Nottawasaga Daylilies: One Day Wonders
Of the thousands of cultivars available, the only problem with daylilies is deciding which ones to grow.
Hugging a street sign at the bottom of my driveway is a clump of daylilies – the leggy, garish orange, top-heavy, single-bloom variety that grows wild along our roadsides. Years ago I extricated a similar clump of them from the alley behind my house and carefully separated and transplanted them into my garden. There they systematically choked out every other plant in the bed.
Daylilies – you’ve come a long way, baby.
Daylilies have increasingly become the focus, even the obsession, of hybridizers, growers and gardeners. The botanical name Hemerocallis means “beautiful for a day,” as each blossom on these multi-blooming, multi-stemmed plants lasts only one day. Today there are thousands of daylily cultivars ranging in size from the dwarf “Stella d’Oro” at about eleven inches (28cm) high to the back-of-the-border forty-inch (100cm) “Hyperion.”
Fade resistant and available in almost every imaginable colour, they can be fragrant, repeat bloomers, continual bloomers, ruffled, double, or combinations of the above. Early bloomers start in mid to late June; mid-season varieties peak in July and August; and repeat or late bloomers take centre stage from mid-August until frost.
Many gardeners consider daylilies the perfect perennial. Pest resistant and virtually maintenance free, they prefer loose soil (but will tolerate almost any soil condition), and they need as little as four to six hours of daily sun and a mere one inch of water per week. Non-invasive, they can sit undisturbed for five years or more, and division is as simple as digging up the root ball and wedging a sharp shovel through the centre.
Julie and Tom Wilson, owners of Nottawasaga Daylilies near Creemore, have nurtured a love affair with daylilies for the last decade. “I’ve always had my fingers in the dirt; always planted things,” Julie told me during an interview at their farm on a crisp, clear, early April afternoon when only a few brave shoots of green protruded from the garden pots and plots.
The Wilsons bought their farm, with its breathtaking view of the rolling countryside, in 1979. They planted trees and started a few flower gardens and a vegetable plot.
Julie was tempted by those wild orange daylilies in the ditches along the roadsides. “Out here, in the country, I thought they looked good,” she told me. But she wisely left them alone.
However, in 1995, a magazine ad for Erikson’s Daylily Gardens in B.C. caught her eye. The Wilsons ordered twelve cultivars and began picking up others here and there. Soon they were creating new beds expressly for the daylilies, eventually stealing space from the vegetable plot as well.
In the clay soil the first plants were difficult to dig out and removing the heavy earth from around the roots for potting was an arduous task. Continued soil amendments, including three to four inches of sand and lots of compost, have solved the problem.
Julie and Tom joined the American Hemorocallis Society and attended the first Canadian/American meeting in Hamilton. The Ontario Daylily Society was founded soon after, and the Wilsons became members.
Over the next decade Nottawasaga Daylilies blossomed into a vibrant business. Adding up to 100 new cultivars yearly, they expanded their supply and eliminated the occasional poor performer. For the first time last year they hired two students and a retiree to assist with weeding and mulching their two acres of daylily beds.
Mail-order plants are sold bare root, but for on-site sales the plants are potted up, a time-consuming task Julie performs herself. A low-tech irrigation system pumps water to the gardens from a dug pond.
The Wilsons have become an integral part of the daylily community. As a regional judge for the American Hemorocallis Society (there are fourteen AHS regions across North America), Julie visits gardens and evaluates plants nominated for awards. She has also just completed a four-year term as vice-president of the Ontario Daylily Society.
Nottawasaga Daylilies’ 2007 catalogue includes more than 350 cultivars for sale. However, the Wilsons grow an additional 350 or so cultivars that they are testing for hardiness or keeping for propagation.
Julie told me that all the North American cultivars derive from about eighteen species that were originally brought to North America from China.
In addition to home gardeners, the Wilsons also supply the landscape trade – last year one contractor ordered 1,000 plants. The mail order/website catalogue accounts for about 20 per cent of their business, with plants shipped across Canada and the U.S. Robert Turley, a Louisiana hybridizer who registered the cultivar “Rio Rouge” in 1984, found that Nottawasaga Daylilies was the only grower that still carried his cultivar and ordered some specimens back. In addition to their on-farm sales, Julie and Tom have a booth at the Creemore Farmers’ Market from Victoria Day to Canada Day.
Asked to name her personal favourites, Julie was hard pressed to answer. She agreed that it was like choosing a favourite child. However, she decided on two. “Fooled Me,” has a golden-yellow flower edged in red, with a large deep red eye and green throat. Its blooms remain open up to sixteen hours. “Primal Scream” boasts an unusual twisty form with flowers of orange tangerine and a subtle green throat.
Both cultivars have won the Stout Silver Medal, named for Dr. Stout whose efforts at the New York Botanical Gardens led to some initial hybridizing breakthroughs; his first plant was registered in the 1920s. To win this award, a plant must have been commercially available for ten years and do well in most of the AHS regions.
The Nottawasaga Daylilies’ 2007 catalogue is available in print and on-line. It provides photos of each flower type as well as such detailed information as the hybridizer’s name, the year the plant was registered, foliage type, height, flower diameter and bloom time.
With names such as “Angelic Grin,” “Cosmic Hummingbird,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Yabba Dabba Do” and “Web of Intrigue,” it’s easy to see why daylilies catch a gardener’s imagination.
I now view the unruly clump at the bottom of my driveway with a less severe eye. This prolific grandmother of daylilies deserves some respect considering its impressive progeny.
I don’t imagine I’ll let the season slip by without a trip back to Nottawasaga Daylilies to pick up a pot of “Vintage Bordeaux.”