Hanover’s Tim Zimmerman
among nation’s top lily growers
Tim Zimmerman is so successful at growing lilies that a team of a hundred flower enthusiasts recently bused to Hanover to see his colorful creations as part of the National Lily Expo.
Zimmerman doesn’t just grow lilies, he creates new hybrids and is especially known for his “pollen-less” variety.
It’s been a passion of his for three decades.
“In the summer of 1984 I started hybridizing Asiatic lilies,” Zimmerman said. “I was influenced to hybridize lilies by my brother Tom (Zimmerman, a horticulture professor doing research in the Virgin Islands) and Julius Wadekamper. I started hybridizing anything and everything during my first five years that resulted in a ray of everything.”
Wadekamper is a past horticulture teacher that hybridized and registered more than 40 name varieties. He also provided his name lily “Snow Lark” to Prince Charles and Diana’s royal wedding in England.
Zimmerman’s “rays of everything” have turned out several varieties of the bright flowers, including a group of 1,500 lilies growing in his mother’s garden in Hanover.
He said true lilies come from the genus lilium. Daylilies, for example, come from the genus of hemerocallis and aren’t a true lily, he added, and the lily types that grow in Minnesota are Martagons, Asiatics, Trumpets, Aurelians, some Oriental and species lilies.
“I’m trying to mend the soil and get it suitable for growing lilies,” Zimmerman said of his Rogers home. “I still have a few years to go. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
His passion for growing flowers takes extreme patience and many years to get just right.
“I used (Wadekamper’s) advice very seriously and started crossing lilies to make better pinks and multi color flowers,” he said. “After 10 years of hybridizing Asiatic lilies I had a nice collection of pinks and multi color lilies in which over the years I didn’t propagate and lost with only pictures to show.”
In his seventh or eighth year growing lilies, he was intrigued by another grower’s pollen-less seeds “and I started hybridizing as many as I could get a hold of. It takes me additional two to seven generations of hybridizing to reach my goals of pollen-less lilies.”
One of those flowers, “Mount Fudge,” took Zimmerman seven years to make. He registered three other lilies in 2008, “Morgan” that won a national lily award in Springfield, Mo., as well as “Riley and “Ring of Fire.”
“I have been spending time at the University of Minnesota on embryo rescue on wide crosses such as crossing Asiatic with trumpets,” Zimmerman said. “Ninety percent of my crosses that I make, I plant the seeds at home, while the other 10% (wide crosses) I do embryo rescue at the U of M.”
The difficulty of crossing hybrids was evident, as Zimmerman lost 75 percent of his seedlings five years ago from earlier crosses.
“The gophers had a feast and I was unable to recover them,” he said.
But his success continued, too, as one of his asiatics won a national event “competing against all of North America, going against professionals that do this for a living.”
He also registered lilies in Great Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society, including “Desert Storm,” “Ring of Fire,” “Morgan,” “Riley,” “Dream Julius,” (pollen-less) and most recently “Hailey Rain” (pollen-less registered the fall 2013).
Horticulture isn’t just Zimmerman’s hobby, it’s his career, as he is the horticulturist for the city of Edina. That work includes running three green houses and supervising 120 volunteers who maintain more than 100 flower beds in Edina.
Flower enthusiasts long ago took note of his work and are growing his crosses throughout the state and beyond.
His goal is to mass produce lilies and sell them at flower markets.
“That would be my ultimate dream,” he said. “But for me it’s more of a hobby. I do it for enjoyment.”
And not just his enjoyment, as would attest the bus full of flower enthusiasts who came to see his work.