Olallie Daylily Gardens cultivate a cascade of color

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SOUTH NEWFANE — To call it a riot of color would be an understatement.

During the high summer months of July and August, Olallie Daylily Gardens explode with (almost) all the colors on the rainbow spectrum: orange, red, purple, pink, yellow, gold, cream. They are short, they are really tall (more than 7 feet tall). They are dainty and restrained, they are enormous and exuberant. The only color missing is blue, and green.

The hundreds of names are imaginative and intriguing: Double Gardenia, Lady Dancer, Kwanso, Pink Stripes, Chipewa Bridge, From Darkness Comes Light, Ebony Gem, Still Night.....

The Olallie Daylily Gardens are now host to thousands of plants and thousands of individual cultivars, with a succeeding wave of color, which is the goal of any gardener seeking continuous bloom.

To visit Olallie Daylilies on Auger Hole Road in South Newfane in high summer is to flirt with an overload of color and form. And a walk through Olallie Daylilies even includes sweet scents.

Owner Chris Darrow estimates that during the height of the daylily season - July and August - hundreds of thousands of daylilies open daily on his South Newfane farm. The ubiquitous flower takes its name from a simple fact - each blossom only lasts a day, and then withers and dies. Its Greek name, Hemerocallis, means beauty for a day.

But the beauty lasts longer than a day, as there are dozens of buds to follow, and the daylilies are beloved by gardeners for their non-stop bloom, starting in June and lasting well past August.

He said he breeds for extra early bloomers, extra tall plants, and "other over-looked attributes."

"I'm really drawn to the tall ones," he said, noting most of his plants take three to five years to bloom. He has more than 2,000 daylilies in his database, he said, with another 1,000 to 2,000 hybridized seedlings in his trial beds.

Darrow came by his love of daylilies naturally. It's a family tradition, started by Darrow's grandfather George Darrow, a U.S. Department of Agriculture botanist who bred daylilies in his spare time at his farm in Maryland. A Vermont native, who once was in business with a Vermont politician named George Aiken growing fruit in Putney, George Darrow went on to do groundbreaking research into strawberries.

During a visit to Oregon, he took the name Olallie from the Chinook Native American word for 'place where the berries are found.' George Darrow adopted the name Olallie because he was growing berry plants at his Maryland farm.

The Darrow daylily collection left Maryland as Chris Darrow and his parents, Dan and Ellen, dug daylilies and brought them to South Newfane, and the collection and the hybridizing has only increased.

The Darrow-bred daylilies begin with the name Olallie: Olallie Miss Whitney, Olallie Head Over Paws for Belle, Olallie Vernal Cherry. In all there are 150 registered Olallie daylilies, he said.

Darrow offers daylily aficionados the chance to name one of his original daylilies for $100 and $35 for a blooming plant, and the plant will be registered in their name.

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Darrow, while growing some beautiful, fancy-formed and unusually colored daylilies, also grows the familiar species variety of daylilies, the H. Fulva, which starts blooming around the Fourth of July in Vermont and can be found by many roadsides, if not gardens. He also offers the ubiquitous Stella D'oro, (The most popular daylily ever sold!") which is found in parking lots all over the United States.

His biggest order in recent times was an enormous order of the tawny orange Fulva, about 2,000 plants, headed for the landscaping department at Harvard University.

As the daylilies are starting their cascade of color, Darrow's 40-year-old blueberry bushes are coming into fruit, and people come to the daylily gardens to pick blueberries as well as choose daylily plants for their own garden.

"We call some of the older plants 'Blueberry Trees,'" said Chris Darrow, during a recent visit where people either headed into the daylily gardens or the maze of blueberry bushes, taller than their heads. It's also a popular picnic spot, with people heading to the blooming fields.

"This is the best place to work," said Allie Wolski, 21, who had just returned with a large white bucket full of flowering plants in plastic shopping bags for a customer.

"I have the best boss ever," she said, working at the gardens in addition to attending Community College of Vermont in Brattleboro.

Either Darrow or his employees, or members of his family, are often accompanied by his two border collies, Brom and Jack, the latest in a long line of border collies.

The Darrow daylilies have gone as far away as California, even Hawaii. "We come every summer," said Jim McKinney, who lives in California but comes to Vermont to visit his wife's parents. "We come every summer and they're fabulous," he said.

Chris Darrow said shipping out of the country means driving to Middlebury for a special shipping permit.

Darrow and his crew dig the plants as people wait, rather than having rows and rows of pots of growing plants, as a more traditional nursery might have.

Darrow more often than not is barefoot, especially in the summer months, a conscious choice, he said, since feet are easier to wash off than boots. To accommodate his bare feet, he's found special shovels that have a cushioned pad.

Chris Darrow's name has been synonymous with daylilies in southeastern Vermont for decades, although he has branched out to also sell another hardy perennial, Siberian irises, which typically bloom before daylilies.

"I claim we're the oldest daylily nursery in Vermont. We're probably the biggest in Vermont," he said.

Vermont-grown daylilies are so popular, he said, "because they're hardy and indestructible."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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