East of Elmgrove

A Mailman With a Green Thumb

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

Ed Chetaitis delivers letters and daylilies. The missives are from the United States Postal Service. The daylilies are from his glorious garden in the Summit neighborhood. For a very small fee, he will dig up, say, an Orange Velvet – a big-bloomer with creamsicle-colored petals – and plant it in your yard in a sunny spot, where the flower will thrive and multiply and bring you joy for years to come.

Ed has been our postman for nearly two decades. His route is near the Wayland Square area. Many East Siders know him and adore him. It’s hard not to grow attached. He is genuinely kind, easy to talk to and always in good humor. During a blizzard years ago, we made him cookies and hot chocolate. The next day, a thank-you note floated through our mail slot.

I knew Ed was a gardener, but it wasn’t until I read our neighborhood blog that I discovered he was a hemeroholic. That’s a fancy word for someone who is happily obsessed with daylilies, not to be confused with lilies, although he likes those too, but not as much. A daylily is from a family of perennials called hemerocallis. A lily – characterized by a single straight stem with whorl leaves – is from the lilium family. Lots of people get that mixed up. Ed says they also misspell lily a lot. “One ‘l,’ says Ed.

When I think of daylilies, the wild Orange Tiger Lily comes to mind. Fact is, there are at least 60,000 varieties of daylilies in the world. Ed has about 150 varieties in his Summit yard, of which 50 are for sale. He has access to several hundred more varieties at his mother’s house in Maryland. Consider these gems: Calico Jack, a creamy yellow bloom with a plum eye; Chicago Silver, a lavender-purple two-tone with a silver edge; and Ruby Spider, a full nine-inch bloom with red petals and a yellow throat that extends halfway to the petals. Don’t even ask me to describe Daring Deception or Buttered Popcorn or Bela Lugosi. I don’t have the words.

Ed started gardening when he was 12. The cancer ravaging his father’s body made him too weak to mow the lawn. Eddie took over the landscaping. He planted gladiola bulbs he bought from the Michigan Bulb Company with his 50-cents-a-week allowance and was inspired by what sprang from the earth. He planted a garden at his first house in Virginia, his native state, and when he moved to Rhode Island in 1996 he discovered daylilies in his yard and nurtured them. One daylily led to another. Now there is nary a spot on the property that does not entertain a hemerocallis. Ed even received permission from the city to plant on an easement in front of his house.

Ed’s daylilies are all over the East Side, from the Grotto neighborhood to Fox Point. Irving Avenue, my street, hosts Ed’s flowers, including a Little Joy – a blood-red small bloom – and a Happy Holidays to You – a red bloom with a ruffled and serrated gold edge. Word of mouth is working in Ed’s favor. One day, he found a note taped to the door of a house on his route: “Ed, please call my cell about your daylilies. I’ve got to know!”

Ed likes being a postman, but he loves growing and selling daylilies. “It’s therapeutic,” says Ed, who recently returned from the 71st annual convention of the American Hemerocallis Society in Norfolk, VA. “I’ll sit on my front porch and see the blooms and sigh. It’s a happy sigh. It’s a true enjoyment of seeing all the color. There’s also a little bit of spirituality to it.” Daylilies appeal to him because they are easy to plant, beautiful and resilient. Neither snow nor rain nor heat will kill them. “They won’t die on you,” says Ed.

Most of his daylilies pass by the end of August. The petals drop, the leaves curl. This can be a sad time for Ed. The view from his front stoop is colorless. Who can blame him for feeling blue? It’s a long time until spring. May we all hang in there.
Ed can be reached at EdwardChet@cox.net. Most of his daylilies range from $5 to $12. He charges a small fee to plant.

elizabeth rau, ed chetaitis, east of elmgrove, michigan bulb company, irving avenue, east side monthly, American Hemerocallis Society