Bertrand H. Farr
1863 – 1924
Bertrand Farr's love of flowers began as a boy on the Iowa prairie of his father's cattle farm. But, he did not start his professional life in horticulture. He briefly attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston to study piano, but also spent many hours in the Hovey greenhouses. He then tuned pianos and sold musical instruments in, taught in, or owned music stores in Iowa and Pennsylvania.
In 1896, he and his bride were the first residents of the new township of Wyomissing, PA, a Reading suburb. While continuing his music businesses, he began to acquire plants, shrubs, and perennials. Eventually he bought eleven lots and his obsessive plant collecting hobby overflowed onto other vacant ones. By 1908 he had published the first mail-order catalog for the Farr Nursery – a firm which survived for 100 years. The hobby was now a business. In a dozen years its catchy slogan would be: Better Plants – By Farr.
Farr was well known for his hybridizing of iris and peonies and leadership in their respective societies. But, between 1908 and his death in 1924, Farr (or his firm after his death) named about a dozen daylilies, introducing only the best six. By modern standards, that is not many. However, no American other than Luther Burbank, with seven, had introduced more than Farr in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century. His Hemerocallis 'Ophir' (Farr, 1924) received the Award of Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society of England in 1931 and is still in commerce.
However, Farr became influential within the daylily world because of a handshake. "Incontestably, Dr. Arlow Burdette Stout is the Father of the Modern Daylily..." according to Sydney Eddison in, A Passion for Daylilies. Stout hybridized daylilies at the New York Botanical Garden, but was not allowed to sell from there. So, he sought out a nursery to assist him. Only Farr responded. About 1920, with a handshake agreement, Farr accepted “the rights to, and responsibilities of, propagation and distribution, and cooperation in evaluation” of Stout's daylilies according to a nursery catalog. Farr and Stout agreed in regarding “the 'performance' of a daylily to be much more important than the beauty of the bloom.” Further, no Stout daylily would sell for more than $3.00.
Farr died suddenly before this agreement could come fully to fruition. His widow soon sold the nursery to several of Farr's managers. For over 30 years, they honored the commitment Farr had made, until Stout's death in 1957.
Obviously the development of the modern daylily would have come, eventually, but the rapidity of it can only be viewed as a result of this partnership between the Farr Nursery and Dr. Stout.
Farr's obituary in The Florists Exchange contained this Farr quote: “Blessed is he who has a hobby, and can make it his business.”
-- Courtesy of the AHS Archives