shopping for daylilies
Today’s focus is daylilies, which remind me of the old joke about fashions in Beantown: Young woman gets on the train next to a dowager wearing a beautiful chapeau. Youngster says “what a lovely hat. Where did you buy it?” Matron draws herself up and says “Buy my hat? My dear, in Boston, we HAVE our hats. ”
Similarly, almost all of us have our daylilies. Brand new garden-free houses are an exception, but any place that has had time for a few things to get planted has probably been planted with a few daylilies, and since the blessed things never die, whatever daylilies you had when you got there, whatever daylilies you planted 20 years ago when you were starting out, those are the daylilies you’ve still got.
Well, there’s a lot to be said for durability, but there are two things wrong with this. One is that daylilies do need dividing. They’re not as bad as some plants I could name, but after anywhere from 5 to 10 years they tend to get crowded and flower less. Then you have even MORE of whatever, which you must either find a place for or find someone to take them in ( in theory, you could just put them on the compost but who do you know who does that?)
And of course the other wrong thing, a natural outgrowth of wrong thing #1, is that your old daylilies prevent you from planting new daylilies – or at least daylilies that are new to you. And given that there are somewhere around 50,000 named daylilies, it’s quite likely that there are several you’d rather have than the ones you have at the moment.
Just about everybody sells them, and there’s an extensive list of sources (along with lots of other nifty info.) at www.daylies.org, the website of the American hemerocallis society. But no matter where you shop, don’t forget to notice bloom times: different nurseries go into this in greater and lesser detail, but at the minimum the listing or tag should say whether the plants flower early, midseason or late. It should also tell you whether the cultivar is a diploid or tetraploid.
Those terms refer to the sets of chromosomes in each cell, and they matter to you as well as to breeders because they tell you things about plant habit:
Diploids are closer to old-fashioned daylilies. They tend to have smaller flowers and more of them, and they tend to be less imposing, easier to integrate into mixed borders, sometimes floppy but almost always graceful .
Tetraploids are – well, beefy would be a word. The plants are usually robust. Stalks are stiff. Flowers are large and substantial and often very strongly colored.
The latest prize-winning introductions can cost as much as a good Paris hat – 2 or 3 hundred dollars for a single division – but there are gazillions of others in the 10 to 20 dollar range. Plenty of places offer plants for less, but as usual, there is a bottom price below which you are likely to get either low quality, very common plants or divisions so mingy you’ll have to wait a long time before much of anything happens.
Okay, what haven’t I mentioned? If you already have daylilies, you know: deer! They eat daylilies – or, more accurately they eat the flowers. Some tips on how to prevent this will appear here next week.