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What’s there to love about daylilies?

What’s there to love about daylilies?

Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2008 8:47 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger

Love those daylilies!
Say wha?
Ain’t this the guy that disparaged daylilies a few years ago to the point that Hemerocallis lovers thither and yon were up in arms, some to the point of calling him a heretic and others actually egging his  house?
Yep, one and the same. A disclaimer on that that opening exclamation, however: Love some of those daylilies. No, let me qualify further: Love a few of those daylilies.
We’re talking about the most popular perennial in these United States. I’ve gardened with a relative few of them over the past 40 years, and found them sorely lacking as garden plants. Put their exquisite flower on a show bench, eye it close up and in detail, and you have what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful specimens.
Put that same daylily in a garden setting, amongst other of your perennials and shrubs, and what happens? That flower is still its narcissistic self, all right, on the one day it is abloom. Then, it is downhill from there. Where the pristine flower held forth the day before there sags on the stem a derelict mush-mummy of sludgy goo. Not only that, there it hangs for, seemingly, days on end, sullying other flowers alongside. Nothing to do but painstakingly deadhead every day.
What about that aforementioned few then?
Well, they are, mostly, old varieties, some dating to hybridization in the 1920s. They have smaller flowers that shrivel discreetly and steal quietly away.
There are other qualifying assets (in my book, at least) that will cause them to make the grade in my garden.
For the most part, I like daylilies that are tall, displaying their flowers on stems that rise above their surroundings. This way, they can be placed in the back of other border ingredients so that the daylily foliage, which tends to go tatty after, or even during, bloom is hidden.
I make a few exceptions on that latter point. The two or three shorter daylilies I have are placed midway in beds, with things like Autumn Joy sedum et al, in front so that the foliage is still hidden.
Among the shorter ones I have is Minnie Pearl, which I just set a few weeks ago after receiving a nice, plump start from Diane Mahan. I had seen it in her garden earlier in the summer and the bud count and bloom coverage was enormous.
That brings me to another plus for my daylily standards, abundant bloom. Some show daylilies are woefully short of stem and bud count, but that doesn’t matter for the showman. Just a single stem with a few blooms are sufficient to win a bench prize.
Among my modest collection of daylilies that meet my standards, undoubtedly winning first place is Autumn Minaret. This daylily rears to fully 6 feet or more, throwing a high number of blooms for weeks on end. It cranks up in early July and was still holding forth in late August, fully six weeks of bloom. The high bud and scape count account for that.
Autumn Minaret’s flowers would make a modern daylily breeder laugh. Squinny, pointy things that never open out completely and are a wan yellow with a dusky red throat. No close-up viewing here, but the effect, again, in the garden, is just what is needed in a perennial border. The color of the flower makes it usable in both my red border and another, more pastel, setting.
Speaking of red, there are precious few perennials in a true red color. Here is where daylilies can help. I have, in that red border, some 10 or so varieties of daylilies, in the red to orange range.
Actually, it is hard to beat the old “wild” daylily, which is a species, not a hybrid, monikered Hemerocallis fulva, and is a European native that has adapted and escaped all over the eastern United States. Its proclivity for rapid expansion is a disadvantage in a civilized setting, but the double form is not so rambunctious and blooms later than the single, more common, one. Both can be found on any rural roadside and be had for the digging.
A good red I have is August Flame. It does, indeed bloom in August, after starting in July. Its long stems tend to recline, but in my case that’s not all bad. The two clumps in my red border lean from their rearward position out over underlings, then turn their flowers up to the sun in a pleasing manner.
Daylilies can be divided and moved any time after bloom and now is a good time. When re-planting, give them some of the good things of life, i.e. enrichment, fertilizer and plenty of water, and they will reward you aplenty next year. The right ones, that is.
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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Remember: Daylilies really can be garden plants.
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Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 9.9.08

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