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Land of Daylilies

Land of Daylilies
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
Land of Daylilies
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

It’s something I think about a lot — how Lamar Lanier, a man who I didn’t know very well due to a family rift, moved into my paternal grandparents’ farmhouse outside of Metter shortly after retiring and transformed the property into a showplace ripped from the pages of Southern Living. Aside from making some much needed improvements to the house’s interior, he poured his heart and soul into the yard.“ You won’t believe it,” Mom told me years ago. “Your Uncle Lamar has made flower beds all around the house out there, and it’s just stunning!”

I had to see for myself. Mom, my stepfather, Johnny, and I drove out to the little farmhouse at the end of Hunk Road the next time I visited. Uncle Lamar toured us around talking about his master plan for the place. I listened attentively. You see, I’m a flower person. I dream of yards and flowerbeds full of blooming beauties, and I always thought I inherited my flower-loving gene from my mother’s side of the family. But that day, I had a revelation: Perhaps I developed my passion for plants from my Lanier side. Or maybe I got a double dose of that gene.

Uncle Lamar had defined flowerbeds in both the sunny and shady regions of the property. He had cleared the perimeter of the pond. A giant sycamore tree still towered over the land, and a tobacco barn still stood sentry, keeping the secrets of 100 years of farming and family. There were orange cosmos bending with the breeze that day, healthy hydrangeas, fiery red canna lilies, leggy pink and purple petunias, and black-eye Susans galore.

That’s the day Uncle Lamar first mentioned growing daylilies at the farm. He tossed around words like, “hybridization” and “cultivars.” Fast forward to the following year. We visited again to find that he — my uncle with the green thumb — had planted hundreds of daylilies in the sandy soil surrounding the house. Moreover, we dropped by in early June and got to see some of the blooms in their full glory. Some were in the orange family with shades similar to that of tangerines, pumpkins and the fluorescent hues of “Road Work Ahead” signs. Others sang the song of yellows — lemons, butter, canaries and school buses. Then he bent over and gently cradled a beautiful bloom in his hand.

“I created this pink one,” Lamar continued from page

told us that day. “I haven’t named it yet, but I like it a lot.”

So did we. The mauve petals were expansive with ruffles along the edges and a pale yellow stripe in their centers. Its throat was gold like morning sunshine.

“It’s magnificent,” I said, sounding surprised, because I was. I had no idea that my uncle was so into plants and flowers, and the notion of this news still had me reeling.

And after standing there admiring Uncle Lamar’s daylily, I finally said, “Call it, Hunk. Isn’t that your nickname? Hunk?”

He nodded, laughed, and released the flower before moving to the next flowerbed. Before we left that day, he demonstrated how he hybridized his lilies by taking the pollen from the stamen of one daylily and putting it on the pistil of another. “It’s pretty easy,” he

added. In the years that followed, I made a point to visit more often and try to get to know him better. I asked him questions about my grandparents. I asked him about growing up with my father, Herman, who died in 1992. I asked him about the farmhouse’s history. He indulged me with a few stories, telling me about a dog he and my father had one time named “Tiger,” because it had stripes. He told me about roofing houses with my father and grandfather.

He talked about his time working for the railroad. He gave my husband and me stock tips. He talked about his brutal battles with the IRS. He talked about a giant, recordbreaking rattlesnake that supposedly lives in the old leaning tobacco barn.

“He watches my every move,” my uncle said with a laugh. “He’s waiting for me to let my guard down.”

I even tried a shot of moonshine in his kitchen a few summers ago. I think he told me that it was made from grapefruit. What I remember vividly is that it lit me up.

Hearing and watching him talk fills a void somewhere deep inside me that I didn’t realize I had, reminding me of my Lanier roots. His speech patterns and mannerisms are much like my grandmother (Maggie Mae), my papa (Henry), and my late father, and so our visits magically transport me back in time to people I loved — to people I miss.

This week, a daylily from the Lanier farm bloomed for one day and one day only in my yard in Northwest Georgia. It was a very pale yellow — almost the color of cream. That daylily was as unusual and exotic as the Lanier side of my family, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It reminded me of Uncle Lamar and his tending to his beloved flowers on the farm of my people. And while each fragile bloom — like the cherished people in our lives — grace us only briefly, those roots run deep below the surface. We can’t see them, but they are there.

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