The new day lily mail order catalog that arrived this week contains more technical information than I will ever require. Based upon the list of newly introduced varieties, and by paying attention to the details that accompany each plant, one comes to realize that day lily growers target several kinds of gardeners.
First is the nursery owner who is prepared to nurture a plant until it matures to make an impressive display, second is the gardener wishing to add a very specific perennial to the flowerbed, and third is the collector.
Acquiring new and unusual varieties of day lilies is a serious hobby similar to collecting orchids or antiques. It differs from conventional gardening in many respects because it places greater emphasis on the thrill of the hunt for the rare and the unknown, the excitement of discovery, the satisfaction of exclusive ownership, the pleasure of the new and different, an eternal sense of incompleteness - because collecting never ends, and the now-rarely observed trait of one-upmanship.
Collectors also assign a higher market value to desirable plants than traditional gardeners do. Such plants might be difficult to propagate, they may differ dramatically from previously introduced cultivars, or they may combine, in one plant, superlatives of all of the desired traits of the species.
One only has to study the cost of the unusual cultivars to realize that the traditional gardener is not the intended market for many of the newly introduced plants. The prices confirm that collectors are prepared to pay a premium for one that is out of the ordinary. For example, in the above-mentioned catalog, the supplier charges only $4.00 for a clump of several fans of H. Stella d’Oro, but quotes $75 for a single fan of H. Angels Gather Round. I have seen Angels listed as high as $125 from other sources.
While some weekend gardeners may select a day lily based upon a few details such as color and price, here are some of the characteristics that collectors consider when choosing a new cultivar:
Number of Chromosomes Tetraploid plants have twenty-two pairs of chromosomes while diploids have only eleven.
A.H.S. Some cultivars are registered with the American Hemerocallis Society, while others are not. For some collectors, registration is important.
Foliage A plant may be classified as evergreen, semi-evergreen, or dormant. This designation refers to the hardiness of a plant in colder climates and the sustainability of foliage in warmer areas. Dormant varieties are the hardiest and evergreens may require mulch where winters are severe.
Bloom Time In my growing zone of USDA 4, early varieties (E) bloom from June to beginning of July, mid-season plants (M) bloom from mid-July to mid-August, and late varieties (L) bloom in August and September.
Double This adjective describes a variety with a higher number of flower petals than others have. Some double blooms will resemble miniature old roses or tiny azaleas.
High Bud Count Some cultivars have a greater number of buds per scape than others. [A scape is a stalk that shoots up from within the clump of leaves and holds the flower buds at its top.] This designation indicates the intensity of the color output (multiple blooms per day) during a plant's bloom period. Because beauty is subjective, a high bud count is no guarantee that a day lily will be appreciated. The gardener must first be attracted to the flower’s overall appearance for the high bud count to have any value.
Reblooming A variety that will send up new scapes after its first blooming period
Repeat Blooms A variety that sends up new scapes continuously beyond its first blooming period. When designing flowerbeds, most of my focus is on this group of day lilies. If the color is suitable for the composition, it is sheer pleasure having a plant that sustains flowers over an extended period.
Sculpting A variety with petals that are pleated or covered with relief either at the base of the petals or anywhere on the petals’ surface. One can appreciate this feature when the lily grows at close proximity. From a distance, this characteristic is hardly noticeable.
Spider A variety with long, thin petals – like skinny pinwheels - with a ratio of at least 4:1, that is, the petals are at least 4 times longer than they are wide. Flowers in this group lack the velvety beauty of traditional day lilies and do not project from afar as powerfully as the trumpet varieties do. Spiders compensate for their scraggliness with bold colors, long bloom periods, and tall scapes.
Unusual Form A variety, usually Spider, whose thin petals are spatula-shaped, or pinched, or twisted, or cascading, or crispate.
Collectors are also interested in knowing if a day lily is very fragrant, if it will bloom in the early morning, if it remains open late into the evening, the name of the hybridizer, the year the plant was registered, the height of the scape, and the diameter of the flower.
A large day lily flower is a beautiful sight and tall lilies that loom and bloom over other perennials can be very effective in the perennial flowerbed.