Materializing Mediums and Flower Apports

The Golden Lily and medium. The plant when straight measured 7 ft.; when bent as seen in above its height was about 6 ft.

The Golden Lily and medium. The plant when straight measured 7 ft.; when bent as seen in above its height was about 6 ft.

The centenary of the Chelsea Flower Show, going on this week provides a convenient trellis on which to twine two stories of flower materializations as related by Elizabeth d’Esperance in her book Shadow Land. D’Esperance was the professional name of Elizabeth Hope) [1855-1919], a British materializing medium, famous for her fruit and flower apports. “Walter” and “Yolande” mentioned in the account below were two of her spirit guides. Walter was the spirit of Walter Tracy, a 22-year-old Yale student who drowned, while Yolande was supposed to be a young Arab girl. Mr. Aksakof was Alexandr Aksakov, Russian author, Spiritualist, and psychic investigator. Mr. W. Oxley was William Oxley, Spiritualist and author of Egypt, and the Wonders of the Land of the Pharaohs.  

Here is Madame D’Esperance’s own narrative of two separate materializations of what appeared to be living plants. We have seen a plant conjured mysteriously from nothingness in a previous post. 


“Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night and perished in a night.” Jonah Ch. 4. v. .10.

On one occasion I received a letter from a well-known gentleman in Manchester, Mr. W. Oxley, as well as from two equally well-known persons in Germany, asking permission to be present at one of our séances. I laid their requests before the rest of our members and asked them to decide, with the result that all three strangers were present at the next following séance. This séance turned out to be one of extraordinary interest, if indeed one may say that any one of these strange things is more extraordinary than the other; but the circumstance has been published so often in different countries that at least some people have thought it specially worthy of mention.

Mr. Oxley told us he had come with a special object in view, but of which he would not speak unless he gained it; also that the spirits, through another medium, had told him he would succeed in his object, if he could obtain admission to our private circle. We naturally wondered what his object was, and there was some little fear expressed that we, by allowing the other two strangers to be present, might cause the purpose to be frustrated. Just then, too, a slip on descending the stairs had caused me to hurt my arm, putting the elbow out of joint, an accident which was not likely to increase our probabilities of success; so that I went to the séance-room that evening feeling very much inclined to propose putting off the experiment; but on arriving and learning that our visitors’ time was extremely limited I decided to try.

We took our accustomed places. Mrs. B. played a solo on the organ and silence reigned, when the curtains of the middle compartment of the cabinet were drawn aside and Yolande stepped out into the room. She glanced inquisitively at the strangers who returned her gaze with interest, evidently admiring the lithe graceful form and the dark eyes of our little Arabian.

One of the circle describes what followed and I repeat it here for the same reason as I have mentioned elsewhere, that I was not an eye- but a an ear-witness: — . “Yolande crossed the room to where Mr. Reimers sat, a gentleman well known throughout Europe as a prominent spiritualist, and beckoned him to go nearer the cabinet and witness some preparations she was about to make. Here it is as well to say that on previous occasions when Yolande had produced flowers for us, she had given us to understand that sand and water were necessary for the purpose, consequently a supply of fine clean white sand and plenty of water were kept in readiness for possible contingencies. When Yolande, accompanied by Mr. Reimers, came to the centre of the circle, she signified her wish for sand and water, and making Mr. R. kneel down on the floor beside her, she directed him to pour sand into the water-carafe, which he did until it was about half full. Then he was instructed to pour in water. This was done, and then by her direction he shook it well and handed it back to her.

“Yolande, after scrutinizing it carefully, placed it on the floor, covering it lightly with the drapery which she took from her shoulders. She then retired to the cabinet, from which she returned once or twice at short intervals as though to see how it was getting on.

“In the meantime Mr. Armstrong had carried away the superfluous water and sand, leaving the carafe standing on the middle of the floor covered by the thin veil, which however did not in the least conceal its shape, the ring or top edge being especially visible.

“We were directed by raps on the floor to sing, in order to harmonise our thoughts, and to take off the edge as it were of the curiosity we were all more or less feeling.

“While we were singing we observed the drapery to be rising from the rim of the carafe. This was perfectly patent to every one of the twenty witnesses watching it closely.

“Yolande came out again from the cabinet and regarded it anxiously. She appeared to examine it carefully, and partially supported the drapery as though afraid of its crushing some tender object underneath. Finally she raised it altogether, exposing to our astonished gaze a perfect plant, of what appeared  to be a kind of laurel.

