Sunday, December 26, 2010

Meet Joel Thomas Polston of Pleasant Valley Gardens

Liz and Jeff Salter, Joel Thomas Polston, Doug Sterling, Dave Jackson
    Q. What has more teeth than a dentist’s dream?
    A. The hybridizing program of Joel Thomas Polston.
    The 38 acre farm that is Pleasant Valley Gardens, located just outside of Dayton,
Ohio features a farmhouse built in 1843, several barns that house Polston’s breeding herd
Clydesdale horses and 30 display beds showing off 2000 registered cultivars.  But toothy
daylilies and horses aren’t the only things you’ll find there.  Northern hardy daylilies of
all shapes and sizes grow there, along with cats, Boo and Bell, the dog Dakota, a flock of
polish chickens, call ducks, Princess the blue and gold macaw, Tarzan the yellow naped
amazon parrot and a beautiful pied peacock.  One thing you won’t find there is a
greenhouse.  All of Polston’s seeds are started in the basement, under lights, in the middle
of February and are placed outside to harden off in the beginning of April.  By mid May
the seedlings are usually all tucked snug into their black plastic covered beds.  “I don't
believe Northern Hybridizers should use them to grow and evaluate their plants. And I
don't think they should use greenhouse pictures to sell their plants. I grow all of mine
outside with no pampering and all of my pictures are taken outside in the real world.”

Wild Hair (2008)

    As with many, many other Midwestern hybridizers, Polston considers Shirley
Farmer to be one of his biggest influences and inspirations.  Another would be Dave
Jackson who sold him his first daylilies.  Some of his goals include, “be a successful
hybridizer, introduce quality and distinct cutting edge daylilies, improve on my teeth
program, pinched program--open to any new form that might show up.”  As Shirley used
to say, “your daylilies will lead you.”  Potential crosses are decided upon when the open
bloom is first seen, although older seedling crosses are usually planned.  Polston
hybridizes in the early mornings before work, he’s also a cement finisher, using mostly
frozen pollen.  Crosses are identified using venetian blinds and a number two pencil, very
long crosses will also include colored wire.  “I try to keep the seed production at around
4000 seedlings per year. For 2011, I am introducing 18 new ones, last year I did 12, so it
varies. I don't feel like I need to have a specific number each year, the good ones will get
introduced.  I have a deep program now that gives me more to choose from that I ever
thought I would have.”

Lady Stephanie Victoria Redding (2008)

     “...As a hybridizer, once you learn your own daylilies you will do crosses that
might not make sense to a casual observer, but you know what might come from your
own stock.”  All daylilies can be considered potential bridge plants in Polstons opinion.
He can be swayed by a pretty face, but takes plant habit into consideration.  As Van
Sellers said “Gaudy sells.”  Each year brings new surprises and unexpected advances to
Polstons seedling bed.  The trick is picking up on these small changes and huge break
throughs and then taking full advantage of all that they offer.  He considers ‘Wild Hair’
and ‘Lady Stephanie Victoria Redding’ to be his best introductions for hybridizing, “They
have given me many new great seedlings as well as introductions.”  But, Polston
considers learning the art of public speaking to be high on the achievements list,  stating
“I finally realized that there are certainly more scary things in life than talking to a

Interview With A Vampire (2009)

    Obviously, the farm doesn’t run itself and is a full time job in and of itself to go
along with the cement finishing.  Polston has no formal horticultural training, but is a big
fan of OJT or on the job training.  Doug Sterling, Polstons partner and roommate is a
huge force on the farm.  ‘Clark The Farm Hand’ comes on the weekends during good
weather to help with the more tedious chores.  Living and hybridizing in the north brings
about it’s own set of challenges.  Long, frigid winters and short, hectic growing seasons
are both drawbacks, but we also don’t have much problem with rot or rust.  Getting plants
selected for introduction to increase enough to be offered to the public can be extremely
frustrating.  You can count on a Pleasant Valley daylily to be proven hardy for the
extremes of norther growing.  “One of our main hybridizing goals is to put southern faces
on northern hardy daylilies with great plant habit.” 

