Forever Young

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Daylily at Young’s Perennials

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.

During one of my wrong turns, I ended up at this beautiful farm.

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 native 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.

The nursery benches display potted plants for sale and are surrounded by acres of  growing beds.

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.

The fields are so quiet and peaceful.

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.

Counter clockwise from top: daylily buds carefully marked with pollination information; plants resulting from seeds from one bud; Walter Young with one of his creations.

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.

Left, the 103 new plants purchased for trial in 2011.  Right, older plants in the fields.  I was there at the end of the season so most daylilies had finished blooming.

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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73 Responses to “Forever Young”

  1. I love daylilies, Carolyn, and this post fed my addiction. Thank you for sharing.

  2. They are truly gorgeous. I try to grow day lilies because they are favorites of mine. But the operative word is ‘try.’ No matter what i do, the deer seem to get the best of me for at least some of my day lilies. Did Walter mention how he manages to keep his 50,000 plants out of the mouths of the deer?

    • Laurie, The deer pressure in this rural part of Maine is nothing like it is around here. However, Walter uses a method that someone else mentioned to me today as being popular in Chester County–ropes or tapes strung at deer chest and eye level. I need to look into this because it sounds so easy and cheap. Carolyn

  3. The farm is a nice find, Carolyn. And Walter was very generous. It depends on what is offered up on the gardening menu if the deer are going to be warded off with a band of rope. When deer want in, it is unlikely the rope will mean much. Cornell does a lot of study on keeping deer out and repelled. I think it has much more to do with their natural habitat supporting them. When they are hungry, deer fences don’t always keep them out. They jump awfully high, but won’t jump when where they are landing is not clear and open.

    • Donna, That would be my feeling too except that Chester County, PA, has the highest number of Lyme disease cases in the U.S. so probably the highest concentration of deer. I used to spray with a excellent product called Repellex. Now we have a deer fence. Even so the pressure is so bad this year that deer actually walked down my drive, through the nursery, and down the front steps. Carolyn

  4. How neat to have made a friend with a similar passion. The Daylilies are lovely. And thanks for sharing the story!

  5. Well, I would say he was definitely worth leaving the beaten path for! Such complete serendipity! I’ve recently met an older fellow gardener and I’ve enjoyed learning more about her life…she never fails to surprise me. Yesterday I learned that she bred lizards for a while and sold them online and that she was a principal of a prison school!

  6. Hey Carolyn,
    The path less traveled, huh? I do love daylillies and so I feasted on this post. The top cultivar would be a great introduction. This is why I blog to see this kind of stuff. Thanks.

  7. Where would we be without people like Walter, you were so lucky to find him and it was his lucky day when you stumbled down his path. His flowers are beautiful, just as well I can’t visit otherwise my garden would have nothing but daylilies in it!

  8. Lovely to stummble accross such riches. I love Hemerocallis and they like my soil conditions, you showed me lots I’d love to buy. Hope you will join in Garden Bloggers Foliage day. I know you have many beautiful examples you could share. Christina

  9. Oh my goodness, you live in a beautiful part of the world and visit some gorgeous spots. For me the hellebores get me every time! I’m working on shade so I can plant 100s of them. At the moment I only have a few which have been salvaged from friend’s gardens – often the best way. Thanks.

  10. Eye candy! I too enjoy meeting people who are so passionate about what they do. His farm is truly impressive! What a great find…so glad you were feeling adventurous that day and sharing your experience!

  11. Terrific Daylilies which do well in our garden, some years, not so good in Summers like the one which has just ended. Walter is the star of the show though. Ah, so when the Everly brothers were singing about Johnny being a (bird dog) it did have some sort of meaning, ok its only been on my mind for 52 years. I found a passion and a kindred spirit, also growing old reasonably gracefully, never adventurous enough though. But today, here’s to you Walter.

  12. What an amazing story! Walter has indeed lived a very interesting life full of experience and passion. Sometimes I think those who do things for the pure joy of it are the ones who demonstrate to us what living life is all about. And his daylily creations are beautiful. I especially like the ones with the ruffled edges. Thanks for sharing this lovely story.

    • SB, Walter has really lived and continues to pursue his passions albeit at a slower pace. There are times in my life when I experience pure joy–with my children, walking through my gardens, in nature, on the coast of Maine–and I hope to increase their number. Carolyn

  13. What an extraordinary man. And what a serendipitous find.

  14. I’m not terribly fond of daylilies but I couldn’t help but become caught up in your story about Walter. What an amazing spot he has and talk about a true gardener! All those plants just for the love of it. He made me smile.

    • Marguerite, I sent a link to this post to Walter. He probably thinks I am nuts because to him he just did what he did and does what he does. In fact, when I was asking him questions and writing things down, he said this is sounding like a eulogy. No eulogy, just fascinating. Carolyn

  15. Like Alistair, I enjoyed Walter the most. I think you did too. And he needs to start naming those cool lilies.

    • L, Walter and his story far outshined the daylilies for me as beautiful as they are. I think he just doesn’t care about naming them. The joy is in the process of hybridizing them. He and I discussed how we both think that plant patenting (not the same as naming and registering) is ruining the joy that people used to find in breeding plants. Now it’s all about money. Of course, the other side is that people need to be compensated for their efforts. Not sure what the answer is. Carolyn

  16. You describe the encounter so well, I feel I almost know Walter now myself. What a fascinating post. I’m not a great daylilly fan (too much leaf for not enough flower) but his passion shines through. Jill

  17. Judith Spruance Says:

    A lovely story and beautiful daylillies. I just divided a whole lot of hemorocallis Hyperion and was thinking angrily, if they don’t make it I am getting something else. Now I am not so sure having seen Walter’s beauties. And thanks for the deer hint, will give it a try very soon.


