Daylilies in the Gardens Part I
I find that daylilies (Hemerocallis) are sometimes looked down upon by some fellow plant nerds as they are almost too easy to grow, the foliage doesn't really look that great nor plays well with neighbors (other than more daylilies), and the flowers can be garishly loud in color. But in my view, points 1 and 3 are pluses and I don't really mind the foliage. Admittedly I also used to not think much of them until I worked at the New York Botanical Garden. Two fellow employees, Mike Ruggerio and Greg Piotrowski, gave me a few extras from their daylily breeding program. At first I only wanted ones that were fragrant, but over the years I have come to appreciate just about every kind of daylily form that is out there. Well I might need a few more years before I appreciate "bearded" daylilies, though I think its great that there are folks working on this new flower form. I do have a soft spot for some of the older cultivars, especially some of the ones bred by Arlow Stout. He worked at NYBG long before I did and is responsible for the bulk of early foundational breeding of hemerocallis from original species material. These older ones are often quite tall with many flowers of moderate size. They do look good in the back of a mixed perennial border as they are more subtle than the bold large flowered sorts.
Daylilies are easy to grow provided one can give them a lot of full sun, the more the better. Rust is a serious issue down south but not here where winter cold makes it survival impossible for more than a single season. There are some annoying insects that can trouble them, such as daylily leaf miners, daylily bud flies, and the ever miserable thrips. But the first two are easily controlled/exterminated with pesticides and the latter isn't a major problem most years. The biggest threat are the deer which have ruined so many gardens in the eastern US in recent years. They also are so numerous that they impact the very forests themselves, exterminating large numbers of native wildflowers such as trilliums, lilies, and native orchids and disrupting tree regeneration by eating tree seedlings. They will eat daylily foliage in spring when it emerges and also feast on the buds and flowers. The best defense is a fence (no shooting deer allowed in my area of NY) and that is what I put up around our back yard to deter them from my gardens. In the front gardens I use repellants (Liquid Fence) and plant less tasty things. However I did plant a lot of small daylily seedlings from crosses I made last year so I may end up putting a fence around at least part of the front yard where they are located so I can see the first flowers appear next summer.
Over the years I have acquired ever more daylilies, mainly from visits to local daylily nurseries or mail orders from other daylily nurseries further away. Visiting actual daylily nurseries is one of my favorite pastimes as there is no better way to select what you like than by seeing it in their fields. Hemerocallis colors often don't photograph particularly well, especially the pastel sorts, so seeing in the field is almost essential. When I order online, I do a lot of research first to see what people say about certain cultivars as well as if those cultivars have won any awards from the AHS (American Hemerocallis Society). Sometimes I will see a plant on a nursery visit that is not available or is a bit too expensive that I like. Those also can usually be found online if I decide I really have to have them. I also grow a number of unnamed seedlings from one of the nurseries I visit, Manatawny Creek, where they sell them for 5 dollars. Even though I know they are culls from a breeding program I have been quite happy with what I have purchased so far. Sometimes I think I can figure out what the "fault" might be but there are some that I cannot figure out why they were culled. Perhaps it is because there are so many registered named cultivars out there that it is really hard to come up with something truly distinctive these days worthy of registering. That doesn't stop a lot of folks from breeding daylilies though, nor registering many more each year. Its just too easy to breed them since the parts are obvious (no need for tiny paintbrushes nor tweezers here, fingers work just fine) and the seeds large and easy to germinate. I too have seedlings of my own that I keep, and a few are not even from seeds that I purposely set but from seeds that dropped and came up on their own. Sooner or later I will have to remove some to make room for others, as all serious daylily growers have to do. One simply cannot have the space, energy, nor lifespan required to grow them all.