“Yolande raised the carafe, in which the plant seemed to have firmly grown; its roots visible through the glass, being closely packed in the sand.

“She regarded it with evident pride and pleasure and, carrying it in both her hands, crossed the room and presented it to Mr. Oxley, one of the strangers who were present, the Mr. Oxley who is so well known by his philosophical writings on spiritual subjects, and the pyramids of Egypt.

“He received the carafe with the plant, and Yolande retired as though she had completed her task. After examining the plant Mr. Oxley, for convenience sake, placed it on the floor beside him, there being no table near at hand. Many questions were asked and curiosity ran high. The plant resembled a large-leafed laurel with dark glossy leaves, but without any blossom. No one present recognized the plant or could assign it to any known species.

“We were called to order by raps, and were told not to discuss the matter but to sing something and then be quiet. We obeyed the command, and after singing, more raps told us to examine the plant anew, which we were only too delighted to do. To our great surprise we then observed that a large circular head of bloom, forming a flower fully five inches in diameter, had opened itself, while standing on the floor at Mr. Oxley’s feet.

“The flower was of a beautiful orange pink color, or perhaps I might say that salmon color would be a nearer description, for I have never seen the same tints and it is difficult to describe shades of color in words.

flower materialization at seance

Ixora Crocata produced for Mr. William Oxley of Manchester at a séance held 4 August 1880.

“The head was composed of some hundred and fifty of four-star corollas projecting considerably from the stem. The plant was twenty two inches in height, having a thick woody stem which filled the neck of the water carafe. It had twenty nine leaves, averaging from two to two and a half inches in breadth to seven and a half inches at its greatest length. Each leaf was smooth and glossy, resembling at the first glance the laurel which we had at first supposed it to be. The fibrous roots appeared to be growing naturally in the sand.

“We afterwards photographed the plant in the water-bottle, from which by the way it was found impossible to remove it, the neck being much too small to allow the roots to pass; indeed the comparatively slender stem entirely filled the orifice.

“The name we learned was ‘Ixora Crocata’ and the plant a native of India.

How did the plant come there? Did it grow in the bottle? Had it been brought from India in a dematerialised state and rematerialised in the séance-room?

These were questions which we put to one another without result . We got no satisfactory explanation. Yolande either could not or would not tell us. As far as we could judge, — and the opinion of a professional gardener corroborated our own, — the plant had evidently some years of growth.

“We could see where other leaves had grown and fallen off, and wound-marks which seemed to have healed and grown over long ago. But there was every evidence to show that the plant had grown in the sand in the bottle as the roots were naturally wound around the inner surface of the glass, all the fibres perfect nad unbroken as though they had germinated on the spot and had apparently never been disturbed. It had not been thrust into the bottle for the simple reason that it was impossible to pass the large fibrous roots and lower part of the stem through the neck of the bottle, which had to be broken in order to take out the plant.” Mr. Oxley in his account, which was afterwards published says, “I had the plant photographed next morning and afterwards brought it home and placed it in my conservatory under the gardener’s care. It lived for three months, when it shrivelled up. I kept the leaves, giving most of them away except the flower and the three top-leaves which the gardener cut off when he took charge of the plant and these I have yet preserved under glass, but they show no signs of dematerialising as yet.


“Take of everyone of them a rod, …. write thou every man’s name upon his rod …. And it came to pass that on the morrow, Hoses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron, for the house of Levi, was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds.”

This last work of Yolande’s was one of the unexpected incidents which occurred during what we grew to call the Aksakof séances. Although rich in unlooked-for results, we had been unable to obtain the particular object for which these séances were being held, and I was beginning to fear that our efforts would be fruitless. This continued strain, and other worries of a business character, were beginning to tell on my nerves, and the knowledge that this in itself was inimical to success was an unquieting thought. At the same time it is most difficult to throw off anxiety at command, and though I did my best, it was not much to be proud of. On the evening of the 28th June 1890, we assembled in our usual séance room. It was in reality the upper Hall of the house, an octagon shaped chamber, lighted from the roof by a large ornamental glass window, which we had so arranged that a softly tinted mild light was admitted equally to all parts of the room. The conditions in every respect seemed as bad as they could possibly be. In the first place I had accidentally scorched my arm. In lighting a hanging lamp, a piece of the match had fallen on my dress and the thin muslin was instantly in a blaze. My arms were bare and though the flame was quickly extinguished my left arm was painfully scorched. In addition to this I had been suffering from a slight but irritating toothache all day.

