Weed It and Reap

Jack Church is addicted to gardening

7/18/2013
BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jack Church is addicted to daylilies
Jack Church is addicted to daylilies

Name: Jack Church, retired Bowling Green police officer, living in Weston.

Garden specs: Five acres with 12 beds that average 7-by-75 ft. They’re 7-feet-wide because when I’m weeding on my hands and knees in the rows between beds, I can reach half-way across the bed, about 3 1/2 feet, from each side.

When did you start gardening? My name is Jack Church and I am a hemaholic. I am addicted to the genus hemerocallis, commonly known as the daylily. As with any addiction, it can become all consuming. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Jack Church stands amidst a portion of over 1,000 different varieties of daylilies, including hybridized  daylilies in Weston, Ohio.
Jack Church stands amidst a portion of over 1,000 different varieties of daylilies, including hybridized daylilies in Weston, Ohio.

PHOTO GALLERY: Daylilies on display

I was born 74 years ago into a gardening family and grew up in Berlin Heights east of Sandusky. We raised a big veggie garden and canned a lot of our winter food. Mother also insisted on growing flowers, annuals mostly. By my early teen years I became interested in trying to grow perennials from seed. Mostly this venture was a failure but I never lost interest as life passed by. My wife, Shirley Jean, and I planted flowers in most of the places we lived and grew vegetables if we had a garden area.

About 35 years ago we decided to buy a place out in the country with 5 acres. At one time, it had a house trailer that provided income for the prior owner, and this left a concrete patio and a couple strips of cement. We thought we could hide it with a flower garden. My sister offered me daylilies that she described as “the almost perfect perennial” because they’re relatively care free, don’t have to be dug up, and aren’t bothered by many diseases or insects.

A lot of us trade things. My daughter, Lisa Kiene, has about 450 daylilies and prefers pastels and frills. I like big loud things. And my sister, Fran Houghtlen, has about 700.

What do you grow? 1,000 different cultivars of daylilies. They originated in Asia and were brought to Europe in the days of Marco Polo [13th century]. Pilgrims brought them to America, to prevent soil erosion. Some tiger lilies are native to United States. But daylilies aren’t true lilies: true lilies grow from a bulb and include oriental, asian, tiger, and trumpet lilies. We also grow hosta, iris, and peonies.

Favorite plant: With amazing diversity, daylilies are the stars of the show. They are, however, a terrible cut flower. One I really like is Neon Flamingo; it’s hot pink with a flower that’s close to 12-inches in diameter.

Give us a tip: Give them at least six hours of sun. I fertilize twice a year, spring and fall by broadcasting 10-10-10 granular fertilizer around the base of the plants. They will endure some drought but the lack of nourishment will affect the height of the plant and the quality of the bloom.

Hours spent gardening per week: Between April and October I spend about 20 hours a week in the garden and find it a good time to clear my mind and to think.

Annual expense: About $1,500 per year on gardening supplies: 300 bags of cyprus mulch, 4 50-pound bags of fertilizer, $100 on a commercial weed killer, tools, new plants. Each year, I delete about 50 and add about 50 new daylilies. The most expensive one I’ve bought is Neon Flamingo for $200.

Challenges: The big one is, I can’t do much work until late April. That gives me eight weeks to get all the beds cleaned out and ready for people. I do enjoy it.

What are you proud of? At some point we became interested in hybridizing our own plants and to date have registered 41 hybrids. I’ll probably register five next year.

Jack Church stands amidst a portion of over 1,000 different varieties of daylilies, including hybridized  daylilies in Weston, Ohio.
Jack Church stands amidst a portion of over 1,000 different varieties of daylilies, including hybridized daylilies in Weston, Ohio.

It is exciting to see the first forever bloom on a plant that you have bred, knowing that your eyes are the first to see it: it is one of a kind. There are 74,000-some daylilies registered with the American Hemerocallis Society. In the early years, I was interested in crossing flowers that had “diamond dusting” [a fine, natural glitter on the petals].

All our plants are registered and labeled. There’s adventure and science in undertaking cross pollination: you pick out two parents and take the pollen from one and put it on the pistils of the other. When seeds results, you plant them and wait to see what you’ve got when it produces a bloom. If you like the resulting flower, you create a clone by dividing its roots.

I have about 500 seedlings I’ve cultivated, each identified by UV-resistant labeling tape affixed to a stainless-steel stake in the ground. The seedlings are in their own 30-by-40-foot-bed. From one set of parents, I might plant 100 seeds culled from several buds, and each bloom is likely to look different. After I see the bloom and how many buds each scape (stem) produces (it should have at least 12 buds), I’ll decide which to register and what to name them. There’s a limit to the number of letters that can comprise a name. One of the longest is A Moose Fishing on a Pond on Monday. Black Swamp Bad Juju is one I named that has red with a yellow throat and a yellow toothed edge. I figured there’s gotta be voodoo in the swamp.

For our 50th anniversary, I cultivated a beautiful white daylily and named it Shirley Jean: a single scape [a stem] has 25 buds. I’ve named them after the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, including Angela Marie, for my daughter who died in a fire at seven years of age. I named one Caylee Marie (for Casey Anthony’s two-year-old daughter whose body was found in a Florida woods in 2008) and another, Laci and Conner (for Laci Peterson, who was killed in California by her husband in 2002 while pregnant with her first child, Conner). Perhaps it’s because I was a cop or a parent or maybe both. I hope to contact Caylee’s grandmother and Laci’s parents and offer them the plant at no cost.

What do you get out of gardening? Relaxation. The best way to rest your mind is to empty it. I can’t work in the garden and think of anything else. Plus I like the challenge of hybridizing, deciding what to cross with whom. I like to think there’s a science to it.

Be warned that addiction is not only possible but likely. So long, got to go to my HA meeting.

Note: Jack Church will give free tours of his garden by appointment, through Aug. 7. Call him at 419-669-2869. Photos of his daylilies are also on Facebook at Birdland Daylilies.

To see more photos and a video of the Church garden, go to toledoblade.com/gardening.