Sunday, January 9, 2011

Meet Don and Nancy Eller of Eller's Sunshine Garden

     Don and Nancy Eller, of Eller's Sunshine Garden in Leesburg Georgia, began their love
affair with daylily hybridizing just ten short years ago.  Their real life love affair started
many years before.  It was 1966 when Don and Nancy first met in highschool and they
were married just a year later in October of 1967.  After highschool, both Don and Nancy
attended college.  Don graduated with a masters degree in Ag. Engineering from the
University of Tennessee, while Nancy became an English major.  Don got a job with John
Deere right after graduation and retired as a Territory Representative.  Nancy was fortunate
enough to be able to stay at home to be a full time mother.
You Quack Me Up (D. Eller 2004)

    On Mothers Day in 1996, Don brought home their first daylilies from a local flea
market for $1.00 per fan.  These few daylilies were the spark of a daylily addiction, which
only seems to increase year after year.  Four years later, in 2000, Don first tried his hand
at hybridizing with Nancy following along a year or two later.  Don’s first five
introductions came in 2004 followed by Nancy’s first introductions a year later in 2005.
Pat Bonner (N. Eller 2006)

    As anyone who is familiar with the couples introductions, Nancy’s love is
doubles.  She says, “When we lived in Middle TN, I grew hybrid tea roses. When we
moved to SW GA in 1992, I planted perennials (hydrangeas, peonies, camellias, etc.). As
we became more involved in daylilies, the doubles form drew me in because they
reminded me of my roses and the other perennials I grew. I love the full round doubles
with lots of substance (the petaloids have to be thick to withstand our summer heat) --
they must double at least 90% of the time or they get composted. If the daylily is
exceptional in some other way -- super branching, unusual eyes, unique colors -- they
may be used as bridge plants. I also love hose in hose forms and edges and teeth. I love
edges and teeth on doubles. Since I am getting older and have back problems, I have been
breeding for taller doubles with better branching so I don't have to bend so far to
hybridize.”  While Don’s addiction has taken him more toward full formed, round
blooms.  “To me, the sepals are just as important to a beautiful bloom as the petals. The
larger and flatter the bloom the better, and I’m looking to increase scape height. I love the
pastel colors, but feel that has been overdone, I am working in darker colors with more
complicated color patterns.”
Phantom Duck (D. Eller 2007)

    Their hybridizing methods are the same, even though the results couldn’t be more
different.  The blooms from the pollen parents are picked the evening before and stored in
the cooler so they have fresh pollen to use.  Although they do store some pollen in the
freezer to use very early in the season.  All crosses are marked with colored wires.  Seeds
are planted in late July and early August, after a short drying period in the house.  No
seeds are over wintered in the refrigerator.  “We do not carry seeds over winter so I use
mother nature's method of seeds from the pod to the ground if at all possible. I don't think
we can improve on mother nature.” says Don.   Nancy and Don try to stay true to
themselves and what they love when hybridizing.  Don said, “I do not want to intro
something that I think is just like someone else's intro. I don't try to hybridize with the
market in mind, but look at it from my view point. I am who I am hybridizing for, trying
to come up with something that excites me.” and Nancy agrees completely.
Deranged Duckling (D. Eller 2008)

    The couple credit Larry Grace as being one of their biggest inspirations and
mentor.  Don and Larry share similar tastes in daylily forms and colors and a love of
diploid conversions, which Don spends his winters doing.  Nancy said, “even though he
didn't do doubles, Larry gave me the best advice on what to look for and what was
important in advancing daylilies.”  She also include David Kirchoff to her list of
influences “David Kirchhoff's doubles played a very important part in my program -- his
doubles always double for me. He was always eager to share his knowledge of doubles
with me and always seemed happy to see me when we visited Daylily World in FL.”
Perchance To Dream (N. Eller 2009)

    When it comes to running the garden, Don is chief weeder and garden slave in
addition to his hybridizing program.  Nancy has her own program and takes care the
secretarial aspects including; photography, running the website, handling sales and layout
of the catalogue.  Nancy’s favorite part of daylilies is hybridizing, “I would dab pollen all
spring and summer but there usually comes a time when Don forcibly makes me stop. I
am always sad when hybridizing season is over but then the new seedlings start to bloom
and I am lost all over again.”  As with all gardens there drawbacks and benefits.  Being
located in southern Georgia means hot summers and mild winters.  The winters allow
them to work in the garden all the time, but it gets so hot in the spring and summer,
setting pods becomes near impossible.  All hybridizing must be done in the very early
morning.  Rust is also a problem and they implement an aggressive spraying program.
Gnats are also a huge nuisance, getting into noses, ears, eyes and drawing blood.
Duck University (D. Eller 2009)
     Not only do they share a love of daylilies, hybridizing and each other, they share also
hybridizing plants.  “We each have our own hybridizing beds. The select seedlings are in different beds, the doubles in one area and my singles in another. This makes evaluation much easier during bloom season, plus we use a lot of select seedlings in our breeding programs. It seems each year we use more of our own lilies and less of other hybridizer's lilies. Yes- we do share pollen and plants. We have a well planned
program, if it is a double, it is Nancy's and if it is a single, it is mine, regardless who
hybridized it.”  Nancy adds, “Don has introduced plants with my doubles in the pedigree
and I have some with Don's singles in the pedigree.”
Duck Duck Flamingo (D. Eller 2009)

    The advice they would offer to amateur hybridizers is  pick a form that you love,
buy a few of the best plants on the market and do not try to get too big. A thousand
varieties does not a great hybridizer make. If you really want to get serious, learn
conversion techniques and select plants to convert that will help advance your program.
Don't try to compete with the big boys, just do your thing.  
Quackers And Cheese (D. Eller 2010)

    Both Don and Nancy are available for presentations.  Don has two programs, one
is on his hybridizing program and the other is on ‘Conversion Techniques For Dummies’.
Nancy’s is on her breeding program and is called ‘Double My Pleasure, Double My Fun’.
The garden is open to visitors, where you’ll see more than 900 of the newest and best
daylilies or all forms and colors.  The website for Eller’s Sunshine Garden can be found

Congratulations to Nancy on winning 2009 Hybridizer Of The Year.

Bubba Duck (D. Eller 2010)

Memories Of Treva (N. Eller 2011)    JC Award Winner 2010

Pink Sugar Delight (N. Eller 2010)

Silence Of The Duck (D. Eller 2010)


  1. I used to chat with Don in Lily Chat. His user name was DDuck I was Domino and I miss chatting with him. His twin brother Ron passed away and all the chatters sent condolences and urged him to register a daylily in honor of his brother.

  2. Hey Julia
    We've also talked in hemchat. My user name is Cody. Don still comes in, but mostly the chatting happens in the early morning.

  3. Hi Don,
    Enjoyed looking at your website. Hope to see you soon; I've had enough snow, and now I want spring to come very soon.
    Bill Waldrop