These little discomforts, together with a violent storm of wind which shook the house to its foundations, did not promise much for the success of our séance. We proposed postponing it till next day, but found it was not convenient for most of our friends, all having other engagements; and on referring the matter to Walter, he told us that Yolande particularly desired us to try that evening. After this we had no alternative but to take our places at once. For even one to get quietly composed was not an easy matter; the sound of doors and windows in other parts of the house being forced in by the wind, and sundry breaking of glass panes, had a most disquieting and irritating effect on everybody’s nerves and on mine in particular. The storm decreased in violence as the evening wore away, but judging from experience it seemed to me a hopeless attempt to continue sitting under such conditions, and I was about to propose giving it up, when I noticed a scent of flowers, which increased so much as to be almost overpowering. I am not fond of strong perfumes, and this nearly made me sick with its sweetness.

Walter gave us a message requesting us to keep as quiet and composed as we could and that no one was to talk to me, because Yolande was about to bring us a flower; and the external conditions being so bad we must do all we could to help her.

We did what we could, and the fact that we had something to expect helped to put us in a better humour. We had sand, water, and a flowerpot in readiness, as we were accustomed, though they had never been asked for during many months.

The strong scent was so overpowering, that I felt half suffocated. I put out my hand expecting to feel flowers, but there was 1 nothing. Immediately afterwards, something , large, heavy, cold, and damp fell against me. My first thought was that it was some dead clammy body or object, and it gave me such a horrid sensation that I almost fainted. I was holding the hand of Mr. Aksakof, when it began to feel as though I was receiving a succession of electric shocks, making it painful for me to come in contact with anything, each shock causing the perspiration to rush from every pore in my skin.

The pain from my scorched arm left me, and the toothache also was forgotten; and strangely enough every one noticed that Yolande carried her arm as though she were in pain, and when accidentally touched she flinched as though hurt. I felt very thirsty and drank much water, but that was nothing unusual during a séance. What went on outside the curtains I learned afterwards from Mr. F’s notes. Yolande with the assistance of Mr. Aksakof had mixed sand and loam in the flower pot and she had covered it with her veil, as she had done in the case of the water bottle in England when the Ixora Crocata was grown.

The white drapery was seen to rise slowly but steadily, widening out as it grew higher and higher. Yolande stood by and manipulated the gossamer-like covering till it reached a height far above her head, when she carefully removed it, disclosing a tall plant bowed with a mass of heavy blossom, which emitted the strong sweet scent I had complained of. Notes were taken of its size, and it was found to be about seven feet in length from root to point, or about a foot and half taller than myself. Even when bent by the weight of the eleven large blossoms it bore, it was taller than I. The flowers were very perfect, measuring eight inches in diameter; five were fully blown, three were just opening, and three in bud, all without spot or blemish, and damp with dew. It was most lovely, but somehow the scent of lilies since that evening has always made me feel faint. Yolande seemed very pleased with her success and told us that if we wanted to photograph the Lily we were to do so, as she must take it away again. She stood beside it and Mr. Boutlerof photographed it and her, twice. Mr. B. said “They are not very beautiful specimens of the photographic art,” but there they were, and taking into consideration the woeful conditions the only thing to wonder at is that they could be obtained at all. The photographing was done by aid of the magnesium flash light. When this had been concluded, we were told to remain perfectly quiescent to enable Yolande to dematerialise the plant. We tried to comply with the request, but under the circumstances it was scarcely possible to feel indifferent enough to what was going on to be perfectly quiet. The consequence was that after sitting till midnight Yolande despairingly told us that she could not take the plant away.  Walter wrote: — “Yolande only got the plant on condition she brought it back. She finds the medium is exhausted and cannot bear any more. You must let the plant remain in darkness till she can come again and take it.”

Mr. Fidler and Mr. Boutlerof then between them carried the plant to a dark closet in an adjoining room, where it was locked up, till we should receive instructions how to act with respect to it. We had been told that no light must be allowed to fall on it as that would increase Yolande’s difficulty in removing it, but curiosity got the better of us and we brought the plant into the drawing-room one morning and photographed it four times in various positions, so that although we were not to keep the strangely grown plant itself, we have the best of evidence that it had existed in absolute incontrovertible reality.

