A daylily flower wilts in just a day, but a daylily garden endures year after year.

Betty and Harry Harwood are in their 20th year of running Covered Bridge Gardens, a 2-1/2-acre daylily farm in Chico, Calif. It has 1,500 daylily varieties, which translates to some 15,000 plants.

"It's a hobby that went berserk," Harry said.

"When my husband starts collecting, it always gets out of hand," Betty said.

The couple, both longtime gardeners, started the farm after Harry retired from a 40-year career as a dentist.

"I knew we had to find something to keep him busy," Betty said.

Mission accomplished. The farm is impressive not only in the numbers and types of daylilies, but in that anything would be willing to grow there. When the Harwoods moved there 29 years ago, the ground was river cobble, the result of dredging by early miners.

"This was all rock, dredged land," Betty said. "We originally called it 'Foolish Venture.' "

Truckloads of soil were brought in to create large growing beds.

Those beds are now thick with daylilies (Hemerocallis). Spires of the flowers poke above the clumpy, grass-like plants. The perky blooms are yellow, orange, pink, maroon and other bright colors.

Most of the plants are $5 to $15. Specialty daylilies are double that price - or more. The Harwoods sell their more expensive plants by mail order to daylily collectors throughout the United States.

The Harwoods obtain new daylily varieties from hybridizers in Florida. They pay at least $100 for a single-fan (roots with a few leaves attached) introduction, Betty said. The new plant is then grown in their garden and later divided to create more plants.

"It takes three or four years before you have enough to sell," Betty said.

Harry said while the garden is a business, it's not the Harwoods' livelihood. The goal, he said, is to break even.

As the garden has grown over the years, so has the work. Spent flowers need to be removed daily and there's lots of weeding, dividing and planting. The Harwoods hire workers to help during their busiest times.

In a home garden, however, daylilies aren't much work. The plants don't mind heat, aren't picky about soil, don't need a lot of water and aren't prone to insect or disease problems.

And they're beautiful.

Many people are familiar with the orange or yellow daylilies commonly seen in road medians and commercial landscaping, but that's only part of the daylily story.

There are more 50,000 daylily varieties. And they keep coming. Hybridizers continue to tweak the flowers into new colors, shapes, branching patterns, bloom periods and other characteristics. The Harwoods even have two varieties that hybridizers named after them: Wild About Harry and Betty Loves Me.

All daylilies, like the name implies, have flowers that only last a day. But each plant has many buds on a scape (stalk) and several scapes. That means a succession of flowers that can last for weeks. Different varieties have different bloom periods, so planting varied types prolongs the bloom period.

"A garden like this will go for 60 or more days," Harry said.

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