Daylilies

For color and interest all summer long, daylilies are hard to beat.

 

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In a column I once wrote on cultivating wildflowers for the home garden, I recommended cutting—with scissors, not tearing— bouquets of the prolific orange daylilies that brighten the highways and byways of New England in late June and July. Well! Some anonymous person wrote a letter that opened, “For Shame!” and went on to vilify me for desecrating the landscape; the irate reader ended by threatening to shoot me if I appeared on his—or her—property.

The incident has rankled ever since, because cutting flowers actually helps daylily plants to grow. I’m not advising shearing the plant. Some green stems must be left to fade off so chlorophyll will be ingested. But c’mon. With the thousands upon thousands of daylilies that bloom wild everywhere in Connecticut—especially in vacant lots and garbage dumps, which are where I find the best pickings—murder seems a rather harsh punishment for picking a couple of bouquets. At personal peril, I’m going to risk it again.

These lovely daylilies of the roadsides (Hemerocallis fulva)—in both single and double forms—are all descendents of a common Oriental ancestor, probably Japanese, which has made itself totally at home in the Occident, and especially so in the temperate United States. They’re so prolific that one otherwise buttoned-down gardening tome describes them as having “gone wild.” Good. Like the seasons of lilacs, daffodils and peonies, the season of daylilies is one of the wonders of living in the Northeast, all the more precious because it is not year-round. (Oh, how I’d miss the change of seasons if I had to live where it’s warm all the time.)

The wild orange (fulva) daylily’s double form, beautifully frilled and ruffled, is not as common as the single variety. But I’m blessed with some, pondside, which I am carefully propagating.

Another wild daylily, flava, with delicate lemon-yellow blossoms (ergo its common name, lemon lily), is no longer prevalent. (Note to my would-be murderer: I never pick those.) I remember seeing lots of them some 35 years ago—we ourselves had several clumps lakeside in Brewster, N.Y.—but they seem to have disappeared. Now I order them whenever I can find them. They bloom early and lavishly—in late May, which is about a month before any of the other varieties do.

Daylilies

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