Sunday, February 13, 2011

Meet Gerda Brooker of Victorian Gardens

Born and raised in Dusseldorf, Germany, Gerda Brooker, completed school, including earning the equivalent of an MBA and met her future husband there as well.  She immigrated to the U.S to marry her sweetheart.  Shortly after that the couple moved to Puerto Rico for several years.  They spent several years in Puerto Rico, before moving back to the states, eventually settling in Ohio.  To be more specific, they settled in the Cleveland area, where they raised two children.  Gerda got a job at a local radio station, where she would produce and record up to 14 hours per week of shows, from classical to talk radio to hit parade, all in German.  During her time in Cleveland she also worked with a travel agency.  In the late sixties, she and her husband split up and she met and married Malcom Brooker Sr. in 1973.  She had two children from her first marriage and he had three, instantly increasing the size of the family.  In 1980, Gerda started her own travel agency, which she decided to resign from several years later to focus on the more domestic side of her life, like cooking, cleaning and raising children.  Malcom and Gerda began their love affair with daylilies in 1994, after meeting and touring Steve Moldovan's gardens.   He then directed them to other great sources for daylilies, like Bill Munson, David Kirchoff, The Salters and Stamiles, which of course led to them meeting The Kinnebrews and Dan Hansen, etc.  To date they have registered 96 cultivars.  In 2002 Malcom Sr. passed away from a very brief, but very brave battle with cancer.  The loss of Malcom didn’t stop Gerda from carrying on the work they both loved to do.  Malcom Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps and when he’s not working as CEO for a local insurance agency, he’s hybridizing and introducing his own registrations.  These days Gerda splits her time between hybridizing, her book club, the five children and nine grandchildren.  She says, “As for me, I am in for as long as God allows me to function and breathe.”
Michael Bennett x Shallow Waters (future)

In 1994, while back in Germany helping to care for her mother after hip surgery, Malcom called and  said  "Guess what I am doing?"  As it turns out, he was pollinating everything in the garden and at that time they had already amassed a sizable collection from other hybridizers.  After returning to Ohio, Gerda jumped on the bandwagon too.  “All in all we were a team but did our separate thing. We would ask each other questions and share out thoughts, and tried to be the first one out  in the garden at hybridizing time to make a cross on that last bloom of a particular daylily. My husband always beat me to it. I accused him of going out at 3 in the morning with a flashlight, prying open a bloom to set pollen on it. We both laughed about that. I have heard it said a few times that my husband would have been one of the greatest hybridizers around, and I believe it, too.”  This was the beginning of Victorian Gardens.

She credits four outstanding hybridizers as being the biggest inspirations and mentors, but there are so many more.  First is Steve Moldovan, he offered immediate encouragement, praising Gerda’s eye for color and detail.  She says it was Steve that taught her those things to begin with.  “He would bring me to a seedling and say "Look at this, there is so much going on in this flower" He would point to the eye, the nuances of colors, and all the intricate details in the pleating and ruffles etc.I still do this to this day.”  David Kirchoff is a charming and intelligent man and his advice for the Brookers is “IT IS DAYLILIES, ENJOY AND DON'T FRET!”  You can’t mention The David and not mention Mort Morss in the same breath.  How can you not like someone who names a daylily after you?  “I do see Mort as much of the backbone of Daylily World and both their talents combined make it what it is. A great place to visit, and some of the most wonderful daylilies.”  Mike Holmes, he knows so much about daylilies because he talks to everybody and retains the important facts.  His enthusiasm will get you going every time.  Larry Grace lends his keen business sense, loyalty and work ethic and his great hybridizing talents.

These days, Gerda is breeding more for eye patterns with teeth.  “When I see the daylily bloom at actual bloom time, all my plans from the previous day might go out the window.”  Keeping her breeding program in mind, she uses only the best (in her opinion) eye patterns, color clarity and plant habit she can get her hands on.  “After many mistakes, I have learned Great x Great does not always produce Great.  So it is what they call, luck of the draw.”  While she breeds for bigger and better, but still likes to keep the excitement of hybridizing alive at bloom time, sometimes the surprises are better than the expectations.  She tries to use fresh pollen, but as always sometimes has to rely on frozen pollen.  Pollen is collected and stored in the freezer the same day.  

Crosses are marked with plastic bread tags.  Seeds are dried in stackable  After six weeks in the fridge they get planted into trays.  When they first started out in hybridrizing, Gerda and Malcom would make and plant around 14,000 seeds every year with a germination rate of around 70%.  Now the number has dropped to a much more manageable 1,000 with a 75-80% germination rate.  Malcom Jr. does between 8,000 and 10,000 seeds every year.  The introduction rate is somewhere around 1%, but “getting there is half the fun.”

