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


  1. This is a first-rate blog. Wonderfully interesting and beautifully illustrated!

  2. Thanks again! I only have one Davisson, ABBEY READE, which Judy so generously gave me as a bonus with purchase from her garden. It grows very, very well for me here in Texas!