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Growing something new every day, Biloxi man hybridizes daylilies

Growing day lilies proves to be ‘one of a kind’ passion

Tommy Maddox grows numerous day lilies at his Biloxi home.
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Tommy Maddox grows numerous day lilies at his Biloxi home.

There's almost a Garden of Eden feeling about seeing a flower that nobody else has ever seen.

This time of year, Tommy Maddox of Biloxi knows that feeling well. A daylily hybridizer, Maddox will go into his garden where these one-day wonders are growing and, as the sun is rising, watch a colorful daylily unfurl into a truly unique specimen.

Maddox isn't just a daylily enthusiast; he's a hybridizer, happily seizing the challenge of creating something new and beautiful, with equal parts science and art. When he hits a winning combination, his plants can sell for more than $400, and his hybrids are known throughout the daylily world and the American Hemerocallis Society.

Maddox and his wife, Joyce, are often at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Daylily Society's annual daylily shows, and they might be at this year's event, which is Saturday at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi. The show will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., with plant sales beginning at 10 a.m., inside the mall in front of Dillard's.

The exhibition show is open to all daylily growers, and all entries from those planning to exhibit must be received between 8 and 10 a.m. on the show day. Judging will occur between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Seedlings, or unregistered flowers, will be available for sale at what MGCDS Show Chairman Steve Hammons describes as "grab bag prices." They will come from a nationally known hybridizer's garden and will be available first come, first served. In addition, named cultivars will be available for purchase.

Maddox became intrigued by daylily alchemy at a pizza restaurant, of all places.

"I met a guy in Pizza Hut some years ago and he had a hybridized daylily," Maddox said. "I said, 'I've never seen one of those.' Well, we started talking, and the more we talked, the more interested I got."

What really captured his imagination is the mystery of the daylily.

Counting seeds

"If you take a seed pod off and get the seeds out and plant them -- let's say you have 10 seeds in the seed pod -- you will get 10 totally different flowers," he said. "Now, isn't that something? You can have a plant with yellow flowers, and you plant its seeds and get all kinds of colors. It's just amazing."

"They have DNA, just like we do," Joyce Maddox said.

"Every different seedling has a different DNA. What shows up, that could have been from generations ago," Tommy Maddox said. "So we try to develop daylilies that don't exist."

The only way to ensure having a daylily plant that looks like its parent is to harvest "fans" from the plant, he said. As its name suggests, that's one of the green fanning portions of the plant; it vaguely resembles a palmetto fan. Maddox works with fans and seeds to come up with his unique daylilies, tweak

ing the resulting flowers until they have that certain je ne sais quois.

"You just know when you have it," he said. "When you've worked with them long enough, you know when it's where it needs to be."

When a daylily is "where it needs to be," Maddox submits it to the American Hemerocallis Society for possible registration. Up to that point, the daylily is known by a number, which Maddox assigns it once it blooms. Once it's registered, Maddox names it, and his daylilies' names always begin with "Abilene," his street in Biloxi.

It's those registered plants that can command top dollar.

"I've registered about 50," he said.

Once known by most as "those yellow flowers," daylilies are taking off in a wide spectrum of the warm colors and are venturing into the cooler ones. Chartreuse and softer greens are beginning to be developed. Blue-throated daylilies are making an appearance, with hybridizers eager to develop truly blue variations.

Seeing green

Maddox's green daylily Abilene Green As a Gourd has commanded $300 for a double fan.

Maddox has some daylilies that are awaiting registration.

"I should know in the next two to three months," he said.

In the meantime, he's still working on more hybrids.

"Oh, it's habit forming," he said.

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