Riverbend Gardens (Photo courtesy of Paul K. Lewis)
Riverbend gardens. (Photo courtesy of Paul K. Lewis)
I think I probably first met Mike and Sandy Holmes in the early 2000's over at Steve Moldovan's garden. We both shared the thirst for knowledge about how to hybridize daylilies and Steve was such a great teacher. As memory serves, I remember digging up a seedling field there one hot summer day with Mike Holmes and Bill Chambers. At the end of the day Steve paid me by giving me a double fan of his intro, Vatican City. I was as happy as a clam. I think Mike and Sandy would agree the best memories we have at Steve Moldovan's were of sitting on the porch of the guest house out back and talking daylilies with Steve and Roy. Those were some great times. I did get the opportunity to visit Mike and Sandy's place some years ago and wish I had more time to get down there because their daylily garden is incredible. I should also mention that Mike has been very helpful to me with my daylily website over the past 7 years and I will always be grateful for that. Here is my interview with Mike and Sandy Holmes.
Sandy and I were married in 1991. We soon built a new large home on five acres of ground in a subdivision in Bellbrook, Ohio. We planted trees and started to landscape the property. There we happily raised our family Ashley and Jon, along with several pets. In 1996 we added daylilies to the landscape and started Riverbend Garden. We were officially backyard hybridizers. Our two most memorable daylily's from that effort were Silver Sword and See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me. As our daylily beds grew in size we began to look for another location to grow the daylilies. In 2001 we purchased 11 acres of farm ground acres five minutes from our home and began the process of moving the beds. Again we began a process of landscaping along with adding a barn and a greenhouse.
In 2006 Kimberly McCutcheon joined us as a helper. She soon began to express her desire to hybridize also. She decided to hybridize diploids and took a section of land to start her program, Pretty Petals Daylilies. She has been very successful in her efforts and she has a good eye for the unique. In 2016 Kimberly moved Pretty Petals Daylilies to a new location, closer to the horse farm where she rides and trains. Her garden is now shared with Ed Kraus. They will be open during the Mecca Tour week.
Today at Riverbend Garden, we grow seedlings in a five year rotation. Normally we have 40,000 to 50,000 seedlings at any one time. We do sell seedlings during bloom season for $25 a clump and have many visitors who like to visit. If you are in the area, please give us a call and stop by to visit. We have bathroom facilities and refreshments are available too.
1. How did you get interested in daylilies?
Mike: My interest originated with Sandy's interest. I merely was a tour guide, traveling with her to see gardens of interest. After several years of helping her with the garden, we began an association with a group of new friends which made growing daylilies even more enjoyable and long lasting for me.
Sandy: I always had a flower garden. When we built a house in the early 1990's, a friend from work gave me some of her late father's daylilies to landscape with. Her Dad was Bill Barrere, one of the earliest tetraploid hybridizers. The next summer we met Steve Moldovan and Roy Woodhall and the rest is history.
Mike: Absolutely Steve Moldovan! Steve had a complete vision of a total landscape. Shirley Farmer as well. She was a sharing and giving person to everyone she met. Jamie Gossard was just getting started in hybridizing and we became good friends. We learned aside each other. John Benz taught us the ins and outs of hybridizing. I liked Jack Carpenter hybrids also, so I would say he was an influence as well.
Sandy: Steve Moldovan was my greatest influence. He absolutely believed a pretty face was not enough and had a great eye for color. Shirley Farmer introduced us to lots of local people and loved to go to meetings. After I got into large Unusual Forms, converted daylilies from Ned Roberts along with Richard Webster seedlings played a huge role in my genetics.
3. What were your recollections of the daylily world when you first started hybridizing?
Mike: The South had the pretty daylilies, the North had the hardy daylilies. Teeth daylilies were being developed. Catalogs came from most hybridizers. We'd have 30 to 50 catalogs to look at. No websites. Folks traveled. The Florida Mecca was the place to go. People turned out at events in large numbers. One winter in Chattanooga there were over 300 people in attendance.
Sandy: Since there were no websites, the winter meetings were the first place to see pictures of the new daylilies.
Mike: Initially I wanted to hybridize round purple daylilies, but a friend told me that if I hybridized just round purple daylilies, I would lose interest and be bored. Looking back, I have often regretted taking that advice. I still love purple daylilies, but have did little in that field of hybridizing.
Sandy: I had no initial goals. I loved them all. After a few years I realized that what I really enjoyed were the unusual forms. Since there were already great hybridizers for diploids, I decided to do tetraploids. I didn't realize how long it would take the tets to change to the forms I liked.
Mike: Probably the biggest challenges are the distractions. Family, health issues, and friends pulling you in different directions. There are so many other choices to do with your time and money when you are retired. You really have to be committed to the love of seeing new daylily breaks blooming and the friendships developed.
Sandy: My single largest challenge has been to get large unusual forms that are unique. There are hundreds of large purple (my favorite color) unusual forms, so it's been a lot of work to try to get something that doesn't look like everyone else's.
6. How many seedlings do you grow each year?
Mike and Sandy: 8000 to 10,000 tetraploids. Maybe a thousand or two diploid seedlings.
7. What do you think of the prices of daylilies these days?
Mike: Not sure if you are asking about value or cost. I don't think about cost much. As long as I see hybridizing value, the price only becomes relevant. We've spent several thousand dollars for daylilies that we felt held that value to hybridize with. On the other hand, I can't fault people for buying daylily introductions from a reseller at a cut rate or through a club auction as daylilies rarely hold value compared to their initial introduction price.
Sandy: Many years ago Steve Moldovan said that the internet could be the end of the big hybridizer, due to the large capital investments. He felt that it would give the backyard hybridizer an inexpensive way to sell their plants. Since the backyard hybridizer doesn't have the overhead of someone who hybridizes exclusively, there would be a lot more daylilies in the market and therefore the prices would decline. In retrospect, he may not have been too far off. People will still pay for quality, but there are lots of ways to shop around.
Mike: Sandy's Walt Lowry is a favorite. I like Jamie's Larry's Twilight Bite, Bill Waldrop's Dental Delight, Karol Emmerich's Gnashing of Teeth, Larry Grace's Dr. Stump, Gerda Brooker's Malcolm Brooker Sr. and Reach for the Sky. Also Floyd Boatwright's Deeds Without Words, Rich Howard's Explosion in the Paint Factory, Paul K. Lewis's A.D. Lewis are just a few.
Sandy: Lots of Judy Davisson's but Carolina Cool Down is a favorite. Dan Hansen's Voracious Vixen, Karol Emmerich's About Anything, Jamie Gossard's Heavenly United We Stand, and Heavenly Angel Ice, Steve Moldovan's Widows Walk, Rich Webster's Purple Wonder, and Mike Holmes, See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me.
Mike: All are Dormant. Ohio Buckeye for eyes, Red Winged Blackbird for dark daylilies and Have A Cigar for round pastels are among the top. I still use them in hybridizing.
Sandy: Walt Lowry, named for my father is my favorite daylily. It's tall with a great scape, big flower with movement, burgundy purple, and grows from Mississippi to Ontario.
Here are some of Mike and Sandy's seedlings:
I'd like to thank Mike and Sandy Holmes for taking the time to answer these questions. All photos are the property of Mike and Sandy Holmes and they can not be used without prior consent. Stay tuned for the month of March. Looking forward to doing my annual segment on my good friend, Curt Hanson.