How I developed my passion for daylilies
I am not presuming that everyone will have the time or interest to read my story below. If you want to take a rain-check I will not be offended and perhaps we can meet again on another thread. But if you feel so inclined grab a beverage of choice, get nice and comfortable in your chair, and read on to discover how I have come to dive headlong into the wonderful world of daylilies. I hope that you will find it interesting…
It seems like I have always been working on a landscape. Many years ago, on a few different occasions, I worked for my Uncle’s landscaping company mostly toiling away on installations and becoming painstakingly acquainted with shovels. But I also did spend some time as a plant purchaser, project coordinator, and even a little bit as a designer. Otherwise I have been continually engaged in a labor of love creating landscapes for myself (and for a few family and friends). While my humility will not allow me to describe myself as an expert, I do know enough to design, install and maintain a respectable landscape. So four years ago when I purchased a home on a one-acre property in the Southwest Michigan countryside I had quite a powerful and confident vision for creating a grandiose landscape. Oh how that vision came crashing down.
After three years of back-breaking labor I had almost nothing to show for it and was basically having to start over. The soil of the entire property was solid gray clay—so solid I literally could take a shovel full, plop it on a potter’s wheel and make a vase out of it. Totally sopping wet with lots of standing water in the Springs and Falls. Completely dried-out and hard as concrete in the Summers. Exposed and extremely wind-swept during the bitterly cold Michigan Winters. Just about everything I planted was struggling mightily and many plants even died from the brutal conditions. My confident vision had mutated into panic and desperation. I was no longer looking for the best-looking plants that fit into a great design. I just needed plants that were tough as nails and would survive, period.
In the past year I settled in on Ninebarks and Barberries for background shrubs. Those extremely tough and versatile shrubs are proving to be a good solution. But what about flowering perennials? There are many tough options out there, and yet not really all that many I felt I could truly count on in my situation. I turned my attention to one area along the back edge of my property where things were actually doing well: a Royal Purple Smoke Tree surrounded by a half circle of orange-flowering daylilies.
When I purchased those daylilies I knew very little about daylilies. In my landscaping experience I knew of Stella De Oro but otherwise I just looked for “tall red” or “short yellow”. I had wanted “tall orange” for this bed and consulted the price list of a local wholesaler I still had access to. I ended up with what turned out to be “Rocket City”. After I planted them I had no idea what to expect, but when those gals settled in and bloomed they produced what to me was a truly stunning display of pure, glowing orange. I was amazed a daylily could put on such a great show. It occurred to me that daylilies might be the answer to my problem. I decided to learn more about daylilies and see if I could find more that are both exceptionally tough and great-looking. I sat down at my computer and did a simple Google search like “daylilies for sale”.
I just started going through the results one by one. I visited dozens of websites, hundreds of websites. The more I saw the more surprised and interested I became. Completely hooked I proceeded to spend time each day, day after day, week after week learning and exploring a new world. I had no idea there were so many different daylilies in existence or that there was such a large variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns. I learned about things like ploidy, bud count, branch count, and recurrence. I learned there were many hybridizers actively developing fantastic new creations. There seemed to be no end to the interesting details. As I explored I eventually stumbled upon hybridizer Paul Owen’s “Slightly Different Nursery” website and felt like I had hit the jackpot.
Paul was focused on northern-hardy plants that are very hardy in a variety of growing conditions. He also was concerned about the whole plant looking good, both bloom and foliage quality, and about plants that will fit well within a landscape. This particularly resonated with me. And the flowers of his daylilies blew my mind. I took a flier on emailing him and to my surprise he emailed back.
We proceeded to exchange quite a few emails and have to a certain extent become friends. After extensive research I placed an order with him this past December, and he responded by adding to my order some absolutely fantastic gift plants. I was all-in now and wanted even more. Because my budget was already broken I researched some more to find some quality but inexpensive daylilies that would be complimentary to the ones I will be receiving from Paul. The daylilies of Ron Mercer especially caught my attention. When I read that he forces his seedlings to survive a fight with weeds in a bed of poor soil quality I was amazed. I now have a total of almost fifty daylilies on order from Paul Owen and two different daylily nurseries (Keast Daylily Gardens and Harmon Hill Farm).
I’ve been working feverishly revising existing landscape beds and designing new ones to accommodate all the exciting new kids that will be coming my way this Spring. Each plant will be given room to form a nice clump, and combining daylilies based on flower color, bloom height, and bloom time has been challenging but a lot of fun. Hopefully I did not bite-off more than I can chew because it is going to take a lot of work making the beds and doing all the planting. I am going to be one very busy guy this Spring for sure. But I can’t wait to see the fruits of my research and labor become reality.
Of course there is no guarantee that all these daylilies will do great, but it has been a blast learning about them (and developing a new obsession). I am sure I will be rewarded with more than a few enjoyable viewing experiences. Daylilies have come a long way since “Rocket City” in 1967 and I am confident it will be a true joy to see these great plants and blooms up-close and personal. It should be truly satisfying. It should keep me satisfied for a very long time. Well, maybe. I don’t have any of these new daylilies planted yet and I’m already starting to feel the urge to make some crosses. Could there actually be a whole new aspect to daylilies for me to become obsessed with? Lord have mercy!