This wonderful lily put out all flags in the garden mid-January, but this photograph lazed in the edit box (and my brain) until I yesterday caught sight of fattening seed capsules at the end of its long stems and memory stirred.

My 1952 Country Life edition of ‘Lilies of the world’ records how British plant hunter Reginald Farrer in 1914, in Kansu (Gansu) in north west China with botanist William Purdom, found two plants of what was later named Lilium leucanthum var. centifolium flowering in a village garden near Siku. Months later, riding by the same spot as the pair was leaving Siku, Farrer noticed ‘the big white lily now towered in a candelabrum of noble urns full of seed’. He asked his servant to bargain for it. ‘On chances so frail of the idle collector’s mood sometimes hang the sole prospect of a plant’s introduction into the garden,’ he wrote later. ‘You’re on an uncharted mountainside and you have to first of all find the plant in the summer on the way up the mountain. Then in the autumn, you have to find the same plant – if it hasn’t been eaten or trodden on – hope it’s set seed and that the seeds haven’t fallen yet – and this is just the start.’

Farrer’s knowledge, skill, tenacity and eccentricity delivered into western horticulture Gentiana farreri, Rodgersia aesculifolia, Rosa farreri, Viburnum farreri and other first class wonders. Sadly, his life was short. He died in Burma, collecting again, in 1920. He was 40.

The bulbs here which every year now put out more spectacular flags at the top of its ‘hundred-leaves’ stems came from the late Tasmanian collector and plantsman Marcus Harvey. What fine legacies.