All seedlings receive a number when selected for evaluation and are transplanted to a separate ‘keepers’ bed.  All beds are numbered and have six rows each.  The rows are listed A-F and Gerda maintains and inventory list.  If a selected seedling remains selected after three years, it is eventually lined out and increased for registration and eventual sale, depending on the rate of increase.
ABBA X 53399  32ht, x 7 inch (future)

Gerda lists deer as the biggest challenge faced in her display garden.  Liquid fence  just make the deer laugh and they ask for their daylilies with a little bit of hot sauce to bring out the flavor.  The location is good for visitors, so the deer are tolerated…poorly.  Seedlings, however, are grown on a piece of family property a few miles away that is surrounded by electric fencing.  The gardens and seedlings are a bit much for just one or two people to deal with on their own and Gerda mentions two outstanding paid employees, but there are also the grandchildren who come to help with shipping and weeding, among others.  Michael Bennett, who worked there for ten years, until Gerda pushed him on to bigger and better.  A fellow daylily lover, Mercy Ermakov, shows up when needed despite her own busy family life.

While reluctant to name a ‘crowning achievement’ (as has everyone else) she does list some of her favorite introductions Sweet Isabella (one of my favorites), Princess  Sophia, Michael Bennett (very nice), Rolling Thunder and Echoes Of Love.  Then there are the ones she introduced for Malcom Sr., Ironman, River Of Light, Secret Weapon, Belle Cook and Reach for The Sky (another of my favorites).  Gerda tries not to take any aspect of this hobby/business too seriously, which has ‘run amok’ in her yard.  “I do, however, strive for excellence in every order I ship.  I have learned lots from previous mistakes and my goal is to ship double fans with an excellent root systems on the new introductions.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to registering seedlings.  While beauty is important, so is plant habit, branching, height and bud count.  “I have seen a lot of changing trends in everybody’s hybridizing programs.  It is a fashion show to me and mostly the newest fashions are the most popular, with some of us still appreciating some of the outstanding oldies.”  Gerda says the AHS is running things very well, providing all daylilies with recognition.

Victorian Garden is an AHS display garden and is open for visits starting the end of June and the garden is open all season.  A phone call ahead of time is greatly appreciated.  The website for Brooker introductions can be found here
Garden June 2010

Seedling bed at the farm





Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meet Judy Davisson

Judy and Gloria Hite
             Who could have guessed that growing up on a 180 acre Aberdeen Angus Cattle farm in Iowa would be inspiration for creating some of the most beautiful, but lesser known daylilies on the market.  Judy (Davi) Davisson grew up on said farm, with her parents and three sisters.  The family also raised soy beans, chickens, oats and vegetables.  The property was originally owned by her grandparents.  Judy’s grandmother started the one acre flower garden surrounding the house.  She grew peonies and roses, lilacs and every other perennial she could get her hands on, including H. Evelyn Claar (Krausse 1949) which she bought when it was the latest and greatest.  Glenn, Judy’s husband, was raised on a very similar family farm, growing oats, corn, dairy cattle and three boys.  Davi earned her BA from the University of Northern Iowa and did her post graduate at the University of Illinois, where Glenn earned his degree also.  Not long after, Glenn got a job with General Motors and the couple moved to Michigan.  Davi worked as an accountant and taught accounting systems to businesses while raising their one son, Adam.  Adam now lives near Savannah, GA as an Engineer with his wife Abby and their two year old son Michael.  Six years ago, Glenn and Judy made the decision to retire to North Carolina, so they sold off the house and furniture so they could haul the entire garden with them.  At least they had their priorities straight. 
Carolina Cool Down

                “My main goal is to create extra- large flowers with fancy faces and interesting shapes on extra tall, well-branched scapes with stellar, northern hardy plants under them.  I love appliques, watermarks, bitones, clean colors, and fragrance.... and like to combine these.  I also have a line of tet miniatures that are sculptural that I will continue to develop.”    With daylilies in general, Judy would like to see more originality.  She feels that there are too many new directions that have yet to be explored for copycats to be introduced.   “All it takes is creative thinking, focus, and the patience to carry it through many generations of line breeding.”  Judy credits 3 hybridizers with being her mentors and biggest inspirations.  Howard Hite helped her to gain the know how to develop plants that didn’t even exist at the time.  Tetraploid, unusual forms with plenty of motion were hard to come by then, without using any diploid conversions that is.  Next she mentioned Al Goldner who inspired her to work on creating carefree, disease free plants with self cleaning habits.  Hardiness and tall sturdy scapes are also important.  Curt Hanson rounds out the trio, he taught her to do what makes her happy instead of following the pack.  Curt was also very generous with his plants and he lends more inspiration year after year.

