Garden Photo of the Day

Trial, Error, and LOTS of Lilies!

Hard work built this beautiful garden

Today we’re visiting Doug and Elaine Downing’s garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

We live in a historic home originally built for the employees of Longwood Gardens. When we first came here, the plot had some large red elms (Ulmus rubra, Zones 3–9) on the street, an enormous Norway maple (Acer platanoides, Zones 4–9) overshadowing the house, a few struggling bushes, and a sandbox. With a lot of trial and error, we’ve built a garden full of lilies, daffodils, irises, roses, and flowering trees that has interest every season of the year.

The pergola is flanked by rows of ‘Stella D’oro’ daylilies (Hemerocalis ‘Stella D’oro’, Zones 4–11) and is completely covered with trumpet vine (Campsis radicans ‘Flava’, Zones 4–9) and Kiwi vines (Actinidia deliciosa ‘Pasha’, Zones 6–9). The lily garden seen behind the pergola has about 30 varieties of lilies, although ‘Elusive’, ‘Musassi’, and ‘Corsini’ are outstanding, and ‘Yelloween’ has proven to be the most prolific. A statue of an apsara (a celestial maiden) copied from a South Indian temple looks on, surrounded by ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies (Hemerocalis ‘Happy Returns’).


In the back of the house, a weathered bronze statue of the Indian god Ganesh is surrounded by a field of daffodils (Narcissus ‘Chromacolor’ and ‘Flower Record’) in the spring. The flowering cherries (Prunus serrulata ‘Mt. Fuji’, Prunus ‘Okame’, Zones 5–8) are just beginning to bloom, following the neighbors’ Yoshino cherry (Prunus × yedoensis, Zones 5–8). The stone walkway was built from flat stones gathered from fields and old quarries for miles around, or brought back from visits to the family summer home in New Hampshire.


The yard in the early spring is shown through the beautiful red leaves of ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maples (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, Zones 5–8) highlighted against the pure white bark of ‘Jacquemontii’ birches (Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’, Zones 5–6). The bench is made from two pieces of marble from an old pump house we took down soon after we came. The shade garden visible in the foreground is covered with summer snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum, Zones 4–8) in the early spring and filled with a variety of hostas later in the summer.


A quiet corner tucked between two buildings houses a Balinese statue of Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, surrounded by a profusion of ‘Hyperion’ and ‘Fairy Tale Pink’ daylilies (Hemerocalis). Nepeta (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Zones 4–9) and vinca also flourish here. The trellis behind the statue holds a wisteria vine (Wisteria frutescans ‘Blue Moon’, Zones 5–9) that fills the garden with color earlier in the spring, and the trellises on the left are later covered with morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea, annual).


The view from the pergola highlights the lilies. The circular garden is almost all orienpets (as most orientals and trumpets couldn’t take the heat), while the more shaded garden on the left is almost all Asiatics, with a row of unnamed burgundy Japanese maples, all of which were raised from seedlings discovered in the gardens. Red ‘Knock Out’ roses and hardy geraniums (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne, Zones 5–8) provide a splash of color in the front of the pergola.


In the spring, daffodils (Narcissus, unnamed, as they were purchased in bulk near the beginning of our gardening careers) sweep around a large Norway spruce (Picea abies, Zones 2–7) and along the side of the yard. These are later replaced by daylilies (Hemerocalis) in the long border garden.


A shady nook shows a ‘Shaina’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’) set off by the soft greens and yellows of hostas, including ‘Grand Tiara’, ‘Afterglow’, ‘Super Nova’, and ‘Emerald Rough Cut’.


A cluster of bright Byzantine gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ‘Byzantinus’ Zones 6–10) stands in front of a building at the side of the yard. Dicentra (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Zones 3–9) bloom beneath them, and coleus on the right await planting. The latest string of unnamed burgundy Japanese maples has reached about 5 inches in height. The bright colors of ‘The Rising Sun’ redbud (Cercus canadensis ‘The Rising Sun’, Zones 7–10) shine in the background.


Irises fill the interior of the rose garden (Iris hollandica ‘Mystic Beauty’, Iris germanica ‘Better Than Butter’, Iris germanica ‘Silverado’). Dutch irises have naturalized around the outside, and the taller bearded irises, most of whose names have been forgotten, fill the inside closest to the rose pillar.


The Corsini lily (Lilium ‘Corsini’) is one of the most outstanding in the lily garden. The lily garden was greatly improved when we dug out the original soil down to about 18 inches and replaced it with compost and potting soil. The area is in full sun in the afternoon, and we’ve found that the orienpets flourish here far better than other lilies.


The ‘Elusive’ lily (Lilium ‘Elusive’ OT hybrid) is another that flourishes in the lily garden. ‘Yelloween’ (Lilium ‘Yelloween’, OT hybrid), rising up in back of the ‘Elusive’, has proven to be the most prolific of all lilies in this area, and its numerous offspring have been transplanted to other areas of the garden.


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View Comments


  1. garden1953 03/28/2019

    Wow! Stunning! Thank you for sharing your wonderful gardens. I hope you will submit photos again sometime soon.

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      We'll do one on both lilies and Rose's, since so much of the trial and error has gone to them. But we've identified both of these that look good and actually thrive in this climate. (Zone 7a, rich soil, hot and humid summers)

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/28/2019

    You have certainly created and nurtured an awesome garden, Doug and Elaine. Looks like it is a 4 season delight since you have interesting hardscape, statues and trees to hold down the visual fort even in the winter when all the various kinds of lilies are taking their winter rest. That's a beautiful picture of your 'Corsini' lilies...I'm guessing that it has a wonderful fragrance?

