JANESVILLE, Wis. — During the day, David Whaley makes a living installing water pipes and repairing broken sinks.
After hours, the Janesville plumber is preoccupied with the elegant lilies in his front yard, backyard and a friend's yard.
"I can talk lilies all day long," he told the Janesville Gazette one late afternoon in his garden as mid-summer Orientals and others sweetened the air.
The 39-year-old nurtures some 300 named and registered varieties of lilies and another 200 unnamed ones.
Some are in beds. Others are in individual pots. All have trumpet-shaped blooms in a flurry of beguiling colors. Many perch atop tall, sturdy stalks.
By the looks of things, you would never know Whaley discovered his lily-growing passion only three years ago.
When he moved into his house, he was disappointed with the landscaping. So Whaley planted two Asiatic lilies by the mailbox.
He remembers how they multiplied and stretched taller and taller. He looked online and found all kinds of varieties with striking color combinations. Soon, he was ordering Lilium bulbs in the spring and fall, and friends and other growers added to his menagerie.
The lovely lilies could not have found a better home.
Whaley's networking with other growers and intense motivation to learn earned him high recognition in little time.
He recently took the stem of a pink and yellow Trogon to an international competition at the North American Lily Society, the Super Bowl of lily growing. He came home with the Isabella Preston Best of Show trophy and three other high awards for the flower with 32 buds.
Whaley's name will be put on the trophy, and he will keep it until a new winner emerges. The award has been given annually since 1956 and contains the names of winners who were pioneers in creating hybrid lilies.
A second of Whaley's lilies garnered another prize at the competition, the first he has ever entered.
Whaley's lily mentor, Jeff Stiller, encouraged him to take part.
Stiller, a steamfitter from outside of Milwaukee, is one of many new friends Whaley has met in the world of lily growing.
"My phone is constantly going off about lily stuff," Whaley explained.
He belongs to the North American Lily Society, the Wisconsin-Illinois Lily Society and the North Star Lily Society, based in Minnesota.
He also coordinates a lily-growing page on Facebook.
Mark Dwyer, horticulture director at Janesville's Rotary Gardens, has visited Whaley's garden and is impressed.
"He got the passion for lilies and went full-out gangbusters on learning about lilies," Dwyer said. "His knowledge of the various species, ways to propagate and hybridize them is amazing for someone who is relatively new to this."
Dwyer predicts Whaley has a strong future in promoting and introducing lilies.
He said his lily infatuation has inspired Dwyer to plant more lilies at the gardens.
Whaley's mom, Yvonne Moe of Janesville, explained why her son is so successful at growing the flowers:
"If David gets an interest in something, it's never just 100 percent," she said. "It's always 110 percent."
When summer ends, Whaley will harvest lily seeds from his garden. In winter, he germinates them indoors and puts them under grow lights. He plants up to 120 pots annually. Each pot contains 10 or more seeds so he can select the best plant in each group.
Two years ago, Whaley took pollen from one plant and placed it on another to learn the process of cross pollination to create new hybrids.
"You hope what you were going for actually happens," he said. "But it's always a surprise when the blooms open."
Before discovering the world of lilies, Whaley did "guy things, like fishing," he said. Now, he does not have time for them.
His oldest daughter, Caitlin Rote, said flower tending has softened him — a little.
"All of a sudden, he starts growing pretty flowers," she said. "I'm so glad he found a hobby he is really passionate about. You should see how happy he gets when he receives awards."
Whaley is modest about his recognition.
If you find him among his lilies, you will see the real prizes are there before his eyes, blooming from spring through fall.
"I've really been bitten," Whaley said, "by the lily bug."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Janesville Gazette.