I’m driving, driving, driving. Just about the time I decide to pull over and check my map and call Randy for further instructions to find his garden... there it is on the right side of the road.
Out of Panama City, past the Airport and about an hours drive from Destin is the “mother lode” of all daylily gardens.
Dragon’s Mead Nursery, in the Southport community, is owned by Cindy and Randy Fleming. This garden covers 2 ½ acres of daylilies and shows over 1,500 different daylily cultivars.
The prime time in the garden is the middle of April through May and they operate by, you come, you choose the ones you want, you pay, they dig and you bring a large clump of daylily home with you. They also operate via the internet at www.dragonsmead.com, where you will find a map to direct you. I was curious where the name Dragon’s Mead came from and was told that the term, “mead” is Gaelic for meadow; therefore, it equates to an area or pasture where dragons would frequent.
Pulling into the shaded garden with Annie, Randy meets us with a broad smile and a handshake. The baseball cap looks like it goes on every morning just as the sun sprinkles its first warm glow across the garden. Randy’s wife, Cindy, is a school teacher at Jinks Middle School and says “working in the garden calms you down and gets you back on the right track if you have some very stressful days. Having a daylily garden is cheaper than a psychiatrist and a lot more fun.”
The day I visit for this article, the yellow sulphur butterflies can’t seem to get enough of the small, bright red blossoms of the cardinal vine that is in full bloom and covers a white arbor and picket fence that is an entrance to one area of the vast garden. A large, climbing dawn rose is fighting for its right to the sunshine as well.
As we ride around the extensive garden in Randy's golf cart, I am amazed at the overwhelming variety of plants that I see. Randy says that Cindy is a collector and likes the unusual stuff like pink rosea vitex, 5 different varieties of cestrum, which are great butterfly attractors and provide berries for the birds in the fall.
There are many different gingers, hydrangeas, gomphrena fireworks, covered with small bright pink, rounded clover like heads and a huge staghorn fern as a hanging basket. Cindy loves her heirloom roses and they plan to expand this garden next year.
The toughest question I could think of was what is your favorite daylily from all your 1,500? After a few moments of quiet contemplation he says, “a few of my daylilies I refuse to sell out. One of those is Isle of Capri that has been with us for a long time. It is bright, golden bright yellow that stands out across the garden ... it just glows.”
Randy enjoys the hobby of hybridizing where he will cross two different varieties and see what comes out of it – you just never know what you are going to get.
Randy and Cindy, from St Joseph’s, Mo., met when Cindy attended the College at Gulf Coast. It didn’t take them long to realize they had a lot in common and marriage soon followed. Back in the '70s they started a garden shop on Thomas Drive in Panama City and the garden plans started in earnest when they bought a home of their own.
In closing, I asked Randy for his best secrets to daylily success. No. 1: Give them regular water; they will grow on a sandy beach if you give them enough water. No. 2: Good rich soil of mushroom compost and finely ground pine bark. No. 3: Perfect light is morning sun and afternoon shade.
The only problem with the daylily is “rust” on the leaves. To control this, Randy has an established spraying program that he alternates the sprays of Headline, Abound and Propimax.
They say they like every plant they see, and I say I never met a person I like better than thee.
Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled in a future column, contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.