The Lilies of McKinleyville

McKinleyville, and just north, where the old town of Crannel lies, is located at the same latitude as Barcelona, Spain. This means that the area has the same potential light which, combined with the cooling ocean current, creates conditions that benefit bulb crops. Even in the winter months the mild climate is ideal, as the previous bulb growers proved. Mr. Ward, in his catalog, extolled the virtues of the climate and soil for his bulbs and other ornamentals. The Easter Lily growers filled a demand and were also successful.

Henrietta Hartman continued to grow for the industry into the 80's on her acreage at Dows Prairie, the mild climate nurturing open fields of daffodils. Dorothea Birnie remembers Henrietta's generosity in sharing her cut flowers for local church and club functions. There were a few other growers, but not of the magnitude as in previous years.

There was a new era of bulb growing to come for McKinleyville. In the late 60's a company came down from Myrtle Point, Oregon to grow daffodils and iris and the beginning of lilies in the Arcata Bottoms. The name was Sun Valley Bulb Farms. Mr. Ted Kirsch, co-owner with one Mr. Laird, had developed his own way to precool daffodil bulbs, called "forcing". This enabled the flowers to be ready earlier in the year.

In the late 60's Mr. Leslie Woodriff moved to McKinleyville from Oregon. Woodriff came to Humboldt county to work for Sun Valley Bulb Farms. The bulb stock he brought with him was  acquired by Sun Valley. Woodriff's passion was hybridizing oriental lilies.   For a period of time Woodriff worked with Kirsch as a hybridizer at Sun Valley.

After leaving Sun Valley, Woodriff went back to what he loved best, hybridizing Begonias and Lilies as an independent grower. One day he had observed a oriental lily with a up-facing bloom which opened to reveal a vivid pink with white border. This lily was given the name "Stargazer" and it is now widely grown in the floral industry. Other hybrid lilies in cultivation today were also created by Woodriff, and he became famous for his lily and begonia hybrids. He also developed the Black Beauty Lily which became the first lily to be entered into the Lily Hall of Fame.

StargazerIn l990 the Dutch Horticultural Society Advisory Service named a new lily "Woodriff's Memory" in honor of his achievements. Leslie Woodriff died February 13, 1997 in McKinleyville at the age of 87. (The lily shown in the picture is the "Stargazer", an oriental hybrid lily, upright and very fragrant, very popular in the floral industry).

Kirsch and Laird sold the Sun Valley Bulb Farms to Oregon Bulb Farms. With one farm in Oregon and one in Arcata they were the largest daffodil grower in the area. Greenhouse  growing of fresh cut flowers began in the 70's and the operation began expansion in the 80's.

Acquired in the late 80's by a Dutch flower business, the name was changed to Sun Valley Floral Farms. Cultivation of oriental hybrid lilies began in earnest. In the 1990's, 1,500,000 square feet (or about 37 acres) of state-of -the-art computerized, environmentally-controlled greenhouses and 110,000 square feet of warehouse space with 65,000 square feet of cooler space was added. Today Sun Valley is the leading large grower of greenhouse lilies in the nation, producing lilies fifty-two weeks per year. Other crops are Tulips, Iris, Daffodils and Montbretia. This year was the first year for Hyacinth production. Sun Valley is a international commercial grower but is very involved in the community and hosts a annual open house in July.

What of private growers? Are there any left in McKinleyville? Well yes, there is the Fog Belt Growers, whose name comes from the long summer fogs along the coast. So this area has one international floral grower and one independent specialty grower. Both Sun Valley and Fog Belt stress that they use biological controls for pests. 

Bill Weigle, Fog Belt GrowersMr. Bill Weigle, shown in the photo with his cut oriental lilies for the commercial market has been growing lilies since 1980, and grows for specialty shops in New York, California, Montana, Pennsylvania to name a few.  One of the Lilies he will have ready for market in June is the one hybridized by Woodriff, the 'Black Beauty'. Weigle does do some hybridizing of his own and perhaps he too will create a lily to add to the fame of the lilies of McKinleyville.

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