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Running a business, one daylily at a time

Couple treasures this crop

BALMORAL -- The daylily is beautiful and tragic at once.

It blooms brilliantly with every colour under the rainbow (except blue) but only for a single day. Then it dies. Hence, the name.

But the blooms grow in clusters, so when one dies, another opens and so on. You can get a dozen daylily blooms from one stem.

An ink-stained wretch is apt to think that's a bit like the news cycle -- one day you're it, the next day you're history. And Emmy Byle is a bit like people wanting their news in the morning. She can't wait to get up and see what's new in her daylily farm, she says.

Byle, with husband David, former turkey farmers, operate Manitoba's only daylily farm. They tend more than 300 varieties of daylilies on an acre field near Balmoral, about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg. It was a hobby that got out of hand, then was tamed into a business.

"When it's 35 below in January and February, and you're flipping through these seed catalogues, that's the way it really started," said Emmy.

There are daylily farms in British Columbia and southern Ontario. The Byles figured they could save local people the inconvenience of ordering from far away. Plus, if the daylily variety can survive on their Interlake farm, it can survive Manitoba's climate.

It's easy to see how daylilies can become addictive. There are more than 50,000 varieties in the world. It gets to be like trying different flavours of salt-water taffy. You want every one.

Serious plant breeders don't go in for daylilies much. It's hobbyists who have contributed to breeding them to where there are 50,000, the couple said.

Breeding is very simple. You take a bloom from one end of your garden and carry it to a different daylily on the other end. "You take their blooms and rub them together. It's sex for flowers, is what it is," said David. You've just started a hybrid.

"If it's really something never seen before, people will register it and give it a name."

They come with the craziest names. The field at the Byles' Green Ridge Farm includes something called Bela Legosi (famed Dracula actor), French Lingerie (speaking of flower sex), and Echoes of Mercy (presumably bred by someone with a social conscience). There is also Fooled Me (hopefully not by a spouse), Big Smile (got away with it), Apricot Sparkles (who wouldn't want to grow that) and Black-Eyed Stella (Susan's distant relative).

Some people become collectors looking for very specific varieties to complete collections. The Byles travelled to Toronto and came back with a suitcase full of daylily roots. (You plant the roots.) They will drive around Manitoba and fill the back of the half-ton with more new varieties.

The petals of daylilies are different, too. Some are smooth and some are ruffled like the collar on an early 1900s Edwardian shirt. Some are like crepe paper.

Why a farm and not a nursery? Well, first of all it was a farm to begin with. While the couple has retired from turkey farming, Dave still grows 500 acres of cereal grains every year. Also, they grow their daylilies like they grow any crop.

A partial catalogue is available at greenridgefarm.ca. The website is a work in progress.

"People like to just wander through and if there's something we like, we dig it up," said David. People wanting to visit are asked to phone ahead. Some daylilies are already blooming but everything is late this year.

Every leaf is a root and the Byles will dig out a clump and split it apart. They sell the root.

This is only the second year in business but Emmy, who sat on the board of the Manitoba Turkeys Producers Association for 10 years, has been building her collection for much longer. It takes about three years before the perennial can be split to make new daylilies.

Green Ridge Farm also sells other flowers such as Asiatic lilies and irises.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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