Plant a Landscape of Hybrid Lilies

Daylilies come in almost every color including near-whites and blue hues, so follow these tips and suggestions for choosing the best lilies for your garden.
By: Pat Rubin
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The daylily Raspberry Banana Cheesecake is as delicious to behold as it sounds. Its soft, banana-cream-colored petals are edged in gold. A luscious raspberry color screams out from the center of the flower while the bright green foliage arches gracefully beneath the tall flowers.

Raspberry Banana Cheesecake is one of scores of new hybrid daylilies flooding the nursery industry. Keith Miner of Newcastle, Calif., created it by crossing two daylilies at his California Daylilies farm. An avid daylily hybridizer for seven years, he planted the seed, waited patiently for it to germinate, grew the plants and, out of nearly a thousand seedlings, deemed this one good enough to propagate. This year Miner will sell a limited number of Raspberry Banana Cheesecake plants.

Miner's daylily is one of more than 52,000 registered hybrids and one of hundreds introduced to the public every year. Raspberry Banana Cheesecake is a far cry from the sprawling, rough-and-tumble daylilies popular with gardeners at the beginning of the 20th century or even 15 or 20 years ago. Today's daylilies have more newfangled twists, turns and loops than a roller coaster.

To put it in perspective: Old-fashioned daylilies are mainly orange, yellow-orange or red-orange. They bloom in spring and have grasslike foliage that dies to the ground each winter. As the name implies, each flower lasts only a day (the botanical name for the genus, Hemerocallis, is Greek for "beautiful for a day").

Gardeners used these rugged and reliable plants in their perennial borders and along banks and ponds. The flowers were beautiful, but the plants bloomed for only a few short weeks, and the foliage was often ragged.

Hybridizers began seriously crossing daylily species in the 1930s, "although it wasn't until the 1960s that things really got moving," said Jackie Tarchala, manager of Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, Calif., which sells 800 varieties of daylilies.

More than likely, Miner said, those early hybridizers were simply looking for bigger flowers and longer bloom and had little idea of the range of diversity locked inside the genetic codes of those tough, sun-loving flowers.

"The early hybridizers had no clue what they were going to unleash," Miner said. "Who really knows the background of the original parents of daylilies or what they looked like a thousand years ago? Were there red parents, or purple ones, and the only survivors ones with yellow and orange flowers?"

Today, bloom color runs the gamut from pale lemon to bright yellow gold, from pale pink to rose and violet, from watermelon red and carmine to the darkest purple and black red, from buff and peach to pale apricot. In fact, daylilies come in every color except pure white and true blue, although hybridizers have created near-whites and blue hues, Tarchala said.

They've mixed those colors in luscious blends, harmonious combinations and jarring contrasts. They've combined soft apricot with pink, for example, and tipped yellow petals in purple. They've added ruffles and picoteed edges.

There are even daylilies whose flowers last more than a day; daylilies that send up blooms for longer periods; daylilies that open in the evening; daylilies that bloom early spring, mid-spring, late spring, early summer, late summer or fall; and ones that bloom twice a year (spring and late summer). The flowers can be up to 11 inches across and the foliage 8 inches to 5 feet tall.

Hybridizers have even found a way to chemically double the number of chromosomes to form sturdier plants and flowers. Truly the possibilities for combinations continue to increase exponentially. Single-color, trumpet-shaped orange daylily flowers are almost a thing of the past.

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