Too much of a good thing? Not at Olallie Daylily Gardens

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NEWFANE — My wise friend once told me at dusk: "Nothing in this world remains wholesome if multiplied to excess." Try as I might to test it, her statement holds, even when challenging the hypothesis on occasion.

Moose? Too many are alarming. Coffee? My system would blow a gasket. Seashells? How to safely walk the breakers? Even babies lose their Pollyanna appeal en masse. How about daylilies?

Full disclosure, lilies are not on my top five favorite flower list. I was looking forward to visiting Olallie Daylily Gardens because I was curious to explore and see how such a place functioned. But I was sure that my friend's rule of thumb would apply, and find the acres and acres of daylilies unnerving.

Olallie Daylily Gardens is located off a picturesque section of Augur Hole Road in South Newfane. It has a welcoming, unpretentious entrance considering its pedigreed lineage. Its origins began with Dr. George Darrow, the grandfather of Chris Darrow, who currently manages the business.

Dr. Darrow started collecting and hybridizing daylilies in 1957, after his retirement from the USDA. Of note is that his work for the USDA was as a breeder of small fruits and berries. During one of his trips, he became enamored with the name "Olallie," a west coast Native American name that roughly translates to "Place Where Berries Are Found." He gave the namesake to his Maryland farm where, along with lilies, he raised fruit.

The story continues that in 1979, Dr. Darrow invited his son and his family (including grandson, Chris) to come to his farm and dig up for transplant each section of his daylilies. They did, bringing the specimens back to their Vermont farm, which eventually evolved into present-day Olallie Daylily Gardens.

I visited during peak season, which meant the farm's pick-your-own blueberries were ready, too. Olallie has more than 400 high bush blueberries. I hatched a brilliant plan: by bringing my family along to pick blueberries while I toured the fields of daylilies, I'd learn about the business, all while having others pick bags full of blueberries for me to process later. I promised them a pie.

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We did start in the blueberry patch together, its high arching rows drawing me in. Families of robin shared space in the shaded groove with us as we picked, content. But potato plants bordering a lily bed caught my interest, and I was off.

Following the trail, I discovered more vegetables planted along many a lily bed border. Kale, squashes, and an assortment of other delightful flowers besides lilies lined the perimeter, beckoning the viewer to look beyond to the lilies.

The farm grows more than 2,500 cultivars of daylilies and adds newly developed varieties every year. I can attest there is a lot to see as during the height of bloom my experience was a show-stopping riot of color. I could sense my friend's adage losing its grip even as a bevy of pink, purple, yellow, and on an on colors of lilies surrounded me. Oddly, the longer I walked the fields, the more peaceful I became; like those infamous fields of poppies, but without the macabre undertones.

My children were entranced, too. They joined me, reading off the whimsical name markers: Forever Mary Sally, Uptown Girl, Perky Purple. Some of the lilies were as large as my hand; others were small and delicately danced along their stem. The plants themselves range from low and shrub-like, to spanning the length of my seven-year-old son. There is a lily available for every preference under the sun, each easy to grow and amicable to most any setting.

I was captivated by the floral show and decided it was imperative to buy a Perky Purple daylily plant to add to my home garden. While the staff dug up and labeled my plant — shopping doesn't get much more local than that — I had an opportunity to speak with Chris Darrow about his work at Olallie. We talk about how the wide variety of plants here guarantee a bloom for all seasons from May until nearly September. Strategic daylily plantings in a home garden ensures color throughout the entire outdoor season. When I ask him about the assorted vegetable plants lining the property, Chris laughs and says that while lilies are his focus, he enjoys all plants. Why not plant vegetables and flowers in the fallow ground spanning the lily beds? He goes on to mention his conviction that daylilies are an untapped resource, not only for their landscape addition as the backbone of our gardens but as an edible, permaculture showpiece.

Olallie runs a "Name A Daylily" program for inspired individuals. As Chris develops new varieties of lilies, they are available for naming and purchase. A customer may pick out, name, and purchase a lily for fun, or in honor of a loved one. The unique lily, with the prefix Olallie to signify it came from the farm, is then officially registered with the American Daylily Society. Smitten, I consider that lilies hold more meaning for me when bearing the memory of a loved one.

I still agree that nothing in this world remains wholesome if multiplied to excess, but the daylilies of Olallie fit perfectly within their landscape and therefore are not excessive at all. Just as this Perky Purple daylily, now securely planted within my garden, would look even better with a few more Olallie varieties surrounding it.

Tina Weikert lives in Bondville.


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