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)


  1. Holy Cow! Love all those wild edges, you are AWESOME!

  2. Beautiful!! I just started dabbling into hybridizing last summer and am seeing the first tips of my efforts pop through the ground - so it'll be awhile before I see my end results.

    I am anxious to get some teethed and more ruffled daylilies into my collection, so I'll be heading to your website to see more!

    I will most certainly plan to see your gardens this summer - thanks for the great interview!