In terms of plants, this article is about daylilies, which is hardly timely because they won’t be blooming again for almost a year. However, it’s also about being adventurous, finding a passion, meeting a kindred spirit, living a full life, and growing old gracefully. Wow that’s a lot to cover.
It all started with the invasive plant removal program that I run on a tiny island seven miles off the coast of Maine. Of course we remove invasive plants, but I also try to educate islanders about the joys of native plants. To this end, I have designed and installed three exclusively native plant gardens to show off some wonderful plants that aren’t already growing on the island. As I headed to a familiar mainland nursery to search for suitable plants, I saw a blue sign saying Young’s Perennials with an arrow pointing away from where I was going. On a whim and feeling adventurous, I decided to follow the signs, which led me farther and farther into the country until I thought I was surely lost. Finally I reached the penultimate sign, which led me into a small subdivision, up a long driveway, and into a magical spot.
Here was Young’s Perennials, a 60 acre farm so far into the town of Yarmouth, Maine, where I saw the first sign, that it’s actually in Freeport. And greeting me was the nursery’s owner and now sole employee, Walter Young. I told Walter what I was after, and he promptly pointed to all the nursery stock he had left and said take whatever you want for free. At his urging, I took plants for my projects and also for the island library and historical society gardens. He was very generous. But more than that, as we talked, I discovered that I had found a kindred spirit in this unlikely location–a fellow plantaholic.
Walter is addicted to daylilies. Now don’t tell him this, but daylilies are not one of my favorite flowers even though I like them. What I do love though is talking with a fellow gardener who is passionate about his work no matter what the topic. Especially if the gardener has lived as full and varied a life as Walter. During the course of our hours of discussion (I was there twice), Walter told me a lot about daylilies but also about his many jobs, careers, hobbies, and other pursuits.
Walter grew up and attended a two-room schoolhouse on the northern coast of Maine. He was the school janitor and lobstered on the side. After serving four years in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, he graduated from business college and worked as a public accountant. He taught business college, trained bird dogs, served as school board chairperson and assistant fire chief, and coached Little League, among other pursuits. Walter and his wife, Peggy, raised six children, leasing the 60 acre farm next door so they could produce all their own food. They also started the nursery, which in its heyday employed four people in addition to the Youngs and drew gardeners, especially daylily lovers, from all over New England.
Walter’s passion for daylilies began in 1982 when he visited a Vermont breeder and came home with a hundred cultivars. He went on to buy seeds and plants from specialists all over the U.S. Eventually he began making his own daylily crosses to produce plants with more buds and a later bloom time in a kaleidoscope of colors and forms. As I walked around the nursery, I saw plants covered with plastic tags indicating which plant was the source for the pollen that Walter painstakingly applies by hand. He collects the seeds, up to 14 per bud, and grows them on until they flower in one to three years.
Every flower produced by this well-documented process is different. And as far as I could tell, every flower is gorgeous. I gave up asking for the name of each bloom I photographed because the answer was always the same: “It’s one of mine. It doesn’t have a name.” In 2010, Walter decided to scale back the nursery, but in 2011 he still purchased 103 new registered daylilies to trial and planted seeds from his crosses. And growing on the property are over 50,000 daylily plants. You have to see it to believe it.
At the end of my visit, I said to Walter: “You don’t register your crosses, you don’t do mail order, you have limited hours at your nursery, so you do all this work….” “That’s right,” he interjected, “I do all this work just for me.” Just for the sheer joy of it. Walter is 77 years old.
Walter Young’s daylilies are available at Young’s Perennials, 1 Young’s Lane, Freeport, Maine, 207-865-3533, from July 1 through August 15, depending on the weather. It’s well worth the trip for many reasons!
Here are some more of the daylilies you will find there:
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Nursery Happenings: Orders for woody shade plants will be accepted until noon on Thursday, September 29. Click here for the catalogue. Our final fall open house sale will be on Saturday, October 8, from 10 am to 3 pm. If you can’t make it because of Yom Kippur or other reasons, remember you can make an appointment to shop 24/7 by sending me an email at email@example.com.