Perhaps my favorite gardening activity is going outside on a summer morning, cup of tea in hand, to inspect the gardens. I thrive on surprises, and the daylilies don't disappoint. Each flower lasts but a day, but new ones open each morning and they usually are at their finest at that time. Seeing the first flower of a variety I have grown for a long time feels a bit like greeting an old friend, and watching the number of flowers build up over that particular plant's bloom period of anywhere from three weeks to three months is also satisfying. Some are bold in color, others come in quiet pastel shades, some are solid colors, others have bitones or patterns with multiple colors, some are small and graceful, some really large, some fragrant, some not, but all are welcome in my gardens. My smallest one is Pennysworth, an old cv with dainty simple yellow flowers borne over a long blooming period. The entire plant isn't much over a foot tall in my gardens and it would look perfectly at home in a rock garden. I have quite a few really tall ones too, some of which grow taller than myself (I am 5 foot 10, maybe 9 nowadays due to spine shrinkage that occurs in everyone as we get older--don't laugh it really is a thing according to my doctors). One of the tallest, and a fantastic back of the border plant, is the old Stout cv Autumn Minaret. It grows at least 6 feet tall and is a plant that gets better with the years. It forms clouds of simple soft toned bicolored flowers over several weeks on well branched flower stalks. It is one that I would definitely recommend for a large cottage garden or back of the border in a full sun situation.
This big yellow flowered seedling from Manatawny Creek was purchased the summer before. Although it was blooming late in the season when I brought it, it turned out to be an early bloomer this year in my garden. Pluses that I see are nice huge flower on a pretty tall plant, flowers are borne well above the foliage, good fragrance, and good flower form. I am guessing the reasons for not registering it include the fact that it doesn't have a lot of buds per flower stem (a big thing among serious daylily addicts) and that there are already too many good yellow daylilies out there. Plus they rarely look as good in the seedling sales bed as they dont get additional watering nor coddling as they would in a regular garde, so in my experience they often get taller and better in my gardens. I have to factor that in when choosing plants. That takes a bit of guesswork, especially this past summer when most of the daylilies at Manatawny Creek were shorter than usual due to the very dry summer we had in the northeast. In my gardens however they do get some supplemental water if we get a prolonged dry spell.
I have two main daylily patches in the back gardens plus many more in rows or scattered among the various gardens. This is the older of the two, and here we see it early in the daylily season, June 27, 2020 to be specific. Early and Often and Whatchamacallit are already in full bloom but many others are also starting.
This bright red one came from a daylily grower at a farmers market in Connecticut. I got it a long time ago and have lost track of its name. Its one of the older, simpler flower form ones. I keep it because of its color, a very bright cranberry red. Its not a large growing plant nor does it have an especially long bloom period. But it is very attractive when in peak flower.
Merlin's Moth has a spectacularly colored flower. I got a division from Grace Gardens near Penn Yann NY. Whenever we go to visit Ithaca (where I spent 10 years at Cornell University) we make sure to visit Seneca Lake (for the wineries) and Grace Gardens. Its about an hour west of Ithaca and the drive is lovely in summer as one cruises up the western side of Seneca Lake, stopping at some of the numerous wineries to sample their wares. Grace Gardens is just north of Fox Run winery which is a good place to have a quick lunch as well as to get some wine to take home. Tom and Kathy Rood are the owners of Grace Gardens and are fun to chat with and walking among the hundreds (thousands) of daylilies is a real treat. Merlins' Moth is an older one that will need another year to get to clump size in the spot I put it in but the flower is pretty distinctive and borne well above the foliage.
This pretty thing is a self sown seedling in the older daylily patch. I suspect one parent might be Fooled Me. I like it and will watch to see if it blooms again next year before moving it to a spot of its own.
This is a seedling of a cross with God Save the Queen. I didn't make the cross, I brought the seeds from T's Flowers and Things some years ago and what resulted was this nice plant which appears to closely resemble GSTQ. Nice fancy flowers and plenty of them, but it does not bloom as long a period as some others.
This is a seedling at Manatawny Creek in Oley, Pennsylvania. I really like this one even though the flowers are an odd color. There is something about the pattern and color combination that appeals to me. Plus the plant is vigorous (it already was a clump of several fans) and had many flower stalks on it. So for 5 dollars how could I resist? No name of course but my garden name for it is "Photogenic" as it does look good in photos as in life. I can't wait to see what it will look like next year when it is fully established. This past summer's daylily hauls necessitated creating a daylily strip along the back walkway to accommodate many of them. "Photogenic" is close to the deck where I can enjoy as I sip my tea and eat breakfast on a nice summer day.