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      Yes, it has a beautiful fragrance. In the evenings in July, you can smell the lilies from across the yard. It's wonderful!

  3. nwphillygardener 03/28/2019

    What a splendid mature garden, Doug and Elaine. It's rare to see one with such clarity…..large areas devoted to a singular blooming events and with stand-alone trees that draw one's attention. And the great captions tell us that successional plantings allow beds to offer more than one highlight each season. I also appreciate the way stone edgings and walkways define the garden with timeless grace.
    One mystery: in the photo of plantings presided over by Tara, why are both trellises without evidence of the vines you mentioned in July when the day lilies are likely blooming?

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      The stone edges and the walkways were a lot of work, but they define the different areas so well. The walkway was a great accomplishment - you can even see it from space! (On GoogleMaps).
      The wisteria bloomed not much the year this was taken. It blooms earlier than the lilies. I have some wonderful photos of the wisteria draping over the shoulders of the statue, framing her in the soft blue.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/28/2019

    Love it all especially that walkway. It is to die for. My Byzantine gladiolus hasn't bloomed yet but should soon. I adore it, don't you? A real wowzer is that Japanese Maple surrounded by hosta. I love that look! I envy those Dutch iris. I have planted them 3 times & got a grand total of 1 bloom. They just seem to hate it down here in the deep south.

    1. nwphillygardener 03/28/2019

      Treasuresmom: Those iris in the photo are often called German bearded Iris and grow from heavy rhizomes like culinary ginger, as opposed to Dutch Iris which come from bulbs. Sometimes gardeners bury the bearded Iris rhizomes too deep. When they are "happy" you will see the rhizomes right at the surface.

      1. User avater
        simplesue 03/28/2019

        Good info to share! I learned that the hard way, thinking they needed soil and mulch. Won't make that mistake again!

    2. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      The bigger iris are the bearded iris (germanica) while the Dutch iris are lower in the photo and smaller. The Dutch iris are so bright and cheerful - I'd like to them used a lot more.

  5. Musette1 03/28/2019

    Holy cats & crackers! This garden is awesome (as in 'awe')! So many gorgeous plants to view but all planted cohesively, resulting in an exultant, yet calming, visual. Well done!

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      Thank you. It's a treasure to be able to sit in the pergola in the morning with a cup of coffee, surrounded by all this beauty.

  6. User avater
    simplesue 03/28/2019

    Very excited to see your big beautiful Byzantine gladiolus, since I bought three bulbs myself and waiting to see them hopefully this spring/summer. Your garden is fabulous, you must have some really good soil.
    Love the statues you chose for your garden also!

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      The byzantine gladiolus were a chance, since we'd never tried any gladiolus of any kind. But they have naturalized very well here. We've tried to stay with perennials which naturalize here (e.g. trial and error), as that cuts down on the repetion of work. The rock behind them is one of our favorites.

  7. cheryl_c 03/28/2019

    Beautiful pictures of lovely gardens! I was especially taken by the bloodgood maples with the white birch trunks - great planning!

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      The jacquimantii birches are a superb tree that I recommend highly to anyone. It was a great find for us, and it worked out well when we realized how nice it would look highlighted against the dark leaves of the bloodgood. That particular view is one I photograph all seasons of the year.

  8. User avater
    bdowen 03/28/2019

    Doug and Elaine, This is truly beautiful and so different from what we saw many years ago when you first moved in. You definitely have the gardening/hard work family genes. Wonderful to be able to visit your garden this way!

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      Thank you! It's definitely in the genes.

  9. btucker9675 03/28/2019

    My garden envy is in full bloom viewing your stunning garden! I love, love, love lilies and have not had the best luck with them here in NC - guess I still haven't found the best soil amendment for them yet in this ridiculous red clay. Thank you for sharing all of this beauty.

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      Gene's. Also do some gardening at my in-laws home in Delaware, and the clay soil there is a world different from here. We have nice lilies there too, but only in an area where we took out all they clay and replaced it. It's not so bad if you confine yourself to an area that's only about 10'x3', and the results are well worth it.

  10. DebbieMountainMama 03/28/2019

    Wow, what an incredible garden! I could spend hours and hours just wandering about enjoying every single plant and peaceful spot to rest! Gorgeous!!

    1. dceddowning 03/28/2019

      Thank you for all your thoughts and observations. It's a privilege to be able to show it.

  11. GardenSantuary 03/29/2019

    Doug and Elaine, thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures of your garden and flowers. We live in tropical Malaysia where most of your beautiful blooms cannot grow. As a Hindu I am interested in the statues of the Hindu Gods you have in your garden especially Ganesha - are they for decorative purposes alone ?

    1. dceddowning 03/30/2019

      Thanks for your kind comments.
      The statues we've placed in our garden are decorative, but they are also carefully chosen. If we were ever to move from here, they would go with us.
      I lived in India for two years right after college, and I've always had a love of that part of the world. The apsara is from Somnathpur, which was my favorite temple site in India, and among all of them, this was my favorite scupture. We had it made by a sculptor in Coimbatore (no longer working). The Ganesh was an obvious choice - the remover obstacles was someone we would want to have in our garden., and there are always flowers to lay at his feet. It's done in copper and I'm going to have it replated soon. And the Tara is a birthday gift for my wife - the Goddess of compassion (not actually a Goddess, technically) was perfect for our household. This I saw online and had it made in Bali, just a few miles from where some relatives live. We redesigned the crown and it was so much larger than usual that the head broke off in shipping and had to be repaired.
      So the statues are carefully chosen. They add beauty , and meaning, and they are integral to our lives and to our garden.

  12. User avater
    simplesue 03/11/2021

    Just came back for another look at this beautiful garden!

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