The Golden Lily, produced at a séance, 28 June 1890. Was kept a week, during which time six photographs were taken, after which it dissolved and disappeared

The Golden Lily, produced at a séance, 28 June 1890.
Was kept a week, during which time six photographs
were taken, after which it dissolved and disappeared

I felt very sorry for Yolande; she seemed distressed for the fate of the great Lily which was visibly beginning to suffer. I think she had made three attempts to take it before she succeeded, and the last was on the 5th of July — eight days after the plant had grown up in our midst, when it vanished as mysteriously as it had come. All we knew was that at 9.23 p. m. the plant stood in our midst, and at 9.30 it was gone; not a vestige remained to show that it had ever existed, except the photographs we had taken and a couple of flowers which had fallen off. The soil was emptied out of the pot where it had stood for eight days, but no sign of it was left. Several of our circle declared that the plant vanished instantly. The scent seemed for a moment to fill the room almost overpoweringly, and then was gone; the exact moment of its disappearance could not be agreed upon nor the manner of its going, but gone it was.

During the week the Lily was in our possession we had several conversations with Walter with respect to it. We wanted permission before taking upon ourselves the responsibility of photographing it and asked Walter to help us to obtain it. We first asked: — “What has to be done with the Lilium Auratum?”

“Well, that is more than I know. Yolande is anxious about it and wants to try again to-night to take it.”

“Can we not pay for it and keep it?”

“You might if you knew where it came from, but she cannot tell that herself. Any way it has got to go if she can manage it; if she cannot then it must. stop.”

“In what does the absolute necessity of taking it back consist?”

“Have you not learned so much of your catechism? She has been told not to take things which did not belong to her. It’s no use reasoning with one of her sex, she says it’s got to go and I suppose it will have to.”

“May we take it out and look at it and check some of its measurements?”

“I don’t know. Yolande gave orders it might not be in the light.”

“We have watered it.”

“Don’t do anything else or she will blame me.”

“Please give us an explanation of how the plant was brought.”

“I cannot, I only know it was here before you were last night, and was ready for being put together at least an hour before you saw it.”

“Do you mean it was here before we came to the séance?”

“Before any one came to the séance Yolande told me she had it ready and was afraid the bad conditions would prevent her materialising it.” [illegible]

Another curious little circumstance with respect to the Lily was that Yolande, not being able to tell us where she got the plant, said she would let us know in another way. On the night of its disappearance, before it vanished, a piece of grey cloth was found to be on the stem of it; the stem was in fact through a hole in the centre of the cloth. How it came there was a mystery like all the rest. It was not there when we photographed the plant in daylight. Yet to all appearance it had grown there, and could not be removed. Yolande, however instructed Mr. Aksakof to draw it from the stem, which he did; there was no rent in it, nothing but the round hole through which the stem had passed. She told us that she got the piece of cloth from the same country as the flower had grown. On examination the piece of grey cloth was found to be a scrap of mummy cloth, still aromatic with the perfumes used in embalming.

This led us to infer that the plant had been brought from Egypt. Sometime previously Mr. Oxley had given Mr. F. a piece of mummy cloth from one of the royal tombs in the pyramids. It was considered to be of very fine texture compared with cloths used for embalming less important personages. It contained 1008 meshes to the square inch whereas that on the Lily contained 2584 meshes to the square inch.

Shadow Land: Or, Light from the Other Side, E. d’Esperance, 1897 

Finally, as a corrective, a piece by one William B. Carpenter, C.B M.D. LL.D F.R.S. about an investigation into flowers materialized by the medium Mrs. Agnes Guppy. “Mr. Wallace” is Alfred R. Wallace [1823-1913], yes, the natural selection man, who discovered and championed Mrs. Guppy.  

It has always appeared to me that the ‘Spiritualistic’ production of flowers, fruits, etc., in dark séances, which is now one of the commonest ‘mediumistic’ performances, should, even more than the moving of tables and the production of ‘raps,’ be regarded as so completely ex rerum natura, as to justify the assumption that it is a mere piece of jugglery, which a thorough investigation must detect; the fact of its non-detection merely showing that the investigation has not been complete. There can be only two hypotheses about the matter: either that the fruit, flowers, &c., have been brought into the room by the ‘medium,’ or by some confederate; or that they have been dematerialised, that is, resolved into their component atoms, which, after passing through either walls, doors, or window-panes, have not only come together again in their original forms, but, in the case of living bodies, have renewed their vital activity. Of course, if we believe this possible of live eels or lobsters, we may believe it also of Mrs. Guppy….