Most likely this is a sibling of "Photogenic" and it was also a huge clump. I was not going to buy it initially but Grace really liked it so of course I got it. Happy wife happy life as they say. It still kept blooming for quite some time after it was planted near the deck so I imagine it will have many more flowers next year when its well established.
This is another no name Manatawny special. It was a very small plant but as you can see its living a rough life in the seedling patch competing with weeds and enduring a prolonged drought at the nursery. But for five dollars I decided to give it a chance as the flower was a beautiful bright orange reddish color. Given the good spot I put it in, I anticipate the plant will look much better next year, and I already know the flower is top notch in form and color.
Whenever I go out to Manatawny, be it with my wife Grace or my friend Andrew, it always seems to be sunny and hotter than Hades. So Grace was smart to bring an umbrella for shade as her slightly obsessed husband roamed around the daylily field like a kid in the candy store. 2020 is not going to be a favorite year on anyone's list for an obvious reason but walking around a daylily field was one of the few fun and safe public activities one could engage in that summer. There are always some other folks there too but never a huge crowd so it was safe and everyone had their masks on hand just in case someone got too close.
Daylilies can come with memories as is often the case with plants in one's garden. When I took my first trip out to Manatawny. I realized it was close to a facebook plant friend's place and I arranged to visit their place after leaving the nursery. Of course it was great fun to meet Bridget and her husband and tour the wonderful gardens. Bridget is one of those special generous folks that don't like to let their garden visitors leave empty handed. One of the plant treasures she insisted I take was a division of her darkest flowered daylily. She didn't recall the name at that time and I still don't know what it is but she wasn't kidding, it has a really dark flower. This photo was taken in my garden the year after I planted it on a damp morning. A wonderful example of the time honored tradition of "passalong" plants, I always remember that visit whenever I see it bloom.
One of my seedlings, no doubt with the distinctly veined flower of Nowhere To Hide in its ancestry. Real serious daylily hybridizers make deliberate crosses and use tags to keep track of their efforts, but I just play bumble bee between plants I like and often pollinate flower with pollen from more than one parent. This one came out rather nice but it does bloom lower down in the foliage than I like.
Milk Chocolate is one of the strangest colored daylilies. Its an old one and not the most vigorous grower in my gardens--but then again it has some serious competition right next to it. I grow it for its flower, which really does look like milk chocolate with a golden overlay of sorts. I really can't describe it any better and it also can vary a bit as the flower ages or temperatures change. Photos also can't quite capture it either so you just have to see it in person to understand.
Despite being divided from the mother plant when I purchased it at Manatawny Creek, Forever Redeemed managed to still pump out a few gorgeous flowers after planting in its new spot along the back walkway. It is the closest daylily to the deck on that side of the walk for obvious reasons. Its pretty tall, big, loud, and has great flower form. Can't wait to see it next year when it will look even better.
"Photogenic" (my garden name for this unnamed Manatawny seedling). Here one can see how nice and big the clump was shortly after I planted it. It kept blooming for a while despite transplant shock. It will be awesome next summer. Grace's favorite seedling is right next to it.
Another Manatawny no name seedling shortly after being planted in my garden. Nice pattern and flower shape.
This seedling wasn't the most vigorous unnamed seedling I got at Manatawny but it did have the most amazing blue eye. So "Blue Eye" is my garden name for now.
The large purple spider is a tall one I got from Marietta Gardens from a visit down south. I have family in Charlotte so one of my sisters and Grace came along on a ride out to Marietta. John Shooter was the only one there on that last visit and he apparently passed not very long after we visited, though his wife and daughter continue running the nursery from what I read. . I got some named sorts a a mix he put together of some seedlings. This is the best bloomer of all of them. Its only real fault is that it stems aren't the strongest in heavy winds, nor is it good pod setter if one wants seeds. Nonetheless it performs well and is really noticeable in bloom.
By July 7th this past summer many more daylilies were in bloom in the older bed, providing a riot of color to look forward to each morning for weeks to come.