Daylilies

For color and interest all summer long, daylilies are hard to beat.

 

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The word Hemerocallis is from the Greek, hemera meaning day and kallos, beauty, referring to the large blossoms, each of which is beautiful for a day, then fades. But the blossoms come in such profusion, 20 or 30 a day on one plant, with new buds opening over a six-week period, that bloom seems to be constant. Even when the lilies are cut, buds open every morning so that you have a long-lasting bouquet. Just pick off spent flowers for tidiness.

In some parts of the world, daylilies are valued for more than their beautyl In China some daylily buds are eaten raw (golden cabbage), dried and powdered (gum tsoy), and in England leaves have been used for cattle fodder. I once tried drying spent flowers and frying them in butter. Forget it. For my money, daylilies are better in the garden than on the menu, especially since they may well be the easiest of all perennials to grow, and give the most return in beauty for the least amount of work.

Daylilies don’t have the long recorded history of some of our flowers. (Poppies, lilies and daffodils were writen about even in ancient days.) Although they were introduced to England from Asia and central Europe in the 16th century, it was not until the 19th century that hybridization was attempted. The pioneer was George Yeld, and English schoolteacher and amateur gardener who began his work in 1877 and continued for almost half a century. His first publicized hybrid, which he named Apricot, was recorded in 1892. Then the famous plantsman, Amos Perry of England, and others in Italy, France, Holland and Germany, took up the work.

In the United States, which is far and away the leader in hybridization, the first recorded hybrid, Florham by name, was raised in New Jersey in 1899 by one Arthur Herrington. Since then, American breeders have introduced literally thousands of new varieties—and the end I nowhere in sight. (Just look at the spring catalogs if you don’t believe me.) In 1921, the distinguished geneticist and plant breeder, Dr. A.B. Stout, began assembling at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx all the daylily varieties he could find from around the world. For 30 years he kept on breeding and promoting daylilies, laying the groundwork for today’s hybridizers and for the glorious diversity of colors, shapes and sizes that now grace our gardens.

Among the newest daylily innovations are the tetraploids (four chromosomes instead of two, as in diploids), some of which are giant-size and exquisite, others merely giant-size. Work on tetraploids started in the late 1940s, but it wasn’t till the ‘60s that the greatest strides were made. More than 90 tetraploid varieties already have been registered with the American Hemerocallis Society, which itself was founded only in 1946. The new tetraploids are generally pricey, so do evaluate them carefully and don’t mistake new for better. Hyperion, which was introduced in 1925, still ranks among the best yellows—prolific, long-lived, fragrant—and remains the standard by which new yellows are judged.

Daylilies

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