National Collection of Hemerocallis Spider and Unusual Forms
By Pollie Maasz, National Collection Holder
I have been growing Hemerocallis, (daylilies) for 18 years now. When I first started growing them I had three colours, (orange, red and yellow), and thought that I had them all. I really loved the fact that, although each bloom only lasted a day, there were lots more lovely pristine new beauties ready to go over a very long season in the hot summer months. So I started to look into them in more detail and that was the start of my obsession.
Serious collecting and the opening of Pollie's Daylilies has only taken place over the last 8 years but in that time the number of cultivars growing here has risen to over 1,500 including nearly 500 in the National Collection of Spider and Unusual forms. These are the forms that please me most.
It is possible to find daylilies in almost every size, shape and colour but the National Collection on the whole is comprised of taller and larger bloomed open flowers some of which twist and curl like the unnamed seedling below.
This attribute seems to encourage the plants to move and dance in the breeze, making them ideal for the hot exotic and prairie plantings which have become so popular over the last few years. However, they are also very well suited to the more traditional English garden and mixed herbaceous border.
One of the reasons for applying for National Collection status was to promote awareness of these still rather little known forms. The generally more recognisable rounded and ruffled daylilies have been bred in huge numbers over the last few decades mainly in the United States and there are now over 68,000 named cultivars registered with the American Hemerocallis Society. However, of these less than 5% qualify as Spiders and Unusuals.
There are several breeders in the United States now almost exclusively breeding for these forms and they are at last becoming far more popular. There are also some growers in the United Kingdom attempting to breed beautiful, hardy, trialled daylilies in this country including Pollie's Daylilies and one of our recent seedlings can be seen below.
Above: As yet unnamed seedling
Although most of the cultivars which we import from the United States are hardy, a lot of them are bred in Florida and are not always “bone hardy” and are trialled rigorously before selling. I also feel that some of the more ruffled forms may need the “Florida conditions” to open and flower at their best. This is one reason why we are hoping that the public will eventually appreciate that being home grown the British cultivars may be more reliable and suited to our conditions.
There have been several very good books written about daylilies over the years; "The Gardener's Guide to Growing Daylilies" written by Diana Grenfell is one, and "Daylilies for the Garden" by Graeme Grosvenor is a very pretty book of detailed photographs originating from Australia. Most of these will tell you a little about the history of breeding, how the species were first taken from Asia by the plant hunters and introduced into the United States and the United Kingdom but it has only been in the last 90 years that any work was carried out to try and breed in any great numbers.
Food and medicine
Before that on the whole daylilies were grown for their food and curative powers and were known to be traded throughout Europe many centuries ago. I have not experimented with eating them myself, apart from using the blooms to brighten up salads. Like nasturtium blooms they have a rather peppery taste and are quite crunchy which enhances the dish. There are books of daylily recipes available and also sites on the internet which are rather interesting. However, one of the most popular dishes is stir fried buds and as I cannot bring myself to pick these before the magnificent flowers have opened I have not gone any further in this direction.
Above: Hemerocallis 'Rodeo Clown'
Although I have to confess it is not something that I know very much about, it is believed that a stew from the roots of some species will have a slightly hallucinatory and pain dulling effect. I was, in fact, asked to supply daylilies to a garden at one of the shows last year which was a homage to the designer’s colleague who had cancer; and it is documented that cooked daylily leaves were sprinkled on newly dug graves as an acknowledgement of the aid they may have given to that person during life.
Now to cultivation: Daylilies are rather easy to grow, relatively pest free and almost impossible to kill. However, there are several things that you can do to get the very best out of your blooms. They do prefer a sunny site for about 60% of the day. People often ask me about growing them in the shade and I believe that if they are going to have little sun they need to be of the open form, not the rather complicated ruffled forms as they will probably not open well, and not too tall as they will almost certainly lean.
Daylilies also prefer a good slightly moisture retentive soil so I always recommend that they should be planted with some good bulky organic matter. It is no exaggeration to say that plants watered well, (not usually a problem in the summer in this country), normally produce larger, stronger and more prolific blooms.
Above: Hemerocallis 'Pink Charm'
We have gravel and rock for our garden and most of the display plants are in raised beds with a good depth of soil. However they are now also being recommended as drought resistant plants and they do still grow really well in the less improved parts of the garden and look fine, but not magnificent! I garden on an organic regime and use pelleted chicken manure annually scattered over the beds, (usually in my waterproofs as the manufacturers recommend this should be done when wet). Daylilies are not fussy about the pH balance of the soil at all.
Pests and diseases
One of the most serious worries to daylily growers in the past few years has been the gall midge. This affects the daylily buds. They become distorted and swell up and if allowed to develop will start to go brown at which time the small larvae of the midge will be released into the soil and will perpetuate the problem.
Hopefully I can reassure you by saying that this tends to affect mainly the early blooms, for about 10 to 15 days and then it is finished; so if it is a major worry then it is better to grow the mid to late varieties, which also has the benefit of extending and varying your bloom season. If you only have a few cultivars, picking of the affected buds normally helps to control future infestations.
There has been limited research so far but this has shown that the midge is very lazy and does not move very far from the host plant. At present there is a trial taking place at RHS Wisley Gardens and hopefully we may learn more later. Apart from the gall midge, daylilies are pretty easy to look after, although their succulent early emerging leaves are rather tasty to the local mollusc population, so a little vigilance at this time is probably a good idea. They also attract earwigs in the late Summer, so that extra crunch in your salad may not just be the blooms you have sprinkled. (Careful washing is required!).
All this said, when I am looking at my display beds in full bloom, all efforts are repaid in full. We have several broods of thrushes reared each year amongst raised beds eating the above mentioned molluscs and we have blooms from May to October covered in bees, hover flies and ladybirds. It is truly a sight to see.
For any information regarding cultivation of your daylilies please do not hesitate to contact me on the Pollie's Daylilies website, www.polliesdaylilies.co.uk
. I will very gladly help if I can.
"The Gardener's Guide to Growing Daylilies" written by Diana Grenfell
(click on the image to buy from Amazon - Plant Heritage receives a small commission on each sale made through these links)
"Daylilies for the Garden" by Graeme Grosvenor