Ramona Titus sits on a bench near some of her lily gardens in Poland. (Submitted photo)
POLAND — Off a small country road in Poland, a thick cluster of lilies offers a spectacle of floral splendor. Yellows, reds, oranges and purples emerge among green leaves and lengthy, hearty stems. Assembled like a thousand bugles, this silent mass of Lilium flowers releases a generous fragrance.
“I run a business,” Ramona Titus said. “My business is named Faraway Flowers.”
This gathering of lilies is settled in an uncombed, hard-scrabble garden in working order. It is a garden of love and labor for product, not a showpiece with deluxe landscaping. Rectangular and straight-lined, weeded when time is available, this garden contains streams of lilies, not feigned arrays of decor. The decor is left to the customers to determine for their gardens.
More than 10 years ago, while working full time in the banking and mortgage industry, Titus tended a 100- by 100-foot garden lot of lilies, daffodils and tulips in Cape Elizabeth and sold her flower bulbs and seeds on a small scale.
Both Titus and her husband fell victims to the 2008 recession and lost their jobs. They moved to Poland in 2010 and Titus decided to make lilies her major source of income.
“I’m taking my flowers with me,” she told her husband — about a 1,000 Titus estimated — and she has added on over time. Later, she dropped the daffodils and tulips and concentrated just on the lilies. “My business is online and I do mail order, rarely do I dig on site. What I do is sell lily bulbs and then I hybridize day lilies … meaning I cross pollinate two different flowers and create seeds to sell.”
“Lilies are not easy to grow in Maine,” Titus said. “Most people tend to grow day lilies here … and most people don’t know the difference between a day lily and a lily. The lily has a bulb while the day lily has roots.”
Titus started selling her bulbs and seeds on a website. Then she tried Facebook in 2013 and her sales increased 400 percent. Titus has a sales page as well as a separate chat page where people share and discuss ideas on the culture of growing lilies.
Many of Titus’ clients reside in the Midwest and southern states.
Titus deals with Dutch agents and U.S. wholesalers, as well as master lily growers throughout the United States and Canada who still produce lilies which are not sold commercially anymore but which lily collectors want.
And maybe a new lily plant is brought on, as well. A Canadian grower friend has cultivated a Martagon hybrid lily and named it “Oh Ramona!”
The business “is getting harder,” Titus admitted. “Getting harder to import lilies due to new customs regulations.”
“I really like to promote growing lilies. I don’t get rich off this. I may sell 20,000 bulbs, but, you know, what do I use that money for? Chemicals, or mulch, or whatever I need to keep things going – like a new computer for my business. I’m never going to get rich because I give too much of it away,” she said with a laugh.
Titus added, “My goal when I started this was to earn enough money to pay my taxes, and my property taxes, my insurance, my house. The day lilies are my hobby, they are not part of my business. I live on Social Security.”
People do stop by and either look from the road at her lily garden or actually drive up to the house. Most of them are polite and respectful, Titus said. “I just ask them, ‘Don’t pick off the dead blossoms because they may have seeds in them and be careful not to get the pollen on your clothes because it stains’ … and I don’t sell from my garden.”
A colorful mosaic of lilies covers one of the gardens created by Ramona Titus of Poland. (Eriks Petersens photo)
Two types of Asiatic lilies, Butterscotch Sundae and Mars Encounter, grow together in Ramona Titus’ gardens in Poland. (Eriks Petersens photo)
Red Asiatic lilies, known as Forever Susan, grow in Ramona Titus’ garden in Poland. (Eriks Petersens photo)
A Robinson’s Comet lily grows in Ramona Titus’ gardens in Poland. (Eriks Petersens photo)
One of the many varieties of lilies Ramona Titus grows in her gardens in Poland. (Eriks Petersens photo)