Daylillies are forgiving and colourful treats
HEMEROCALLIS, Daylillies, are one of the most graceful members of any flower border. Every individual daylilly flower only blooms for a day. But each plant flowers for up to two months with each of the many flower stems crammed with buds.
Hemerocallis is such an apt name for the plant since the Greek ‘hemera’ means ‘day’ and ‘callos’, ‘beauty’. Like many of our plants, Hemerocallis hails from the far east, arriving here in Europe in the 15th century. Four centuries later, breeders, especially in North America, started working seriously on developing the genus.
The US has been the driving force behind creating most of the 80,000 varieties now available and an early American pioneer, Doreen Bowet, brought this enthusiasm to Europe in 1950.
She started amassing a collection at Château de Vullierens in Switzerland. I was completely spell-bound by the charm and beauty of this unforgettable feast of 13,500 varieties.
Sadly a few breeders have spawned some monstrously garish forms, but speed past them and look out for the real beauties.
Take the recently released ‘Aaron Brown’, with reddish brown petals and pale yellow throat, or gaze delightedly at the pure lemony petals of ‘Altissima’. I know I’m besotted with this shade in flowers which is why I can’t walk on past my ‘Lemon Bells’.
Flower forms such as starshaped, circular, triangular or spider appear in catalogues. But be warned, the catalogues don’t always agree and a variety name can confuse. The long, slim yellow tepals of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ are certainly spider-like, but the variety ‘Spider Man’ actually refers to Spider man’s clothes, not the flower form, which is star-shaped.
Breeders have also catered for different height and flowering times to let you extend the season a little. Including flowering stems, most are around 75cm, but tiny 25cm forms like ridiculoussounding ‘Eenie Weenie’ or slightly larger ‘Cream Drop’ are also possible for limited space or a container.
Planting new Hemerocallis from recently reopened garden centres is easy as they’re the most forgiving plants. Sun is preferred, but partial shade is accepted.
They also tolerate most soil types from slightly acidic to alkaline. My ground is almost too alkaline but, like roses, they take it in their stride.
But Daylillies do insist on free-drainage so clay ground is more challenging and needs improvement with compost, preferably your own.
Hemerocallis require some fertility but survive with surprisingly little. My H. fulva, with delightful soft, dusty orange flowers, manages to survive despite the voracious appetite of my nearby ‘Rambling Rector’ rose and greengage.
Fairly deep-rooted, the flower can scavenge just enough moisture. But newly planted specimens do need fairly frequent watering.
If planting bare-rooted Daylillies in the autumn or next spring, first check they’re firm and if not, rehydrate in a bucket for a few minutes. Dig a 30cm deep hole, water and plant, gently surrounding the tuber with soil. Make sure the top is only just below soil level as deep sinking can cause rot. Then water.
For best effect, plant in clumps – they look silly and meagre otherwise. But Hemerocallis do spread and need dividing after 4-5 years. This is easy. Simply use a fork to dig right round the outer, remembering to prise the fork forwards as well as backwards to loosen the clump.
Chop vertically through the clump or use a sharp knife to cut 15-20cm sections of root. Replant in 30cm deep holes and water. You can’t have enough clumps of these charmers!
Gorgeous Hemerocallis will always remind me of our beautiful little granddaughter, Nefeli, who was born as I wrote this column.
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The gardens at Chateau de Vullierens