No, this is not another column debasing daylilies. I have done that before, several times, and always got smeared by the many rabid fans of the “flower of a day.” This time, believe it or not, I will say something good for just about the most popular perennial in the country. It is probably a tie between them and hostas.
Before, when I blasted daylilies as poor garden plants, detractors came out of the woodwork here and from miles around. My house was egged, I was called dirty names and one daylily aficionado, in the dead of night, placed plastic gnomes all over my garden. I’ve learned my lesson.
Daylilies are of the genus Hemerocallis, Greek for flower of a day or something like that. Each flower lasts only a day and sometimes a night. The big fault of daylilies in general, and some in particular, is the flower follow up, when the foliage goes tatty, much in the manner of a bearded iris. This is a major problem when one wants to keep a mixed border or bed in good fettle right up until frost.
Collectors and show table daylily fans seem to be able to ignore this with little ill effect. By August, many daylily collections, with but few exceptions, are toast.
I actually have at least 20 varieties of daylilies as contributors to our mixed borders. I prefer those with tall stems that can be hidden behind other ingredients that will allow the flowers to show but will shut the view off of the miserable foliage.
Among my favorites is “Autumn Minaret,” with scapes to at least 6 feet tall and old-timey narrow petaled yellow flowers with a tinge of orange. This daylily cranks up in late June and is just finishing as we speak, a remarkable span for a daylily. A show table collector would sniff at the squinny flowers, but with me the late timing makes up for any deficiencies. It is a good garden plant.
A red counterpart is “Challenger,” almost as tall but with red flowers, though the red is weak. Few red perennials abound, so this one fits our red border.
Another favorite of mine and pushed by Jason Reeves of Jackson is “Steeplejack,” with skinny scapes to 4 feet sporting very small bright yellow flowers and, again, late in the season.
“Little Pumpkin” is, as you would imagine, orange. It blooms early at 2 feet and contributes to the red border. It is a frontal plant, and I must tediously deleaf it after bloom to keep it presentable. It occasionally throws a late flower or two.
“August Flame” blooms late with scarlet red flowers at 4 feet. It is not quite as late as “Autumn Minaret” but last year, for some reason, it flowered even later.
There are few true red perennials, and I have to use some of these daylilies in our red border. The foliage, however, is troublesome on the shorter ones that have to be situated toward the front.
Most of these daylilies are old-fashioned ones, having been around 60 years or more. The newer show table ones go in for “diamond dusting” and frilly flowers with wide petals. The bigger the flower and the wider the petal, the bigger the glob of mush that the flowers yield, thus contributing to the messy follow-up.
I must admit I am not fair to my daylilies. They are crammed in among my crowded borders and must fight it out with close neighbors. They would certainly perform better with air and clean soil around them, but I cannot abide open ground in summer.
Let the collectors and show people have their way. The daylily will continue for a long time, I am sure, to lead the hit parade.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.