I shall now give the particulars of a case of this kind, referred to in my second Lecture, my account of which has been called in question by Mr. Wallace.

In his zeal to defend a ‘Lady medium,’ whom he considers that I have most unjustly aspersed, Mr. Wallace suggests that my informant ‘manufactured the evidence;’ asks for ‘independent testimony that the salt was not applied to the flowers after they appeared at the séance ;’ and states that ‘some of the flowers were sent to a medical man in the town, and that no trace of ferrocyanide of potassium could be detected.’ As Mr. Wallace has no reserve about the case, I may now say that the ‘medium’ was Mr. Wallace’s favourite performer—Miss Nichol, afterwards Mrs. Guppy, and now Mrs. Guppy Volckman— the subject of the celebrated aerial transportation from her house in Highbury Hill Park into a securely closed room in Lamb’s Conduit Street; and that the séance was one of several held during the Meeting of the British Association at Belfast, three years ago, in a house into which Mrs. Guppy had been received as a guest. Having myself seen one of the hollyhocks ‘produced’ on that occasion, and having learned that a fraud had been chemically detected by a young gentleman present at the séance, I put myself into communication with him; and soon received an explicit statement of what had passed, not only at this, but at a previous séance, with full permission to publish it. The following verbatim extract from this statement, which, having lain in my desk for more than three years, has not been ‘manufactured’ to meet Mr. Wallace’s objections (as its precise ‘fit’ might seem to suggest), contains all that is essential to the case: 

Having observed [in previous séances] that the flowers were soaked in wet (dew does not soak to the heart of a flower), I considered that the dew on them was artificially produced; and on August 21 I mixed a small quantity of solution of potassium ferrocyanide with the water on the washstand in Mrs. Guppy’s rooms.

Séance No. 4, August 23, 1874.— Fifteen persons sat; of these five were strangers, viz. Mr. and Mrs. Guppy, and three gentlemen introduced by them, one a professed medium. The candle was put out, and the table began to oscillate violently. We were asked to wish for three kinds of flowers. The table now jolted violently, and I struck some matches. It at once stopped. Mrs. Guppy got very angry, and said it was as much as to say they were cheating. Being pacified, the candle was again extinguished, after we had found on the table some sand, a plant like an onion, &c. The table rocked violently, and scent was squirted from one of the mediums. A large quantity of flowers were thrown from their side of the table, among which were china-asters, which I took out, and, having wet a piece of white blotting-paper with the ‘dew’ off them, poured some ferrous sulphate solution on it. The result was the ordinary ‘Prussian blue’ colour. A spike of pink hollyhock gave a very decided blue colour. Similar flowers fresh from the garden gave no reaction. The flowers were allowed to remain in my laboratory, the door of which was not locked, till the morning of August 25; when I took some in to Dr. Hodges, and he with several friends could find no trace of the salt in them. I immediately wrote to a friend who had been present at the séance, and who had taken an aster with him as a keepsake, to have it tested. He writes: ‘I have had the plants analysed to-day by Professors Delft of Heidelberg and Roscoe of Manchester. The asters showed unmistakable signs of ferrocyanide of potassium, and in no small quantity either.’ I believe the reason Dr. Hodges could find nothing in the hollyhocks, was that the fresh flowers had been substituted for them on Monday evening (24th), when everyone was from home at Sir J. Lubbock’s lecture, except the mediums.

Being able to add, from inquiries I have made, that my informant bears an unblemished character, as does also the friend to whom he refers, I ask, which is the more to be trusted—the testimony of these two gentlemen, or the honesty of Mrs. Guppy? It will be observed that we have here no evidence whatever that the flowers were not brought in by the medium; while the immediate detection of the salt by one of the witnesses, and the subsequent confirmatory testimony of the other, affords the strongest assurance that the flowers had been watered out of the decanter in Mrs. Guppy’s room — by whom? I can only say, as an ex-Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, that I have not the least doubt, supposing this to have been a case of Poisoning, as to the verdict that an intelligent jury would return.

Fraser’s Magazine, November 1877 “Psychological Curiosities of Spiritualism,” William B. Carpenter, C.B M.D. LL.D F.R.S.

I am a little muddled as to exactly who is speaking here–Carpenter, or his source. The identity of the young analytical gentleman is also not given. I assume the author had them among his papers. Is the author William Boyd Carpenter, Bishop of Ripon and 1912 president of the Society for Psychical Research? Answers, with a bunch of pink hollyhocks, please, to chriswoodyard8 AT


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.


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