CANTERBURY -- IF someone had told Linda and Bob Poitras that they'd be daylily farmers in their retirement, both would likely have said, “That's crazy.”
That was before they went crazy for daylilies. It started soon after they moved to a house on three acres in Canterbury in 2000. They planted a modest 15 daylily varieties. They grew so well, the couple added a few more. Then a few more, and then a few more.
Each time they ran out of room in one garden, they'd dig up more grass to make another. Collecting became part of Linda and Bob Poitras's life after retiring from truck driving (Bob) and office work (Linda).
“We'd see a gardening center and stop in to see what they had,” said Bob Poitras.
Now, their collection consists of 600 varieties growing in 39 gardens.
“I love daylilies,” Linda said by way of explaining the size of their collection. “There's just something about them.”
Four years ago, they realized their hobby had the makings of something more and put out an “Open” flag by their mailbox on Baptist Road. Gardeners and landscapers can stop in and stroll around with a pad of paper, jotting down names of their favorite blooms, like Sunday Gloves, Mango Madness or Alice in Wonderland. Bob will take the list and head out with a shovel to dig up a clump right from the garden.
Selling the plants seemed the natural thing to do to solve what was starting to become a problem: too many daylilies. They multiply like bunnies. One plant becomes five plants within a few years, so the Poitrases found themselves digging up and separating their daylilies, always looking for more room. They couldn't bear to throw any away. So they sell them for $8 a clump.
“We just fell into this,” Linda said of the business. “When we had so many of them, we just couldn't kill them all. We try to save as many as we can.”
Daylilies are so collectible because they come in as many as 60,000 varieties. Blooms come in just about every shade and size, and the plants may grow to 6 inches or 4 feet. Blossoms might be single colored, two-toned or striped, ruffled, smooth, double or single, scented or unscented. Linda can't even begin to pick a favorite.
“All of them,” she said.
The Poitrases show customers two stuffed photo albums with close-ups of all of their 600 kinds. If someone wants an apricot daylily that blooms late in the season, or a deep red daylily that blooms in May, they'll be able to use the book to find a name and location. Each photo is numbered to correspond with the number of the garden where it grows.
The Poitrases call their farm “Our 3 Achers” for a reason.
“Everybody says we spelled it wrong. We say, 'No, we didn't.' ” Bob said with a laugh. “This land here in Canterbury, no matter where you put a shovel, you're going to hit a rock.”
As they dug up more gardens and pried out more rocks, they brought in dump trucks full of topsoil, six of them over the years. They had some of the daylily's most attractive attributes on their side, though.
“They're pretty carefree,” Linda said.
“They'll grow just about anyplace,” Bob added.
Besides the hard work and the daylily's own propensity to grow in the New Hampshire climate, Bob credits his wife's talents for the state of their gardens.
“She could put a hoe handle in the ground and it would grow,” he said.
Each day, the Poitrases, their son and grandson spend time meticulously weeding and deadheading (removing the spent blooms) in the 39 gardens. The couple spends about three hours at it each morning. “That's our limit. Any more than that and we get kind of tired,” Linda said.
After four years in business, the Poitrases have come to a realization. “You don't get rich selling daylilies,” Bob said.
But, it does keep this couple doing what they love. Will they keep adding more gardens? Maybe one more to make it a nice, even 40?
“We just have to say no,” Linda said.
The Poitrases say they're done aching, but whether they'll be able to withstand the allure of new varieties remains to be seen. There are still some patches of grass behind their house that theoretically could be turned into gardens.
Linda herself seemed to waver on whether they're really done, saying of her husband, “He doesn't like mowing the lawn anyway.”