was scolded for having pollen all over my nose and pinafore spread there as I smelled the unique perfume of its flowers." When she concludes with "I have grown and given and enjoyed and originated lilies due really to generous and wonderful people who have been my friends through the years. I have tried to pass on their fellowship by sharing in seeds and information." I really think this is the epitome of Jean and I count it as a special blessing to have been her friend. 

Oh yes that final letter, well it was to me and it will be a reminder that she will always be with us in our shared experiences.

Jean leaves a legacy of 38 Asiatic hybrids, 8 Aurelian and 17 martagons that are registered with the RHS plus countless other seedlings in gardens around the world. As a testimony to her, several lily societies have awards in their show schedules that bear her name.