DAYLILIES are so nearly a perfect garden flower that it seems silly to note their few defects, and I will describe how I think they are most readily used in small gardens.
They bloom from late June till early August. I do not see any point saying they commence in early May (though some do) and continue through most of October (though some do) because that is misleading to the gardener who is thinking of a good bit of bloom, and the very early and very late daylilies do not account for much show.
The usual town garden in the capital is rather like a cat run. My own is 40 feet by 100 feet or so, and the main feature of it is walk from the kitchen door to the alley gate. I am not blessed in other words, with any God-given feature except the sun itself.
It would have suited me better if I had old pink brick walls with Ely Cathedral at the back boundary and a lake to the west, etc., etc. On the other hand I might easily have wound up with something the size of a rug, overhung with maples and hemlocks, disgusting creatures.
Now this garden, such as it is, has a flurry of excitement in April with daffodils and tulips.
In May there are irises, peonies and roses.
In June-July there are daylilies, and in October there are a few blobs of chrysanthemums, and that's about it.
Daylilies have increasingly insinuated themselves into this garden, and there are maybe 100 or so varieties, and I can see how this happened.
First of all, they are healthy animals, reminding me a great deal of bassets I have known. Once they are whelped and given their shots (the hounds) nothing else happens, vet-wise, until they at last die.
Daylilies, once planted, sit there like Rocks of Gibraltar, shading out weeds, resisting drouths and hurricanes and plagues, for years on end, never requiring spraying or pampering or even fertilizing.
Irises, on the other hand, forever threatening to get borers or soft rot or the Grand Sulks if it's too wet or too dry or some knotweed or (Lord save us) bermuda grass gets into their enclave.
And when the irises bloom for two weeks, we are quite likely to have hail, sudden withering heats, smashing rainstorms, cold snaps and high winds. It happens all too often that irises are gravely hurt (and the gardener is in a rage) the better part of May.
Of course when the season is right for them, nothing in this world or the next is quite equal in wonder to a garden of irises.
Besides the long blooming season and freedom from pests, daylilies bloom at the most settled season of the year. There is no danger of cold snaps, incredible weather or other terrors. The days are long, and one can sit out enjoying the flowers till night falls.
The shape of the flower is good, the texture is good, and the slender stalks holding the large blooms are reasonably dramatic. Of course there is nothing like the color range of the iris. Ivory, primrose, citron, canary, peach, coral, red and orange - it is true there are some lavenders, not very good ones, and purples inclining to murk. But the overwhelming richness of the iris need not be looked for.
To give occasional height and bulk I use roses that make shrubby growth, and I have a few tallish yews and junipers, and a few rounded blobs (Russian sage, lads love, arbor vitae, false cypress) and then I have my favorite plants whose mission is not to bloom, really, but to have good-looking leaves (a few sorts of yuccas, hostas, Rudbeckia maxima, tamarisk, Japanese butter-burr, variegated Miscanthus, yellow ivy, giant reed, purple smoke bush, coral bells).
These plants are used freely enough that even if nothing much is in bloom, I get a certain pleasure from the contrasting leaf shapes and colors. I also go quite berserk for grapes.
These plants have the places of honor, where I think they show up best, and I do not allow myself, in some spring fit for irises, to dig them up.
Back of these major plants are the daffodils, arises, peonies, roses and daylilies.
Daylilies, as I say, have become increasingly important because they look after themselves better than anything else. One fellow wrote in the National Capital Daylily Club that he had a clump of the old (lemon and sweet-scented) "Skylark" that was 22 years old, without division, but it began to decline after 18 years. That year it had 88 blooming stalks and a total of 1,156 blooms.
Usually it is better to lift the clumps and divide them every four or five years. You soon learn to recognize the time a clump needs dividing, but sometimes you can quite safely leave them alone for seven to ten years.
They are admirably behaved plants. They do not run about, coming up here, there and everywhere, and they do not die out in the middle, either.They stay where you put them, getting better as the years pass.
This year the Club's Daylily Show will be at the National Arboretum on July 1. The hours are 1 to 5 p.m. That is only four hours, so please note it. Also note that it is one day only. Many gardeners would do extremely well to visit the show - and the large labeled planting of daylilies at the Arboretum as well - to see some of the current varieties.
I remember in the 1940s a friend of mine bought a lot of daylilies from Stout and Russell, preeminent growers of yesterday.
We thought them marvelous, as indeed they were. None of those varieties would be chosen now, and yet if one still had those old sorts, they would still be impressive and beautiful.
I keep the old "Skylark" and "Lady Bountiful" for sentimental reasons, but I almost never see a well-grown clump of daylilies I fail to admire.
If the garden is small, with room for only a few clumps, the gardener might consider these varieties recommended by the local club.
Bertie Ferris, tangerine; Bengal Tiger, green and cinnamon; Butterpat, butter yellow; Buddha, black red; Catherine Woodberry, lavender; Clarence Simon, ivory melon.
Cornwall, ruffled orange; Damascus Road, puplish red; Ed Murray, red; Green Glitter, pale yellow; Green Flutter, lemon; Golden Prize, gold; Jersey Beacon, red; Little Grapette, purple; Little Business, rose; Little Greenie, lemon; Little Rainbow, yellow and pink; Mary Mae Simon, yellow and pink.
Mary Todd, gold; Puddin, chrome; Kinda Neat, yellow; Raindrop, butter; Shady Lady, yellow with wine eye; Renee, yellow; Viola Parker, rose pink; Yasmin, cream pink; Winning Ways, pale yellow; Cherry Cheeks, rose-pink; Gauguin, sunset; Douglas Dale, red.
I think it will be necessary to say more about daylilies another week, including the raising of these admirable beasts from seed.these admirable beasts from seed.