NO FLOWER is more rewarding than the day-lily and while I have only grown about 300 kinds, I have found many more that I like and only a few that struck me as distinctly ugly.
In general, the yellows are the best to start with, simply because most gardens wind up liking yellows better than all the rest, and they might as well start out with what they'll wind up with.
But I have a friend -- we all know bullheaded people -- who simply does not like yellow. For her, reds are the best daylilies. For some years now it has been possible to get red daylilies that are red as stoplights. Sometimes people tell me they have read there are not true reds; and if they wish to think that, all right.
In cold regions, where summer nights can be in the 40s, it is true that many red daylilies open dull brown or vaguely purplish. In Washington we are blessed with warm nights, and reds are red.
There are a number of reds that bloom early (June 15, say) and among them is the old 'Gusto', which has never quite dropped out of commerce though it is not an especially fine flower. It is one of those daylilies that clumps up well and quickly and makes a great show for three weeks.
With 1,000 daylilies introduced into commerce each year, adding to the thousands already grown, it is obvious that many daylilies virtually duplicate other varieties.
I see no harm in that, and it has never bothered me that both breeders and commercial growers vastly over estimate the splendor of their new sorts.
The National Arboretum has a collection of daylilies with labels on the varieties, so that anyone who wishes can go see for himself what is available, and the local daylily society show in July at the arboretum is another way to see living blooms up close.
I do regret that some connosseurs forget that taste varies.
I have never known a daylily, for example, that I loved more than the wild Hemerocallis citrina, which has thin narrow petals and blooms at night. If people get it into their heads that a daylily ought to have thick petals that overlap to form a bowl or trumpet or reflexed saucer, of course they will not like H. citrina, and there is no reason they should.
All the same, it is more beautiful than most of the garden varieties I myself grow, and a certain modesty would become most fanatics (of daylilies or anything else) even if certain forms of beauty escape their notice.
I have favorite daylilies but the choice is highly irrational and depends on thousands of obscure coordinates that nobody could unravel, so I give myself no airs that my taste is better than that of others, even if it is, as exemplified by the high value I set on the wild H. cirtrina.
'Lady Bountiful' is a bad daylily (I am mentioning a favorite) because to begin with, its stems lean all over the place.
This is an unforgivable fault in a daylily, I judge, and I do not forgive it. But I put up with it for three reasons. First, it blooms and is gone before most other large daylilies have hit their stride. It generally starts about June . It is a medium-pale, clean, soft yellow and it grows to chest heights. It is nice to grow on the alley, I think, where passers-by are likely to notice it.
Besides its earliness, it was a great national favorite about 1950, and it reminds me of those days when advances in daylily breeding were coming fast to the delight of all gardners. And finally it was favorite plant of a friend who was closer than most.
Another early one blooming by the second week of June is 'Emily Brown', a fairly routine clear orange. It makes a nice early show and that's about all I can say for it. I would not like a year in which I was without it.
A very great favorite of mine is 'golden Chimes', which has flowers not much larrger than a silver dollar, but maybe 40 or 50 on a stem, reaching a height of 40 or even 48 inches.Its stems lean a bit, too.
It is a rich, full yellow with bronzy ribs on the outside. It won more than its share of awards when it came out years ago, and perhaps the leading daylily fancier of England once wrote in an article for the Royal Horticultural Society that it was more admired than any other variety in his large collection.
Such a thoughtful judge as the Andre Viette Nursery (Fisherville, Va. 22939) still lists it.
I have given it to various people over the years. Through an accident in digging I gave far too much to one of my cousins who I hope was impressed with my fabulous generosity. My own clump is only now building up again.
A daylily modestly introduced by Gilbert Wild Nurseries at Sarcoxie, Mo., as "just a good garden flower" is another of my great favorites, 'American Craftsman', a large tall trumpet yellow. I think it has never won an award and very likely does not deserve one, but I like it exceedingly.
We now come to what I consider a scandal, 'Sunblest'. It was first listed a few years back by Wild who said it bloomed all the time. Ha. That is said of hundreds of daylilies that in this climate do nothing of the sort.
'Sunblest' is the only large daylily I ever grew that bloomed off and on all through the season, winding up in the fall. It is clear bright yellow, nothing exceptional. It blooms as freely and as often as 'Bitsy', if you happen to know that small yellow. Yet I do not know a source for 'Sunblest' any more.
How many gardeners, I wonder, would prefer it if the daylily connoisseurs would slow down long enough, from their headlong race among novelties, to notice, record and honor an occasional startling performer such as 'Sunblest'.
And what is the point of mentioning it, since I have no idea where it may be bought, if it is still in commerce even. And I think there is this point to it: Somebody really should say that it is a daylily among 10,000 which is unequaled in my experience at least for its extravagant production of medium-high stalks of clear yellow bloom.
Not everybody, of course, is interested in a work
Not everybody, of course, is interested in a work-horse of a daylily. One might easily prefer a daylily with astoundingly beautiful individual flowers, or one of astonishing and rare color. I have no argument with any of that.
But it offends my sense of sanity (residual though it may be) that a daylily so constant, so clean, so bright, should never even get off the ground, so to speak, for no better reason than the fact that awards are not given for superlative performance or superlative garden value. If I see a thousand individual blooms of daylilies, I fancy I could pick out the oustanding onces as the average daylily fanatic. But neither I nor anyone else can walk through a large daylily collection early in July and Judge a garden performance.
Judges of florist flowers (those flowers that have their own cults and fanatics, such as daffodils, irises, peonies, roses, dayliles, dahlias, chysanthemums) rarely look for garden performance.
If you have 800 varieties of daylily in your garden, it is not of much value to you that one or two of them bloom more or less continually. You look for quite other qualities, such as extreme distinction, and a flower of routine quality -- just another pretty face -- will hardly be honored.
There are, however, gardeners who cannot have several hundred varieties of daylily. For such gardeners a daylily that is almost always in bloom (at least in comparison with other daylilies) is a treasure.
You might think nurseries, if not connoisseurs of the daylily, would have seized on such a variety as 'Sunblest', and so they would have, if they had tried it out, and if they had a sound understanding what ordinary gardeners want (or at least dream of) from a daylily.
I hope eventually to report a source for the plant, and I hope eventually to report that some committee of daylily fanatics somewhere will start recognizing outstanding performers when they appear.