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Thank goodness for daylilies

When the bloom frenzy of spring is over, when July hangs hot in the air, the genus Hemerocallis stars in my garden. I'm not talking about the old-fashioned plain orange or yellow daylilies, though they have their place. For example after my parents' driveway leaves the main road on the hilltop, it dips into a wooded ravine. In that deep shade, a long border of orange daylilies gracefully leads you down to the house.

But it's the hybrids that really grab my eye. Easy to grow, they mainly need four to five hours sun. Also easy to hybridize, they offer an extravagant variety of form. Colors from purple to rose to hot paprika red, chartreuse, and pale elegant cream; one color washed over another in shifting shimmers. Several kinds of markings -- like throats in yellow or green, a deeper-colored "eyezone" surrounding the throat, ribs and edges striped in contrast. Different shapes in tepals (petals and sepals), flowers with more than six tepals , tepals which ruffle on the edges, or show different colors, or extend in swooping streamers ("spider" form), or curve back so the face of the flower looks circular; one-inch flowers and nine-inch flowers....

Although most varieties' flowers open in the morning and are spent by night, some open in the evening and last through the next day. Heights range from dwarf plants eight inches tall, to 'Notify Ground Crew' reaching six feet; bloom times, from early June 'til frost. In diploid plants (with the normal set of two chromosomes) leaves and flower stems take a more gracefully arching shape. Since 1960, breeders been using methods of doubling the normal chromosomes, producing tetraploids, which not only tend to have straighter, sturdier shapes and larger flowers with more intense colors -- but with that extra genetic material, also provide even more possibilities for hybrids.

In the south, many hemerocallis will bloom a second time later in the year, after a rest. Up here, with our shorter season, we had to wait 'til everblooming varieties were developed, starting in 1975 with Walter Jablonski's golden dwarf Stella de Oro. Since then Darrel Apps has introduced a rainbow of nine more.

So far there are no truly white, black or blue daylilies. My 'Virtue' is one of the near-whites, a tranquil creamy ivory. Some deep reds approach black, or dark purples, like 'Bela Lugosi.' For $150 I could buy the most amazing ruffled near-blue....

Photo by C.H. Clark - This daylily is 'Claiborne Watkins Dawes', a 1987 hybrid

Text and photo © Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 4 August 2006

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