By Carolyn Roy, Photos by Hannah Richardson
There’s an abundance of rarities on Earth. White peacocks, albino reptiles, cosmic purple carrots and black Spanish radishes are just a few. Just as rare is the deep pink daylily named for its hybridizer, Olivier Monette, the late father of a Natchitoches woman, Theresa Monette Vallien.
Vallien and her sister Velma were raised in Abbyville where their father worked for the railroad. During a downturn of the economy in the late 1970s, the number of railroad employees was scaled back including her father. He went to work as a gardener for a renowned daylily and iris grower in Abbyville, W. B. Macmillan.
“My father did the labor for Mr. Macmillan and began to work more and more with the daylilies. One day Mr. MacMillan told my father he should start his own garden. And he did,” says Vallien. This career change not only allowed Monette to grow flowers, but his finances and reputation as well. He soon became a known and respected hybridizer.
The business quickly developed with Monette breeding the flowers and his wife, Hazel, running the business end. “It just went wild and was very lucrative for my family,” Vallien says. Orders came in from all over the country. Garden bus tours would visit Monette Gardens during the growing season from September until early June. Vallien says her family’s garden was often the last stop on tours.
“My mother fixed crawfish appetizers and chicken salad sandwiches. She would serve them to the guests on tables underneath the oak trees. They all knew they wanted to stop at her house.” As financial success continued, so did Monette’s national reputation as a hybridizer. The most popular and famous product was the Olivier Monette, described by the American Hemerocallis Society as “the finest pink daylily on the market.”
While developed by Monette, it was cultivated by another grower and debuted in 1988, three years after his death. It earned several awards from the American Hemerocallis Society. The lily is an extremely rare and sought after variety.
Monette also named lily varieties after his daughters, Theresa’s husband, Andrew, and their late daughter, Monetta. Another special flower was a snow white “infant” that he nurtured to maturity. Vallien says he donated a pure white flower for a fundraising auction. “Someone saw it and offered him over $10,000 for the hybrid. It was beautifully displayed in front of a black velvet cloth. People came from everywhere to see it.” She says people had their names on lists for years to buy his prized plants. After they left home, Vallien and her sister returned to work in the garden during the tour season. “Mother kept the business going after my father died, but it got harder and harder to get help. When she told the growers she was going to close, people swarmed like bees, even coming from other states.”
Vallien says she did not inherit her father’s talent for growing and developing daylilies, although she does have a few varieties in her yard but not a prized Olivier Monette. “Daddy said he wouldn’t give me his pride and joy.
And he didn’t lose any breath telling me ‘No!’” As Vallien looks over the beautiful daylilies, she said, “When I water them, I think of my parents and say some prayers.”