In the beginning, day lilies were plainer, their colors limited to yellow, orange and a kind of muted rusty red. Then came the hybrids: taller or shorter, double or single, but with a much wider color range, from almost-white to deep-red and even some bicolors.
All this time and attention to creating hybrids resulted from the plant’s perennial popularity; gardeners who have grown day lilies can’t get enough. The plants are virtually pest-free, will grow almost anywhere, require average water, increase prolifically, delight in sun or part shade--and they bloom. Do they ever. Their name derives from their ambitious flowering, with, legend has it, one bloom opening (and closing) every day, or near enough.
There is a day lily for every garden space, whether dwarfs for borders and rock gardens or 6-foot giants for hedges. Some day lilies close up at night, some have two or three blooming seasons per year, and one species, Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (not a hybrid), is even scented.
Among the hybrids that are the most popular, there are plants called tetraploids, the creme de la creme, with twice as many chromosome cells as the more common diploids, resulting in richer colors, more substantial flowers and unusual shapes (such as ruffled petals).
The Wayside Gardens catalogue, a major source of day lilies, claims that a 6-year-old tetraploid can have as many as 900 blooms in a single season. Unfortunately, these beauties are expensive--as much as $32 for a single plant.
Those on a limited budget should consider growing day lilies from seed. Park Seed Co. offers 25 Saxton hemerocallis seeds for $2.15, an Economy Mix for $1.95 and 10 tetraploid seeds for $2.95. I have grown the tetraploids from seed, and the results were quite satisfying and ever so much cheaper than buying an established plant.
If you can’t wait that long for beautiful blooms, check with a local nursery for availability of tubers or plants in containers. Day lily plants can also be ordered from Wayside Gardens, Hodges, S.C. 29695; White Flower Farm, Route 63, Litchfield, Conn. 06759; Daylily World, 254 N. Old Monroe Road, Sanford, Fla. 32771; Oakes Daylilies, Monday Road, Route 4, Corryton, Tex. 37721, and Solomon Daylilies, 105 Country Club Road, Newport News, Va. 23606.