DAYLILY DELIGHT: The story of Maleny’s Daylily Man (As published in the Hinterland Times)
The love of gardening and a neighbourly gesture 38 years ago introduced teacher Scott Alexander to the intriguing world of daylilies. From creating a nursery, surviving the global financial crisis, and supplying thousands of edible buds to a famous restaurateur, Gay Liddington went to hear the story unfold about the 'Daylily Man'.
“We moved to Yarraman, a little town south of Kingaroy. I was creating a cottage garden and a neighbour came over with a couple of plants. She told me I had everything in the garden except daylilies.That was the beginning. Slowly the collection built up and I started importing from America,” said Scott.
The idea of one day growing daylilies on a larger scale enticed Scott to purchase a block of land in McCarthy Road, Maleny in 1981. A few years later he moved to the area with his stock of around two hundred varieties. Scott was a remedial resource teacher who travelled to primary schools in the area advising on children with learning difficulties.
“I had an eye problem develop and went into early retirement. And so, by 1986, at the age of 45 I was a retired teacher. By that time I had started a daylily nursery and was able to carry on with something that I enjoyed. What began as a hobby became my business. I called it Mountain View Daylily Nursery because I had a view of the Glasshouse Mountains.”
There were only 3 other large nurseries in Australia specialising in daylilies. Scott’s nursery became the fourth. He opened on weekends to collectors who shared his love of the exotic flower. Within 2 years the flourishing nursery outgrew its one acre. The purchase of some land in Policeman Spur Road, Maleny, saw the project expand. “It was the most perfect block. The soil was beautiful and the aspect was great!” Scott reminisced. Scott’s vision of creating a landscape garden to showcase daylilies and educate visitors came to fruition with four acres under cultivation. The business focus was on retail, mail order and hybridising.
“Maleny Debutante was my first breeding effort. I selected the name because it was like stepping out. It was registered in America and we sent plants there for sale. Also, Booroobin Magic was unique at the time because there was nothing like it in the world. Another one I’m really proud of is In Excess as I had succeeded in breeding a daylily with an excess of petals and fragrance,” said Scott, proudly sharing photographs of the prized specimens.
“Eventually, we got too big and I was disillusioned with having so many visitors - 6000 in a 5 month period! A lot of them were tourists and not gardeners, so it all changed. Then we leased some nearby farmland. Now we sell via the internet and still supply big nurseries but are no longer open to the public.”
Travel formed an integral part of Scott’s daylily journey with clients in fifteen countries. “We don’t export any more but back then I travelled and got myself known. It wasn’t just about daylilies. I loved meeting people!”
The GFC saw the business downsize dramatically. By 2011 sales had plummeted by 50% and 5 staff members were laid off. Scott remembers it as a heart wrenching time. However, it was a matter of survival. “It was a big change and a lot of nurseries closed. That’s why places like Bunnings came to the fore.” Mountain View Daylily Nursery is now the only specialist nursery of its kind in Australia.
“During the past 4 years we’ve supplied daylilies to a large propagation nursery for tissue culturing - micro propagation, a natural process done in a laboratory. It’s taken a lot of trials to get 7 varieties. Another 15 are being evaluated. They create about 50,000 plants, all the same. These are sent to nurseries all over Australia. Those nurseries take the young plants, increase them and then on-sell. By this method my daylilies will be sold through Bunnings by the end of this year.”
Semi-retirement forced upon him by health challenges has given Scott Alexander time to ponder life. Gone are the years of being consumed with business, branding and public appearances. He is now able to focus on contributing to his community.
Supporting Maleny Golf Club in the development of junior golf, and helping a local charity group, Knitting for Brisbane’s Needy, fulfils this endeavor, and he sponsors the Maleny Church of England’s St George’s Art Awards. Some years ago Scott also helped Maleny High School raise around $12,000 towards building their new hall.
“All we did was provide my brochures and dig the daylilies. The school then received a percentage of sales. Better than chocolate!’ Scott quipped as our conversation turned to food.
The origin of the daylily is in Asia. “I’ve seen photos of the wild ones in Mongolia - acres of one colour. This wildflower is also a food source. Buds, petals and tubers can be used in culinary creations. Pick the buds the day before they are due to open. You can quickly blanch them and fresh petals can be used in salads. I often tell people to pick the previous days expired daylily flowers and put them in casseroles and soups.” A slight peppery taste in flavour, they are packed with vitamins. Daylily flowers can also be purchased dried from Asian supermarkets.
“At one stage Peter Gilmore, a famous Sydney restaurateur, contacted me and asked if I could supply him with 1000 daylily buds a week. We had 3 acres under cultivation at the time and provided buds to him for a couple of years.”
Scott agrees that gardening is definitely therapeutic. He attributes much of his physical and mental well being to this love. “After prolonged illness, when hope seemed lost, one has to be grateful for improved health. Life is wonderful!”