Bill Warman, of The Maine Farm on Route 131 in Waldo, has broadened the scope of his hybridizing efforts. Now, in addition to creating new kinds of daylilies, Warman has a number of brand-new peonies to his credit.

About 10 years ago, I visited The Maine Farm and did a piece for this column about Warman’s daylilies. After that, I decided to purchase some of his Maine original lilies and now devote one raised bed to these showy lilies.

The Warman farm has row after row of daylily beds, all varieties produced on location. And even on days before and after the bloom time for daylilies, it’s easy for buyers to make their selection, because Warman has color catalogs of every lily.

In fact, he has assigned a number to each lily and each lily has a tag with the corresponding number. So all a buyer need do is to peruse the color catalog and select a lily or lilies. Then Warman goes out, digs up the lily and makes the sale. Modestly priced lilies sell for $10, but others run up to $200, depending upon their rarity. In all, Warman offers more than 2,000 named varieties of daylilies.

But then again, these assorted, Maine-hybridized lilies are not available from catalogs. Warman told me he gets customers not only from all over Maine, but from out of state as well. Daylily fanciers, hearing about his different strains of lilies, are happy to make the trip to Waldo, Maine, to avail themselves of daylily varieties that are unlikely to be found anywhere else.

For those purchasing fresh-dug daylilies from The Maine Farm, Warman recommends first removing any clinging weeds or other debris from the tubers, and then soaking them in a bucket of water overnight prior to setting out the next day.

Now peonies

Being a renowned hybridizer of daylilies would be enough for most people, but Warman has now added another species to his list. I asked what got him started breeding hybrid peonies, and he said that his wife, Lynn, likes them. And that was enough for this soft-spoken, gentle man.

During my visit, Warman took me to view his prized peonies. These were all growing in wooden, lattice-type supports that he fashions from limbs and twigs, all courtesy of his woodlot.

Each of the peonies we saw were Warman's own hybridized varieties. One, which really dazzled me, was a pure-white variety that, when young, has tones of yellow, which dissipates as the flower matures and eventually becomes a pure-white beauty.

The size of the flowers impressed me, too. Having never delved too deeply into peonies, this was a learning experience for me. Warman explained that he had two separate goals as a peony hybridizer. One was extra-large flowers, “bombs,” as he calls them. The other is superior fragrance. “I want a peony that is so fragrant that the scent alone makes you want to eat it,” Warman said.

So these two traits, size and fragrance, go hand-in-hand in setting Warman’s hybrid peonies apart from the common herd.

Hybridizing technique

I asked him just exactly how the hybridizing process works. The answer involved talk of “tetraploids,” which means having an artificially doubled set of chromosomes and “diploids,” which have a single set of chromosomes, along with an elaborate process of crossing and re-crossing.

Chromosomes and genes were never anything that I could wrap my mind around, so after seeing my puzzled countenance, WArman gave me a bare-bones method used by hybridizers. And here it is.

Begin with two different plants. Call them “A” and “B.” Transfer pollen from one to the other. Then later, during that same bloom cycle, reverse the process. The next step involves waiting for the cross-bred plants to set seeds. Plant these seeds and allow them to mature. Then name these crossbred plants A1 and B1.

Next, cross A1 back to A and B1 to B, which results in plants we’ll call A2 and B2. Cross A2 and B2 together. The offspring from this process will be a new hybrid. Bill then saves seeds from the final crossbreeding and plants them. The result will be plants that can be sold. It’s a continuing process, too, meaning that regular crossbreeding must occur to keep the line going.

Note that there is considerable waiting involved in this process. While the actual cross-pollination takes little time, it takes a year or so for the resulting offspring to mature and finally set seed. So one new hybrid entails a minimum wait of five years, and some can take up to 20 years. Which explains the inherent value of these new, named peony varieties.

Part of the reason for the long wait is that 80 percent of peonies don’t produce fertile seeds.

If all this isn’t crystal-clear, don’t feel bad. It took me a while to even begin to understand the process. Besides that, Warman has some secret tricks that are the source of his success. In fact, he has produced hybrids from peonies that the experts said couldn’t be hybridized.

He says that knowledgeable people in the world of peonies have traveled from other states to his Waldo farm to see the proof for themselves. Three experts from abroad have made the trip to verify Warman's achievements.

In time, he hopes to publish a paper on his work. But for the moment, he still has lots of crossbreeding and waiting to do.

At present, Warman has hybridized two Itoh peonies, a special type of peony. Also, he has hybridized hundreds of standard, bush-type, regular peonies.

Warman will begin offering his hybrid peonies for sale in 2018. He will have more than 300 varieties for sale, and these will go from $50 on up.

The Maine Farm is located about half a mile west of the intersection of 131 and Route 7. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, but closed on rainy days. For more information, call 342-5663.

Tom’s tips

Daylily fans needn’t wait until next year to set out new plants. Daylilies can be transplanted right up to time of frost.

Also, don’t discount the tawny daylily, the kind seen growing along roadsides. These are an antique, stately variety that deserves space in our field or border.

Buds from tawny daylilies are edible and can be cooked as per green beans. The spent flowers can be picked and used as a thickener for soups and stews. Keep the dried flowers in a tightly-sealed jar for winter use.