Nerves are already fraying for enthusiasts of daylilies and African violets, as they meticulously prepare for separate extravaganzas this spring.
Nine hours before the first visitors wander through the Austin Daylily Society’s annual show and sale, Skottie O’Mahony will have risen in the dark to inspect his plants and hope for the best.
“You get up at four in the morning and you see what one is about to bloom,” said O’Mahony, who with partner Jeff Breitenstein, has about 850 different varieties of daylilies at their North Austin home.
After choosing the best ones, the pair will carefully prepare them for the precarious drive to the show. The delicate daylilies will be placed in rolled-up newspapers in buckets of water. O’Mahony will sit in the backseat, making sure none of the petals break, or any other mishap that could “ding” the score.
“You basically panic while you are driving,” O’Mahony said. “For every flaw … you get a point knocked off.”
Once they arrive at Zilker Botanical Garden, the real craziness begins.
More than 200 entries are expected at the May 25 show put on by the society, which has about 40 members, according to president Suzanne Adair. (The 53-year-old organization is also referred to by the plant’s scientific name, the Austin Hemerocallis Society.) Roughly 200 visitors are expected, she said.
But by the time the public is allowed inside, the drama will be over. All that will be left are exquisite flowers and exhausted participants, relieved that the morning madness is over.
Before the judging, O’Mahony will use a kit, including brushes, an X-acto knife and cotton swabs, to prepare each entry.
“You spend literally hours once you get here,” said O’Mahony. “We will clean the stems and shine them with Vaseline. Everyone has their own tricks.”
Some people remove pollen using dust-removal sprays, he said. Water marks and insects are a no-no. Each flower must be as close to a perfect specimen as possible, with judges checking an online database for specific criteria.
The atmosphere is intense, said O’Mahony, but friendly.
“Nobody would pull off a petal,” he said.
All of this anxiety is for a chance to have a precious daylily recognized on “the table,” like the winner’s circle. This attention to detail is devoted to a flower that blooms for only one day.
Daylily fans are dedicated, to say the least.
Consider that when O’Mahony and Breitenstein moved to Austin in 2011, they spent more than a week to carefully prepare – trimming, washing, drying, getting them inspected — and transport about 850 daylilies. They were heartbroken when only about half survived. Still, O’Mahony, whose family has grown daylilies for generations, said he enjoys them because of the variety and they are easy to hybridize.
By the end of the judging, O’Mahony said he will simply delight in the daylilies looking their absolute best.
The winners are “usually a perfect thing that you don’t see in nature because of weather,” he said. “It’s pretty spectacular.”
African violet fans are just as passionate.
Out in the wilds of McDade sits the “Violet House,” a single-wide trailer filled with Glenda Williams’ beloved African violets.
“I’m over here in the evenings pretty much every night,” said Williams, 57.
Though she was “hooked on” the purple plants for decades, she put aside her interest as she focused on her child and career. But since her daughter graduated in 2005, Williams has started growing hundreds of the plants, filling shelves inside the trailer across from her Bastrop County home.
Inside, she has lights on timers and the thermostat set the way the picky flowers like it. A bulletin board displays an array of show ribbons.
Williams will be among the devotees at the African Violet Society of America’s 67th Annual Convention and Show at the Renaissance Hotel in North Austin. The event, hosted by the First Austin African Violet Society, has the theme “Violets Dance Across Texas.”
Williams, a vice president of the Austin group, is taking vacation from her job at the Texas Education Agency to go, even checking into the hotel. The show and sale will be open to the public May 31 and June 1, but die-hards will be busy during the weeklong convention, eagerly attending banquets and presentations, such as “Potting Mix Frustrations.” An auction will include bidding for the right to be first in line at the salesroom at next year’s convention — an envied spot.
“It’ll go for several hundred dollars,” Williams said, who also plans to do “some serious shopping” at vendor booths.
The event is expected to draw aficionados from all over the country and even from Canada and Russia, she said. About 300 people registered by early May, and they hope to have 1,000 horticulture entries, she said.
Williams is working on numerous design entries, which she started months ago. For one design, she bought a tree trunk from Tennessee.
“Thank goodness for eBay,” she said.
Currently, she has more than 800 African violets, plus other members of the gesneriad family. Williams has recovered from losing all her plants about a year ago, after she brought home a rescued violet, not knowing it had much-dreaded bugs. So she got rid of most of her cherished violets and started over.
“My shelves were empty,” she said. “It’s the safest way.”
As Williams and others prepare for the judges’ scrutiny, “we’ll be trainwrecks,” she predicts. “You could lose points if it has a cat hair on it.”
Williams — who displays her affection for purple proudly, on her shirt, necklace, glasses frames, watch face, phone — looks forward to seeing so many lovely African violets.
“Some of the growers just blow your mind with the plants they create,” she said.
The American Begonia Society is also holding its national convention in Central Texas. The event will include garden tours, seminars and a begonia contest.
Austin Daylily Society Annual Show and Sale. May 25, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. Free and open to the public (fee for parking). www.austindaylily.org
African Violet Society of America, show and sale. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 31 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5. June 1.Renaissance Hotel 9721 Arboretum Blvd. www.avsa.org
The American Begonia Society national convention. May 29-June 2 Holiday Inn, 20 N. Interstate 35. 888-615-0609, www.begonias.org