Okay. Look at this flower. Then tell me how anyone can prefer the fat, bloated-petal daylilies that are in vogue now.
I know this won’t make me popular with daylily breeders. I’ve even looked at picures of the new daylily types in catalogues and on blogs (okay, drat. I found a daylily blog with gorgeous pictures through Blotanical, but now I’m unable to perform the search that will lead me (and you) to it again. So here’s a place that specializes in daylilies, with well over 700 varieties–enough to prove my point) and websites. But then I take a look at the older types like Hyperion, with their graceful, wing-like shapes. And then I just don’t want to buy the newer types. No matter how pretty the colors, or how fetching the closeups. When you back off and look at newer daylilies as a whole, they just aren’t as graceful as the old types.
The closeups on Hyperion are no slouch, either. And you get to inhale. Because another thing a lot of modern plants are missing (and daylilies are no exception) is fragrance. Hyperion has a faint, freshly sweet scent, an added bonus.
I think black-and-white does a better job than color when it comes to showing form and texture.
But color’s fun to look at, too.
When a plant has been in gardens for over eighty years, you know that it has some lasting qualities that endear it to gardeners. Heirloom plants have passed the tests of time. Newer, bolder, brighter plants pass them by–and yet still people keep the old standards in their gardens.
Besides form and scent, and the power of memory, a lot of the reason for growing heirlooms is practical: heirloom garden plants tend to have a lot of that flexibility that gardeners such as myself find so appealing. When neglected, they spring back. They don’t require a lot of care. And they stand up to a number of different conditions. In this case, as you can see, this Hyperion doesn’t even have full sun; it’s growing in amongst the cedars, with a few hours of full sun a day. (The canna behind it also blooms in the same situation, but not very enthusiastically.)
As a friend of mine once pointed out, daylilies make fine cutting flowers: each bloom lasts only a day, but you get several buds on the stem, and they can open in the vase just as well as on the plant. Daylilies are hardy enough to naturalize well, but they also do well in containers, where I’ve got mine. I bottom-water it by putting the big pot in a big plastic bulb pan, then filling the pan (now a saucer for the pot) with water. This gives the daylilies all they want to drink. Daylilies seem to prefer wet spots when they naturalize, but again, the older types are forgiving: they may not thrive if you have to let them dry out, but they will come back.
Daylilies are also edible, though I’ve only tried Hemerocallis fulva, which used to grow on the roadsides when I lived in New Jersey. As I recall, they were quite bland; I didn’t batter and fry them, as some recommend, because once you batter and fry something, you’re basically tasting oil and batter, with a touch of the texture of whatever’s in there. Euell Gibbons says that daylily buds and just-opened flowers are popular in some parts of Asia as a stir-fry vegetable and have a great taste. Maybe I picked them at the wrong time or cooked them the wrong way, but my memory of daylily flowers is that they are kind of soft and slimy. While they might be nice as a novelty or helpful as a food when nothing else is available, they’re not something I’d seek out. I prefer them on the plant or in the vase. Daylily tubers are also edible, but I’ve never tried eating them. Their tubers (not bulbs) are small, so you need a big stand of them to try.
The tubers (not bulbs) are a clue to clearing up a vexed subject: daylilies aren’t lilies, they are their own thing. Some misguided catalogues actually include daylilies in the lily section; I consider this a sign of a company to avoid. Good catalogues give a cross reference from lily to daylily, so we can learn what’s what and avoid the problems that might come up if we tried treating daylilies like lilies. Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (formerly flava) is another older daylily I’d like to try (it’s been in cultivation since the 1600s). Like Hyperion, it is also lemon yellow-in fact, another name for it is Lemon Lily. (Very likely, Hyperion has Lemon Lily blood in it.) It’s also fragrant, gracefully narrow-petalled, and requires little care. Until I see a modern daylily that lives up to these standards, that will complete my daylily collection.
If you feel indignant about my spurning of newer daylily varieties, please feel free to leave an opinion. Preferably with some reference to pictures, so we can all judge for ourselves.
Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Healthful Herbs, David McKay Company, Inc., 1966 (and reprinted many, many times since then)
McClure and Zimmerman catalogue, spring 2008
Old House Gardens catalogue, spring 2008-9