Remembering American Garden Writer Helen Morgenthau Fox and her Love of Lilies


January 13, 1974

Today is the anniversary of the death of the American botanist, garden lecturer, and garden writer Helen Morgenthau Fox.

In 1928, Helen wrote Garden Cinderellas: How to Grow Lilies in the Gardenand Harvard’s Ernest Henry Wilson wrote the forward to this book.

Helen shared two stories in this book that made me smile.

First, Helen discussed conducting research at the Department of Agriculture in Washington.

In the library of the Department of Agriculture at Washington, I found all that has ever been published on Lilies to the present time.

At my request, the valuable old herbals, botanies, and flower monographs were piled on my desk as nonchalantly as if they were so many newly published novels. It was a privilege to touch the creamy, rough surface of such famous old herbals as Parkinson or Clusius and read their quaint descriptions.

One day I had Redouté’s “Les Liliacés (The Lilies)” in my hands, and when I found it contained only a few of the true Lilies. I felt quite like the fox in the fable because the price has always kept it way out of my reach.


Helen also shared that she had sent a survey to determine which Lilies were being grown across the United States. The survey responses paved the way for Helen to make new friends, and she shared an experience familiar to most gardeners: making new friends while looking at flowers.

Sending out the questionnaire made many new friends for me, and I was delighted to come across a lady who was growing washingtonianum ("Washington-ee-AYE-num"), parryi ("PARE-ee-eye"), japonicum ("jah-PON-uh-kum" (From Japan)), brownii ("BROWN-ee-eye"), and other generally difficult Lilies very successfully in western New York.

My Lily friends were most kind, and one of them telegraphed me when the neilgherrense ("Nil-guh-ree-EN-see") was in flower in his garden since he knew I had not seen it. So I traveled to Washington to look at the visitor from far away, blooming as if quite at home in this strange country. There, on a broiling July day, three Lily fans generously spent hours showing their treasures and explaining to a stranger, whose only bond was a mutual love of flowers, what they had done and especially what they hoped to accomplish.


Note: The Neilgherrense Lily is native to the Nilgiri hills in India. The term Nilgiri is Tamil for the Blue Mountains. The strikingly blue color of the hills is attributed to the bloom of a shrub, Strobilanthes kunthiana ("stroe-bih-LAN-theez Coon-tee-AYE-nah").  

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Helen Morgenthau Fox
Helen Morgenthau Fox
Helen Morgenthau Fox
Helen Morgenthau Fox

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