Bob Faulkner (2007)

    The garden is open during the bloom season, usually between June 20 and August
7th, but be sure to call ahead.  To view the Pleasant Valley Gardens website

Drop Shadow (2011)

Beyond The Big Bang (2011)

Red Ragamuffin (2010)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Meet Mark Carpenter of The Lily Farm

                                                               Mark and Jack Carpenter

   The spring of 2010, Mark Carpenter, nephew of hybridizer Jack Carpenter fulfilled one of
his long time dreams and became the proud new owner of The Lily Farm in Center,
Texas.  Young Mark and his family spent his childhood moving from place to place
following his fathers job with Rockwell International.  About fifteen years ago, Mark first
made a trip to his uncles daylily farm to lend a hand during the busy memorial day
weekend.  After seeing the 50,000+ flowers blooming and the happiness they brought to
everyone visiting, and was instantly hooked.  He spent the next several years helping out at the
farm and learning about daylily farming and hybridizing.  A couple of years ago Jack  started to drop hints that he was getting ready to sell the farm, but Mark thought
it was beyond his means and besides that he had young children enrolled in
school, 5 hours away from  the farm.  One night last year, while discussing his uncles
decision to sell The Lily Farm with his wife Jill, his youngest daughter reminded him of
his own advice and told him to follow his dream.  After a month of email negotiations
with Jack, a price was agreed on and the deal was done.  He left his job with HEB, a
local grocery chain and relocated to the farm.  His wife and daughter stayed until school let out. Spring 2010 saw the first introductions registered with Mark at the
    Mark considers his Uncle Jack to be his biggest inspiration, breeding large
flowered diploids with wide sepals and a heavy substance.  His own lines will continue to
increase full formed flower size, hoping for up to ten inches.  He’s also working with the
amazing, unusual form, patterned lines that Jack left for him.  When asked about how he
decides what will be a potential cross, Mark says, “When I analyze a cross, I look at what
plants have given me unique things, and I always look to cross those back with the
original trait giver as this often leads to even greater new characteristics that were hidden
before.”  Customer service is one of utmost importance and he will bring parent plants
into the greenhouse to get as much hybridizing done as possible.  Once The Lily Farm
opens to the public for the year, there is very little time for hybridizing.  Mark hopes to
increase the visibility of daylilies in general and The Lily Farm specifically over the next
few years, “Ideally we would like this to be a true vacation destination for those who love
    There is never enough time in the day to do everything we want to and that’s
especially true when trying to run a daylily farm with such a short period of time in which
to get your product out.  Thankfully Mark has several friends and family members,
including his wife Jill, daughters Lindsey and Kelsey, Josie Bomar and even Uncle Jack,
who come lend a hand when they’re at their busiest.  There is only one full time
employee, Jose, Mark says, “I am not sure the farm could operate without Jose's hard
work.”  Anyone who has ever been to the south east knows that gardening there presents
some very difficult challenges.  Temperatures regularly soar over 100 degree farenheit
during the summer.  Humidity from the gulf makes for ideal conditions for rust and
crown rot to flourish.  This doesn’t mean that Carpenter introductions aren’t hardy,
temperatures average below 32 degrees in the winter, sometimes dropping into the low
teens.  I myself have several of Jack’s introductions and I know many gardeners in
Canada who also enjoy them.  We midwesterners love our Carpenters.  Uniqueness, plant
habit, clarity in color, great substance and great form are the qualities that just might get a
plant actually introduced to the general public.  “One of the unique aspects of the Lily
Farm is the fact that we sell seedlings to the general public by the clump during our open
house.  Since we have 4 acres of daylilies stretched across 6 acres of land, this is truly a
wonderful venture to come out and put a flag beside the daylilies YOU would most like
to have.”
    To the amateur hybridizer, Mark offers this advice “If you are not doing a ton of
seedlings, focus on the one thing you love and buy plants that exhibit that trait. Then go
for it!” 
    The Lily Farm is open to the public May 15 to June 30 every year from 9am to
2:30 pm.  Visit the website here 
Bumblebee Beautiful
Feliz Navidad
Kaleidoscope Puzzle
Mount Herman Intrigue
Texas Blue Eyes

Tiger On The Mountain