By WENDY HODGE
You’d have to be crazy to do what we do. By “we” I mean Tim and myself and Tim’s parents, Jeff and Jerri. For 364 days a year, we plan and prepare and look forward to the Saturday after Labor Day with a couple hundred other folks, who are just as daylily crazy as we are, and flock to a tiny town in south Georgia to attend the Daylily Spectacular at Bell’s Daylily Garden.
For the four of us, it is a pilgrimage that begins the day before. We drive to Sycamore and check into the same hotel we’ve booked for the last few years. The men sit in the front of the truck discussing the weather and Alabama football (Tim’s family are all Bama fans, bless their hearts) and the fish they’ve caught recently, while the women sit in the back seat and catch up on family events and new authors we’ve discovered. And we laugh, all four of us, off and on the whole way.
We check in and go to our rooms after deciding to meet for dinner at 5:30 p.m. After the five minutes it takes to settle in, we spend the next hour looking at the clock and wishing we’d said 5 p.m. instead. Across the street from the hotel is an Olive Garden. We finally make our way over and sit in our usual section, already anticipating the calamari and the seafood pasta and THE BREADSTICKS!
The feeding frenzy is over in what feels like mere minutes. We sit back and survey the damage and smile at each other. We always decide to take the leftovers back to the room where we will store it in the fridge, with every intention of having an Italian midnight snack, and promptly forget all about it.
Feeling over-satisfied and slightly comatose, we call it an early evening because the next morning will come so very early — 4 a.m. to be exact. We part ways in the hallway outside our rooms and say again how we can’t wait for the morning to come.
And it comes so quickly. Alarms go off while the world is still asleep, and we get all geared up for the day — comfortable clothes that will do well rain or shine, shoes that will carry us through the hours to come, canvas tote bags with the Bell’s logo on the front for holding our treasures, and cash we’ve saved all year long with today in mind.
By 5 a.m., we are at the end of a dirt road surrounded by fields and trees with the moon watching over us. We park in the almost empty lot and take our place in line. This year we are second, right behind a group we’ve seen before. They are regulars, and we smile at each other and say, “Good morning!” and then settle in to wait for things to begin at 8 a.m.
You read that right. We’re three hours early. I told you we’re crazy.
Very quickly there are other groups in line behind us. Benches have been provided so that we can sit while we wait. They are wet with dew, but it doesn’t phase anyone. We are, after all, AT THE SPECTACULAR!
Chit-chat rolls through the group like small waves of sound. “How was your trip up?” someone will ask. “Is there coffee out yet?” another will wonder. The men will stand and nod at each other, and they’ll speak of fishing and football (Bama fans and Auburn fans alike have to be careful in Georgia territory). Inevitably, though, talk will turn to what we all love — daylilies. New varieties are discussed. Gardening techniques are shared. We complain of deer eating the buds and of what a sun-baked spring it was. And don’t even get us started on dry rot — it’s what lily growers fear most. We speak of it in hushed tones, much like Harry Potter fans discuss He Who Must Not Be Named.
This year someone asks us how many daylilies we have. I reply in a quiet tone, slightly ashamed to admit how much of an obsession this has become.
“We have about 150 plants,” I answer. Tim nods in agreement.
The man who asked the question is young, maybe 30, with small kids and a wife at home. He is well over 6 feet tall and has a Georgia Tech cap on. I silently dub him “Lanky Guy.” He dips his head to hide his smile.
“How many do YOU have?” I ask, thinking he’s realized we need an intervention and should not be here to buy even more flowers.
“I have about 800 right now,” he responds.
Tim and I glance at each other. Tim raises an eyebrow at me.
“Wow,” is all I manage to say.
He’s part of what I call the “Daylilies for Profit” population of daylily fanatics (or Ultra Crazies, for short). These are the talented people who grow and breed and sell daylilies from their own homes. They know more about new varieties and gardening techniques than I will ever learn. Often they speak in terms that sound like a foreign language — proliferation, diurnal versus nocturnal, photoperiodism — words like music.
Tim and I and Tim’s parents are in the other portion of folks here, what I call the “Daylilies for Pleasure” group (Only Mildly Crazies). We buy them and plant them and watch them bloom every year. They multiply, as daylilies do, so we build more beds and transplant them. And then we come to Sycamore and buy even more. It’s an expensive, time-consuming, back-breaking cycle. And we love it to death. We are often heard saying very expert-sounding statements like, “Isn’t that gorgeous!” or “Oh my, look at that one!”
There is a pause in the conversation around us. Lanky Guy glances at his watch and says, “It’s time.”
And we all, the Ultra Crazies and the Only Mildly Crazies, get to our feet and prepare for the Spectacular to begin — at last!
To be continued….