Mary Margaret Chambliss and Joseph De Sciose
From early May through late June, every dawn finds Charles Douglas knee-deep in a dewy sea of daylilies. Eager to see the day's blooms, he walks his 3-acre Georgetown garden to inspect as many as 100,000 flowers that open to the sun for 24 hours of glory.
Charles calls himself a collector. "Some people collect stamps or guns. Believe it or not, some people collect new daylilies," he says with a smile. "For me, daylilies are a hobby that got out of hand." His quest to own or create beautiful flowers accounts for more than 1,200 kinds in his garden, so many that now he shares them with other daylily lovers.
Creating a new daylily requires more patience than most people can muster. Charles selects parent plants for traits such as color, shape, or hardiness. He carefully marries pollen from the stamen of one parent to the pistil of the other. If the cross works, a pod will form and ripen into seed. Then the waiting begins.
Two years later a seedling flowers. "The excitement and satisfaction of seeing my seedling bloom for the first time and finding it beautiful-that's what it's all about," he says.
Blue flags mark new types that have the best attributes: sturdy stalks, a high bud count, and pretty foliage. Charles takes pride in every one, but he chooses only the best to submit as named varieties to the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS).
"Sometimes I name flowers after people or places, other times a name just pops into my head," says Charles. For one layered bloom, its rose color suggested the name 'My Lips Are Sealed.' He named his current favorite, pale yellow with a black center, 'Black Mingo' after a nearby creek.
Daylilies by Trade
Naming his business for the road, Charles established Browns Ferry Gardens on the farm where he grew up loving his mother's flowers. Employees and a crew of volunteers mail 10,000 catalogs each January. Every week from March to October, they ship about 30 to 50 mail and online orders to daylily lovers throughout the world.
Prices range from $5 to $100. "Introductions are expensive because a hybridizer has to go through many trials to get a good one," Charles explains. The investment pays off when the purchased plant grows big enough to divide into multiple smaller plants.
Charles also gives presentations to AHS groups throughout the country. "There's more to daylilies than just the orange you see in a roadside ditch," he explains.
Most daylily hybridizers dream of creating a true blue flower, something not yet achieved. For Charles, the ultimate goal is a clear white daylily with a bright red center. "I may not ever get there," he says, "But I'm going to create a lot of beautiful flowers along the way."
Browns Ferry Gardens: 13515 Browns Ferry Road, Georgetown, SC 29440; (843) 546-3559 or www.brownsferrygardens.com. For tips on selecting, growing, and dividing daylilies, visit southernliving.com/gardens.