Minnesota's Lily Hybridizers
Hugh and Ruth Cocker
Rochester, Minnesota
Ruth and Hugh Cocker
Hugh with wagon full of lilies
Ruth Cocker dabbing pollen on lilies

Hugh and Ruth Cocker of Rochester, Minnesota grew up around flowers. Hugh helped his parents with their spring business of growing and selling bedding plants. At the age of eight, Ruth started selling flowers for her parents' flower business on a corner adjacent to a Rochester hospital. They met when Hugh went to work for Ruth's parents at Whiting's Flowers in Rochester.

The Cockers are charter members of the North Star Lily Society and started dabbling with lilies in 1969 with other charter members, Earl Tesca and Arnie Oistad. The foursome worked together growing and hybridizing lilies for ten years. The Cockers inherited all of Tesca's lilies when he died in 1979.

Hugh and Ruth started showing their lilies in 1972. They travelled to shows in their motor home with the air conditioner turned up to keep the their lilies cool. They laughed when they recounted pulling up to rest stops wearing coats when everyone around them was dressed in shorts.

The Cockers registered a number of Asiatic hybrid lilies that were created in their gardens in Rochester. Ruth`s memory of the crosses she made was uncanny. She could recite the numbers of the crosses without missing a beat. When asked how she remembered all those numbers that were the parents she said, "These are my kids….don't you remember the names of your kids?" Hybridizing was definitely a passion for her over all the years she and Hugh grew lilies. She would don a hat with flaps added to protect her from the sun and she always wore the same long sleeve plaid shirt, because that was her "hybridizing" shirt. Each summer she would make anywhere from 300 – 400 crosses and she always liked to tell you the exact number. The Cocker's registered hybrids were for the most part, named for their daughters and grandchildren. The Cockers were presented with countless ribbons and regional and international awards for their contributions to the world of lilium.

Both Ruth and Hugh were very active in the North Star Lily Society for many years. They also helped some of the other regional societies become established and off to a good start. Hugh is a past president of the North Star Lily Society and Ruth held the office of secretary for NSLS for many, many years.

One of the most interesting educational displays at the NSLS shows over the years was when Ruth exhibited a display board showing the bloom flower of the parents and the variety of siblings that came from one seedpod of that cross. This was a very eye-opening experience to all who attended as it showed the potential of every cross. Hugh also took an interest in martagon lilies and registered the well-known martagon L. 'Claude Shride' named for his good friend who was a past North American Lily Society president. He also registered L. 'Port Wine.'

The Cockers retired from gardening and hybridizing in 2006 but before they gave up their farm, they hosted one last NSLS picnic on their property. It was a memorable day and members were entertained and educated in their gardens. Ruth passed away in 2011.

Ruth passed away in 2011 and Hugh followed in 2014. NSLS considers itself extremely fortunate that they were so dedicated to our society. The world of lilium was forever changed by the contributions of the Cockers.

photo of the Cocker children
Cocker hybrid lily namesakes left to right:
Anita Gail, Jessie, Kathy Jan, Carolyn Marie, Eric, Beverly Ann, Andrea Kay,
Cindy and Randa Lou
Lily "Anita Gail"