                When actually deciding what crosses to make, she studies each plant, trying to determine what  could be done to make it more unique.  She never makes a cross unless she has a specific goal in mind with that particular plant or flower.  This is some advice I should take myself, but I can’t seem to let a flower go unpollinated.  In the 30 years she has been growing daylilies and hybridizing, she’s tried a variety of methods for storing pollen.  Fresh pollen dried in the house under air conditioning is the best, but Judy also uses frozen pollen, stored in gel caps or centriguge tubes.  For 2011, she’ll be trying out the matchbox storage method.  You just have to find what works for you.  Long crosses are marked with wires or colored paper clips, but bread tags are used for short crosses and hanging tags if supplies of the others run out.  Seeds are stored in paper coin envelopes in large plastic jars with lids in the refrigerator, leaving little room for food.  She usually starts between 1,500 and 6,000 seeds every year, with maybe 50 of them reaching evaluation status.

                First year seedling blooms are culled for bad colors.....murky colors will never improve.  She immediately composts  any that are mauve.  She REALLY doesn't like mauve!  Second year seedling blooms are culled for being ordinary looking or looking like an already registered cultivar or looking like a lesser version of one of the parents.  These seedlings make wonderful gifts for the neighbors!  Third and fourth year seedlings are culled for plant habit (foliage, buds and branching), vigor, and overall presentation in a clump.   Fifth year seedlings will be culled if they sulk after being divided into single fans or have crowns that making dividing difficult.  “I don't think I'll ever consider my cultivars "done enough" to be called a crowning achievement, but I love the colors I'm getting in my rose and lavender lines and have some great oranges coming up from A BLOOM WITH A VIEW.  DAVI'S DILEMMA is an example of a nice rose color and CAROLINA COOL DOWN is a great lavender.  The flowers I named for people I care about will always be special to me.”

                “Increase is much faster here than where I lived in Michigan because of our longer growing season, but seed isn't as easy to set when it gets hot.    We get a lot of extreme freeze/thaw cycles that go on all winter long, so I don't grow many evergreens, they really suffer.   I prefer dormants and semi-evergreens, they grow better here because they go safely underground and stay there for our crazy winters where it can be 60 degrees one day and 18 the next day.  This area of North Carolina has very heavy, red clay soil which makes digging difficult, so I have to create raised beds to make digging easier.  And it is also very dry in the summer so I need a watering system.”  Judy is also working on paring down the introductions from other people to make more room for her own seedlings.  “In the winter, I make an Excel spreadsheet with the pod and pollen parents of each cross and the number of seeds in each seedpod using the information that I have written on the paper coin envelopes when I harvested the seed.   At the same time I sort thru the seeds and throw out ones that are not developed, soft, moldy, etc.  The spread sheet is alphabetized according to pod parent and the crosses are then numbered 1 thru whatever.    I use the number to keep track of my crosses while they are soaking (to verify germination) in condiment cups and later, the same number is used on pot markers.   I start seeds in cheap Wal-Mart foam cups in the house, harden them off on a sunny porch for a month, and plant them in the ground after danger of freeze has passed in the spring.   I am able to plant some seeds (from early blooming daylilies) directly in the ground in the fall after refrigerating the seeds for 6 weeks.   I plant seedlings VERY close together due to lack of space and have a three year rotation on seedling beds.  Seedlings planted in the ground take 2 years to bloom.   The first year of bloom, I remove the most promising seedlings to give them their own space and cull out the bad colors to give the remaining plants more room to grow.   The second year of bloom, I will again pull out anything that looks promising, and that fall what's left in the bed is thrown out to make a fresh bed for next spring's planting.”

“I think the AHS is already on the right track in trying to make the AHS more attractive to new members.   The AHS portal being developed is a really exciting.....the technical committee is working hard to make it a user friendly place.   Meg Ryan is doing a wonderful job as editor of the The Journal and Kevin Walek has made registering daylilies so much easier.   Mary Collier Fisher is doing a great job as President, working hard to make the AHS more exciting during tough economic times with a lot of fresh ideas.   There are a LOT of volunteers working very hard already, so the AHS is in very good hands.  The only thing that needs improving is exhibition show rules and judges education, which always seems to lag behind due to the evolving multi-forms that are being developed.”

                Glenn, who she calls her ‘Wildlife Manager With A Truck’ is the one who removes unwanted animals that may wander into the gardens.  He is also the turfgrass specialist, while Judy takes care of the daylilies by herself.  There garden is located in a deed restricted neighborhood and is considered a hobby/ hybridizing garden.  She sells excess stock twice a year on the Lily Auction and from her website.    Hybridizers and friends are welcome to stop by, just make sure you call first to see if they’re home.   If they’re not home, Judy is most likely out fly fishing or hiking in the surrounding mountains.  They also enjoy boating and fishing on Lake Norman.  “North Carolina is a beautiful state and it's all "new" to us to explore.”  

“A very wise person once told me to not make daylilies your whole life or it will make you crazy.... so I try to lead a balanced life with friends and neighbors who do other things and work in community service gives perspective to growing daylilies and keeps it fun.”    

Seedling photos can be seen here

Introduction photos can be seen here

Judy with Ken Wilke and JD Stadler

Judy Fishing