    • Judith, Daylilies are very tough and should sail through dividing. I love ‘Hyperion’ because its large lemon yellow flowers are fragrant, something that I think has been lost in all the hybridizing. Walter has Hyperion and was impressed that I identified it out of all his daylilies. The deer hint sounds too good to be true but worth looking into. Carolyn

  18. Wow – wish I were closer. Sounds like a fabulous place, and a very knowledgeable hybridizer. I know he must get such joy and feel such pride each time one of his flowers blooms. What a great legacy!

  19. Loved this story. I think Walter could convince anyone to be passionate about daylilies.

  20. patientgardener Says:

    I’m not a huge fan of day lilies but I suspect that is because my garden doesnt have the right conditions. I can imagine seeing them growing en masse as at this nursery would make even me change my mind. Walter seems a wonderful chap and how lovely to be able to indulge a passion even if it is late in life

  21. WOW! What an amazing man and beautiful flowers x

  22. I just saw your comment on my blog, and had to come back to read your comments here. I will sometimes read comments, other times not, so I’m glad you let me know that you had linked to my post. Thank you! I agree that Walter definitely has passion. I would think part of that passion would rub off just being around him.

  23. This post would’ve been MOST timely in July when I was in Maine-just 10 minutes from Freeport. Oh well, if I ever go again I’ll be sure to visit Young’s perennials. His daylilies are gorgeous and I enjoyed his story as well. What a great guy to garden all that land himself!

  24. I need to have a Walter around here. Sometimes you need the road less traveled. I know of a nursery whose motto is ‘We have a passion for growing’. However it’s used more as marketing the brand than true passion. It is apparent Walter has the passion and still survives in this economic mess.

  25. Hi Carolyn–I enjoyed the story and read it with interest but….I was most interested by your sentence, “It all began with the invasive plant removal program I run on a tiny island about seven miles off the coast of Maine”. I love Maine and the Acadia area, and was curious about your program there. Could you tell me more?

    • Maureen, All the islands in Maine are being taken over by invasive plants, primarily purple loosestrife, Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, bush honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, common reed (Phragmites), and Japanese knotweed. Some are already completely over run with one or more of these plants. We are trying to prevent our small island off the coast near Portland from becoming a casualty of this invasion. Carolyn

  26. There is a similar place near one of my favorite places to go camping, deep in the mountains of SW Virginia. They grow and sell nothing but daylilies in a setting more appropriate for making moonshine.

  27. What a truly heartwarming story Carolyn. There’s absolutely no question that Walter’s passion for daylilies keeps him very Young at heart. I’m going to pass this along to some family in New England. Perhaps next year they can stop in and see of these beautiful blooms themselves.

    • CVF, Yes, that’s it exactly. Walter didn’t dwell on growing old or health issues, although these common (and important) themes are certainly a problem for him and his wife, because he was too excited about his work with daylilies. He will always be Young. Carolyn

  28. This was delightful, Carolyn. I’m pretty sure I stopped at Young’s once, but it must have been the wrong part of the season or I must have been looking for something in particular, because I didn’t see much of interest and didn’t stay long. Yikes! I’m glad to have a chance to correct this error, and I’ll definitely stop by there this summer. Thanks.

  29. Those pictures are lovely and so is Walter. I have real trouble getting day lillies to flower in my garden – can I borrow Walter for a while.

  30. WOW!! What a guy! I really admire his passion! I love how tough and beautiful daylilies are. I can always find room for just one more. 🙂

  31. This was a truly enjoyable article. Each year, I grow more find of daylilies — and thank you for introducing Walter Young to the rest of us. It’s so amazing to meet someone who is passionate about gardening just for the pure pleasure of gardening.

  32. Walter Young Says:

    Carolyn I had daylilies blooming today, rebloomers: one was
    Gary Cobby, $300.00 in 2006, we still have some ready to
    bloom if we do not get a frost….Walter

  33. What a treat to find Walter. Thanks for sharing his story with us. I’ll have to plan a visit next summer in Maine.

  34. What a person! It’s an amazing story Carolyn! I’m glad you followed your inner voice and drove to that nursery!

  35. Carolyn what a wonderful place to stumble upon. I would visit just to meet Walter. I do love daylilies and would certainly love to spend days just visiting and talking with Walter….great post!

  36. Carolyn, what a wonderful little treasure to find in Maine. Us gardeners really do possess a kindred spirit. Isn’t it exciting to visit with someone that is as passionate about plants as you are?

  37. Oh now that’s the kind of nursery I love to visit. Quaint, beautiful, with a nurseryman that knows his salt. I’ve never been a fan of day lilies, but Walter may just convince me that I am. Thanks for sharing, Carolyn… feel like I’ve been there!

  38. This is a great article, I am Walters grandson and I know how hard he works, and how much he loves daylilies. This article really shows the passion and dedication he has for these plants. Thank you for sharing his story with with every one. I know it has made him very happy.

    • Adam, Your comment means so much to me. When you write an article, you always want to get the story “straight”. When you are profiling plants, that’s easy, but when you are writing about a person, you always wonder if you have it right and if they approve. I am so glad that Walter liked my article and shared it with your family. How wonderful to have him for a grandfather! Carolyn

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