Daylily gardener plans sell-off

BY STACI WILSON

Fred Lewis stands among the nearly 400 daylilies blooming at one time in his garden located off High and Locust streets in Montrose. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

All of the energy in a daylily stalk is concentrated to produce one perfect bloom that lasts only 24 hours.

Montrose’s Fred Lewis knows because he has been working with them in his daylily garden nestled between High and Locust streets for a half century.

But this year is his last.

Because of family health problems, Lewis is selling off the daylilies from his garden that boasts several hundred varieties of the perennial garden favorite.

“I’m constantly amazed by them,” Lewis said and he is often asked what his favorite one is.

This daylily’s ruffled edge is tinged with the same bright gold color of the bloom’s eye.

“Smart aleck that I am, I usually answer, ‘The last one I looked at,’” he said.

Although he has flowers coming into bloom June through September, the height of daylily season is the middle two weeks of July, Lewis said. In the northeast, the flowers grow best where they can get lots of sun.

Now in his 80s, Lewis was raised in what he describes as a “non-gardening family,” but he and his wife bought their first home in the area when he was 30.

“I grew up never even planting an annual,” he said. But the yard needed some tending, especially a line of iris with more weeds and grass in the row than flowers, Lewis said.

Fred Lewis shows this 61-year-old traditional “spider” daylily variety – one of the many types of daylilies grown in his garden.

People saw him working in the yard and brought some plants to him, including his first daylily.

Lewis said, “I saw it bloom and it won my heart.”

By the time he moved with his young family to Montrose a few years later he had accumulated close to 20 clumps of daylilies.

And his new house needed some landscaping work as well so Lewis added a number of daylilies to the garden during the early 1960s.

As his sons were growing, Lewis took a 25-year break from his hobby but picked it back up again after he retired in 1991.

“I didn’t have a good plan for retirement,” Lewis said, “but one thing that needed attention was the garden.”

This hybrid purple daylily has a bright green throat surrounded by a yellow eye set off by the purple petals. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

The varieties of daylilies he found available were nothing like the ones from the mid-1960s, Lewis said. Crossbreeding and hybridization of the plants through the generations varied the bloom colors, sizes and shapes.

Lewis also started trading plants with other daylily enthusiasts in an effort to add an assortment of the flowers to his garden.

“It’s hard to resist getting a new one that’s just a little bit different.”

He also has created his own hybrids, mating different flowers for specific traits.

But, he said, out of 100 seedlings from a great cross you can get plants that are “worse than their parents.”

He also said an undesirable bloom “can turn into a real bell of the

After 50 years of planting daylilies in his Montrose garden, Fred Lewis plans to sell off the blooms he has grown to love. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

ball in subsequent years.”

“They conspire to make you keep them all,” Lewis said.

But now Lewis is ready to part with the flowers he is so passionate about.

He suggests those interested in purchasing daylilies call him at 278-2100 to set up a time to look at the garden.

He has also donated daylilies to the Cutler Botanical Garden, part of the Cornell Cooperative Extension on Front St., Binghamton.

Currently, Cutler Gardens has about 100 of Lewis’ plants in its daylily garden with about 150 more to be added by the end of this year.