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Daylilly Farm About More Than Profit
If profits were Saundra Dunn’s only interest, she would sell all her daylilies online. Keeping regular business hours for people to come to her rural Dansville, Mich., farm is not as economically efficient. But it gives her joy to see her teenage staff interact with customers meandering through 1,400 daylilies. Her business name, Along the Fence Daylilies, captures the neighborly country atmosphere that is important to Dunn.
  Dunn sells daylilies on the Internet, at large farmers markets, and on-site. Customers stroll through rows of flowers and flag varieties they want. Then, while they wait in a shaded pavilion with plenty of daylily information to read, Dunn or a worker carefully digs up divisions of each selection, washes the soil off and labels them. On-site customers typically choose the least expensive varieties ($5 to $15), while online shoppers are often serious collectors interested in more expensive plants such as Smooth Sailing Along the Way or Genni’s Lovin’ Oven for $50 each.
  The heart of the business stems from Dunn’s collector personality and her love for daylilies.
  “They are like little pieces of art to me,” she says. She collected her “floral art,” until one day she realized she had 400 different varieties.
  In 2008, the special education teacher decided to turn her hobby into a part-time summer business. One of her objectives was to involve nieces, nephews and teens from her church to help them gain an understanding and appreciation for agriculture. Adult family members and neighbors are involved in the daylily farming as well.
  “We do hybridizing just to get the kids aware of flower shape and differences. I require that they cross pollinate at least six different varieties and specifically say what they are trying to improve about the plants they are crossing,” Dunn says. The hands-on work and interaction with each other has enhanced their knowledge when helping customers.
  “I have three goals: great customer service, quality plants with big root systems and that customers feel a little respite here,” she says. A trip to her farm is often “$5 daylily therapy” to mark an event, Dunn says. Some are sad like the anniversary of a death or news of breast cancer. Others are more festive, such as a 50th wedding anniversary, when teens gave the couple the plant “Timeless Romance” as a gift.
  Dunn opens her farm to visitors Thursday-Saturday between July 4 and the middle of August. Monday through Wednesday, she and her staff are busy mulching, weeding and doing maintenance chores. In addition, she schedules garden talks and events such as free outings for people from assisted living facilities or with Alzheimer’s from Monday-Wednesday. Teen staff members walk one-on-one with the guests through the garden and give them undivided attention. Dunn considers community service as her “fourth market.”
  Besides being beautiful with creative names like the yellow-green and maroon “Autumn Jewels” or the red-accented white “Cherub’s Kiss,” daylilies are easy to grow and maintain, Dunn says.
  They need 6 hrs. of sun a day and grow in sandy to clay soil. Dunn uses mulch to keep the weeds in check in her 5-ft. wide rows of plants. A dose of Milorganite fertilizer in the center of each plant division in the spring helps the plants thrive and keeps away deer during the bloom season.
  For people considering growing flowers for a business, Dunn offers advice. Meet with someone who’s run a similar business, check into zoning and other legal issues (something co-owner Mary Ann Cleary takes care of), and wear sunscreen for long days of work outside.
  Dunn notes that it would be a more profitable business if she just did internet sales and understands why so many other growers have made that choice. For her, however, meeting customers in person and watching them enjoy her acre of flowers is just as important.
  For those interested in seeing the varieties she has, Dunn suggests going to www.fotki.com/flamingo2011, which contains photo albums of her flowers. For those who happen to be in the area this summer, she welcomes them to stop in for an even better look.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Along the Fence Daylilies, 3035 Parman Rd., Dansville, Mich. 48819 (ph 517 449-7368; Facebook: Along the Fence Daylilies).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #1