If you could dream up the perfect perennial what would be on your wish list?
How about big beautiful blooms? Check.
Long blooming? Check.
Enormous selection of bloom colours, bloom-times, sizes etc.? Yes indeed.
Easy care? Definitely.
Tidy growth habit? For sure.
Handsome foliage? Yes please!
Anything else? Let’s see……..how about sweet but subtle fragrance? Yes definitely!
If only we could conjure up such a plant…..but alas it’s only a dream. Well maybe not; that dream plant sounds decidedly like Hemerocallis, the daylily – in fact this perennial has oft been called the ‘perfect perennial’. Hard to believe then, that there are those who claim not to like daylilies, scornfully referring to them as ‘ditch lilies’. Ouch, what a derisive term for such a beautiful, useful, reliable perennial! As a designer, in a difficult climate, I can’t imagine the midsummer border without them. Some are even fragrant. And they have few enemies, except for maybe hail but don’t get me started on that (I have yet to fully assess the damage from Sunday night’s storm). Granted, the daylily dissenters are likely referring to the tawny daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, that ubiquitous orange thing found in many a tired garden – but even it has its place.
This summer has been exceptional for Hemerocallis, at least in my own garden, which is home to numerous spectacular cultivars – every single plant is loaded with blooms. But let’s revisit our wish list and see whether this ‘perfect perennial’ meets all of our expectations.
Big Beautiful Blooms
Generally speaking, daylilies are a large-flowered perennial – even the smaller cultivars have relatively big blooms compared to other perennials. Because the blooms are large, and profuse, the colour impact is significant, especially the brighter-hued selections. So don’t go wild with too many different colours blooming at once.
While each individual flower opens for only a day, there are so many buds on each branched scape that a single plant can bloom for weeks. And since there are early, mid-season, and late bloomers, daylily season is pretty much all summer long. As well, there are an increasing number of reblooming varieties that can rebloom several times throughout the summer.
Daylilies were once dismissed as pedestrian plants unsuitable for the sophisticated garden, but early in the last century they made a come-back with the introduction of new colours. This daylily renaissance marked the beginning of a new era in Hemerocallis hybridization, with cultivars now numbering in the tens of thousands – over 60,000 registered cultivars now exist! Breeding programs have produced a mind-boggling variety of colours – reds, oranges, yellows, golds, pinks, peaches, dark wines and purple-reds, near-whites and bicolours. Some have ruffled edges, some are fragrant, some dwarf and some huge. Early bloomers, mid-season bloomers, late bloomers and rebloomers……well you get the picture.
Much of the breeding has concentrated on producing new tetraploids – this refers to the number of chromosomes; 44 for a tetraploid, 33 for a triploid and 22 for a diploid. Those extra chromosomes result in stouter scapes and sturdier petals and sepals – thick and almost rubbery compared to the papery thin petals and sepals of non-tetraploids.
Daylilies aren’t fussy plants – they’ll be happy just about any place you put them. From zone 1 to zone 11, in sun or light shade, moist or dry, clay or sand, they will perform. They are sufficiently drought tolerant to be a staple in our semi-arid climate, but they will appreciate a little extra water when in heavy bloom. Deadheading every day will keep the plants looking fresh – luckily this is an easy task as the spent blooms snap off easily. I can deadhead all of my 20+ plants in a matter of minutes. Hemerocallis is for the most part pest and disease free and requires dividing only occasionally. I’d call that pretty easy care.
Tidy Growth Habit
I’ve never owned a daylily that required staking or tying of any kind. Even the very tall cultivars like ‘Tetrina’s Daughter’ or ‘Autumn Minaret’ stand up nicely on stiff stems, despite being bloom laden.
Hemerocallis has wide strap-shaped leaves that arch gracefully, so the plant has design value even when not in bloom. They are ideal for underplanting trees or focal points, edging around planting beds, massing, and filling in difficult areas.
Sweet Subtle Fragrance
Many daylilies have a very pretty scent – some more so than others. It’s not overpowering, but if you’re standing or sitting nearby you’ll get a light bouquet on the nose.
When I awoke yesterday morning I peeked out the window to survey the devastation wrought by the previous night’s hail storm. Miraculously, what first caught my eye was cheerful daylily blooms – they seemed to be wishing me a beautiful day. How apt, since the word Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera, meaning ‘day’ and kalos, meaning ‘beautiful’. May your day be beautiful – Hemerocallis!Thanks for visiting – y’all come back now. Sue © Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
- Kindness Caused me to Fall in Love with the ‘Daylily’ (ahealthylifeforme.com)
- Summertime Color (easternshoregardener.com)