Many years ago, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I wanted to start a garden. I talked my grandfather into “leasing” me a patch of land (I think the price was a hug and a kiss) so I could start my own garden. I “rescued” wild flowers from along the roads, rooted a weeping willow branch and “salvaged whatever plants people were getting rid for my very first garden. Okay, so it wasn’t much, but it was mine!
My grandfather, who I called “Poppy,” also owned a farm in Schoharie County that had lots of neat plants but the ones I liked the most were the bright orange “ditch lilies.” Poppy hated them. One day he attached the plowing blades to our old N8 Ford tractor and plowed the whole field where my beloved lilies lived. I was so upset that I ran down the road to see Fred Lape who owned the George Landis Arboretum that bordered the lower portion of our property. Fred knew everything there was to know about plants and trees, and was deep into environmental and conservation issues before it was “politically correct” to get involved in such things. I arrived on his doorstep with tears streaming down my face and breathless from the run - unable to speak because I was so upset. Fred ushered me into his car and drove me back home where, after finally being able to tell him what Poppy was doing to my lovely field of lilies, he told my Poppy that I would be with him at his house. When we got back to Fred’s he took me to his library and, grabbing several well used and loved books judging from the pages of dirty fingerprints, he explained to me that Poppy was not destroying my lilies as he thought, but was actually cutting the tubers up which would make them divide and multiply. He said the flowers would be gone for this year, but to imagine my Poppy’s face next year when two or three times as many daylilies filled that field. Thus, my love of daylilies.
As the years passed, I confiscated more and more of the yard for my garden. I suspect that Poppy didn’t mind since the bigger my garden got the less lawn there was for him to mow. Besides, I think he was a secret gardener all along, his heart problems just wouldn’t let him keep up with the gardening. He did contribute plants to my garden though. It wasn’t long before all my family and even some friends were giving me plants. I even brought some of the now prolific ditch lilies from the farm down to my garden at the house where they continued to grow and multiply.
By the time Poppy died, my garden had expanded to three or four times it’s original size and the idea of a Generational Patchwork Garden was born. Several of my great- grandparents had died but since they had all gifted me with plants during their lives, it seemed only fitting that my first garden be a memorial to all who helped create it.
The Generational Patchwork garden continued to grow and expand and during this growing process I my knowledge and love of flowers grew too. My first love, the ditch lily H. Fulva, introduced me to a whole new world of hemerocallis - who knew there were so many daylilies or that they could be so uniquely beautiful? At first my daylilies were just incorporated in the generational patchwork, but as I discovered more and more daylilies (and bought them!) I found it more difficult to keep track of what I had and where they were planted, especially since my gardens were now expanding from the side yard across the front yard.
By this time I had a daughter, Amanda “Jack” who would help me in the garden. Jack, my mother, Grace and I often made trips to day lily farms and garden centers. One day while discussing the problem of keeping records of the ever growing number of plants, we hit on the idea of “theme” gardening. We kept the original plants in the generational patchwork but started taking the daylilies out and putting them into theme beds.
During this time, I had the pleasure or meeting a neighborhood boy, Carter, who had lost his mom and unborn sibling in an auto accident a couple of years before. He was more active than his grandmother could handle as he “escaped” time after time and kept showing up to watch us from across the road. Finally, I told him to sit in the yard so I could keep an eye on him! After working out the situation, he showed up quite frequently and watched, not talking just watching. One day, my daughter came in the house laughing and asking if I was deaf—I said “No” and she went to the window and pointed out to Carter who was in the garden hollering “Lily Lady, Lily Lady…” My break was over and outside I went. Carter grew so much during those couple of years, he opened up and was super curious about everything daylily! People come into your life for a reason…. I have always believed that. This is how I became the official “Lily Lady”
We started out with just 200 varieties in five or six themes, then expanded to 1300 varieties in 14 different theme beds, and we continued to grow. Our biggest problem now came in the size of our gardens verses the size of our yard. By this time the patchwork garden remained in its position on the side of the house but the theme gardens, with their companion plants out grew the front yard and most of the side yard on the other side of the driveway. In addition to this, I was now starting to hybridize and would need a special place for new seedlings. I also had several hundred plants in my moms yard!! There was only one solution. It was time for a new house with more land. And so it was - a new beginning.
We decided that as long as we were moving we should move to a little warmer climate, find a bigger house or duplex and with more land - much more land! In September of 2009 we closed on our new house in Region 3, Zone 7. Now all we had to do was transport of all 1300 varieties of daylilies, numerous rose plants, peonies, hosta, irises, bushels of miscellaneous companion plants and ground covers, various shrubs and bushes - not to mention a ton or two of rocks! (Seems there are no field stones in Delaware.) It took several weeks (and lots of help) to lay out the new gardens, prepare the soil, dig the plants, label them, pack and move them, reversing the process at the other end. We were only able to spend weekends there at the time, and there was that seven hour drive each way, but we managed to get most of the plants moved, planted and mulched by Thanksgiving week-end 2009! With a new home and new gardens, we decided that a new name might be appropriate as well. In the summer of 2010 we became Willow Rock Gardens LLC. We kept the Generational Patchwork garden as the centerpiece and add to it as is appropriate, but our theme gardens now number in the 90’s and we have almost 5000 varieties of daylilies and continue to grow. Our gardens, as most gardens are, will always be a work in progress. We have made some extra special friends, have increased our knowledge and love of gardening and made some cherished memories over the years. We would like to extend an invitation to all gardeners or garden lovers to visit us at Willow Rock Gardens.
For me, the historic daylilies will always have a home here at Willow Rock Gardens, I don’t garden for the money (as some do) I garden for the sheer love of it. This is lost on many. I garden to make the world a better place. I hybridize for fun….. I garden because….. I love the playing in the dirt.