It takes three years for the Zantedeschia aethipica plants in the Surrey Van der Dussen Garden Centre to reach maturity. Three years before Abram and his wife, Thekli, can begin harvesting their unique giant calla lilies - funnel-shaped flowers prized for their sleek, minimal elegance - and start turning a profit. Some of them go directly to consumers and flower sellers; others are sent to fetch a price at auction. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 a.m., the world's second-largest flower auction awakens at the United flower Growers on Marine Way in Burnaby. The lilies are joined by blooms shipped in from across the globe, and the bidding begins, Dutch-style: as the seconds tick by, the prices fall, until Sacha Thompson bids. Within a few hours, the lilies have been transformed from simple plants into objects of art, fleeting ones at that. Arriving a Sacha's Flowerbox shop on Commercial Drive, they are given a pride of place in arrangements and bouquets in the hope that they'll catch the eye of a customer who'll see their worth. Before long the journey from seed to vase is almost complete. If handled with care, the flowers will last two, maybe three weeks before they wilt. But by then, more lilies will have been plucked, destined for homes, weddings and baby showers - a symbol of nature and the value we place on it. Story by Jessica Werb. Photo essay by Dina Goldstein.