ALBANY, Ga. -- Don Eller's experiment with daylilies began in 1996 with a single $1 purchase of some seeds from a local flea market. Little did he know that his experiment would turn into an obsession.
Now, 17 years later, Nancy and Don Eller's front yard on State Highway 32 in Leesburg is almost completely covered in daylily gardens.
The Ellers will exhibit their flowers and considerable talents along with other exhibitors at the Albany Mall Saturday with the Albany Hemerocallis Society's 31st annual show.
The show, which is free and open to the public, begins with a plant sale at 10 a.m., followed by a judged competition from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"I never thought buying those seed would turn into this," Don Eller, who holds a masters degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Tennessee, said. "I enjoy hybridizing the lilies and doing a little genetic engineering. But what it really boils down to is I'm a farm boy from Sparta, Tenn., who has fun digging in the dirt."
Don and Nancy have been married for 45 years. Since getting hooked on the lilies, the high school sweethearts from Sparta have become one of Georgia's top hybridizers of the colorful plants.
Don specializes in single blooms, Nancy in doubles.
"We try to introduce a dozen new lilies each year," Don said. "Nancy has been the Georgia Hybridizer of the year the past two years and is really beating the pants off of the boys. There is no doubt in my mind that she is the No. 1 or 2 doubles hybridizer in the state.
"It's funny that I got her into it and she nearly fainted when I bought our first $100 lily. Now she doesn't even blink an eye."
Kaye Fearnyhough is the Daylily Show organizer and has nothing but admiration for the Ellers.
"The thing that sets them apart is that they are cutting-edge," Fearnyhough said. "Nancy is at the top of the game in Georgia, but basically the main reason we all do it is because we enjoy digging in the dirt."
However, there is more to raising daylilies than just rooting around in the garden, she added.
"There is a lot of serendipity in raising daylilies," Fearnyhough, who has been a grower for the past 13 years, said. "There are more than 70,000 registered named daylilies in the world, and the seeds produced are a lot like children -- you never can be certain of what you are going to get."
Fearnyhough said the show also gives growers the chance to interact with each other and to promote the colorful plants.
"This is a fantastic chance for our participants to interact with each other and the public from an educational aspect," she said. "We'd like to show people how easy it is to grow daylilies."