Often described as the perfect perennial, daylilies have gone from being an obsession for Michelle Bingham and Denise Freeman to a growing business.
Michelle, who is an avid cyclist, has always loved to pedal along Lancaster County’s backroads. Her favorite time of the year is summer, when the roadsides are abloom with orange daylilies. “To me, they’re the essence of summer,” she explains.
Michelle is also a dedicated gardener and, inspired by the roadside variety of daylilies, she began experimenting with Stellas (the reblooming hybrid, Stella d’Oro). “Then, Denise and I went to Jim Stauffer’s open house in 2006 and bought plants from him,” she says. The two were mesmerized by the gardens that surround the home of this daylily enthusiast and former head of Stauffers’ garden and landscaping division.
Michelle then discovered she could shop for daylilies via the Internet. “They became my obsession,” she admits. The two also made the acquaintance of another Lancaster legend, Dr. Donald Herr, who is a well-known and highly regarded daylily hybridizer.
From there, Michelle and Denise discovered the world is filled with daylily-obsessed people. So, they began joining organizations such as the Delaware Valley Daylily Society (DVDS) and the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS), attending seminars and meetings that are sponsored by the organizations.
Fortunately, Michelle and Denise have a large backyard in which they can experiment with daylilies to their hearts’ content. Like many daylily enthusiasts, they buy plants for any number of reasons, including their names and colorations.
The largest bed in the yard was created by Michelle as a gift for Denise. “I wanted to surprise her with a bed that was all pink,” she says, referring to the fact that Denise is a breast cancer survivor. “As I was working, it dawned on me that I could do a ribbon-shaped bed,” Michelle explains. She further enhanced it with lighting.
Denise was awestruck when she saw the finished bed. “I had had a bad week, so it was really touching that she did that for me,” Denise recalls.
Michelle was on a roll. Another bed takes the shape of the Big Island of Hawaii and recalls a favorite vacation. The bed includes a palm tree, a state flag and daylilies with tropical-sounding names. Another bed alludes to Michelle’s love of bike riding and includes a bicycle for two (found at a garage sale) and a tricycle. Yet another bed, which honors a world-famous candy maker, is filled with daylilies from hybridizer Patrick Stamile’s “Candy” collection of cultivars. There’s also a bed dedicated to Christmas, and new this year is one that celebrates the Wizard of Oz (the movie marked its 75th anniversary two years ago). Each bed is color coordinated and/or contains daylilies with names that allude to the theme. “Oh, and they’re all trimmed in lights,” Michelle notes. The gardens literally stop traffic.
The attraction (and obsession) factor prompted Michelle and Denise to view growing and hybridizing daylilies as a viable business. “It just seemed like a logical step. We had been doing a little bit of hybridizing, and we possess an entrepreneurial spirit,” Michelle says, referring to her downtown business, The Framing Concept, and Denise’s role as a safety consultant for colleges and universities. “We hope the business will carry us through retirement,” she adds.
But, first they had to come up with a name for the business. “We went round and round on that one,” Denise remarks. In the end, they settled on Woodcrest Daylilies. It takes its name from the road on which they live and where Michelle grew up. They worked with H&H Graphics to design a logo. A nursery took root in the backyard. “I don’t know what it is, but the backyard is like a little microclimate that’s perfect for growing daylilies,” Michelle says.
The inventory has grown to include 400 varieties of hybridized daylilies. “The latest trend is spotted, speckled and streaked [daylilies],” says Denise. Woodcrest Daylilies started slowly by offering plants on-site and online. A trailer allows them to transport stock to shows and the Lititz Farmers Market, which is open every Saturday through the end of October.
Michelle, who also takes charge of lawn care, is out in the garden before sunrise each morning during the blooming season. “I deadhead every day,” she explains. “Every morning is like Christmas – you get to see what’s new.” Sundays are reserved for simply enjoying the garden.
This year, however, Michelle and Denise won’t be able to relax all that much. They kicked off the season by taking part in Landis Valley’s Herb and Garden Faire and are in Lititz on Saturdays. In addition to their own Open House events, their gardens will be on a tour being held for members of the Delaware Valley Daylily Society, as well as for members of the American Hemerocallis Society (Region 3), which is holding its summer meeting in York, July 8-10. “We’ve only been at it for going on three years, so we’re honored to be on the tour,” says Michelle, whose eyes can’t help but to wander across the intersection to an empty lot. “That would be great for a greenhouse,” she muses.