Garden Notes

Daylilies delight

Hemerocallis 'Polly Forever'. Photo by Susan Safford

By Abigail Higgins - August 2, 2007

Daylilies are tapering off, after a wonderful season in which they seem to have bloomed exceptionally well after the harsh winter. Their beds may be cleaned up by dead-leafing or cutting foliage and stalks down completely and giving a good dressing of organic fertilizer, compost, or composted manure. Leave them to re-sprout and/or to re-bloom, if you have re-blooming varieties.

Sometimes one's senses are dulled by the endless parade of "bigger, brighter" and old standby varieties seem best. A case in point is the lovely classic diploid Hemerocallis 'Hyperion,' first introduced in 1924. A verbal description of the plant might fail to nail the qualities that make 'Hyperion' so good, yet those who know it, gardeners and designers, choose it over and over again.

'Hyperion' is fairly tall, relative to modern daylilies, about 36 inches or more, with a slightly willowy quality to the many bud-laden scapes. The color is clear lemony yellow with a greenish flush to the interior. There is something about the flower shape - a goblet-like fullness through the throat, but with articulated petal tips - that makes it possible to identify 'Hyperion' correctly, almost always, once one knows it. It is very fragrant and goes on and on through the heart of daylily season.

At the other end of the daylily scale are the rounded and ruffled tetraploids with stiff, branching, bud-studded scapes. At the memorial service for the late Polly Hill at the Arboretum last Saturday, the tables were decorated with bowls of lovely golden-yellow daylilies. It was the Klehm tetraploid, hybridized in 2003, poignantly named 'Polly Forever' in honor of Polly Hill. The plants in my garden, courtesy of the Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA), are floriferous, late and re-blooming; the foliage type is dormant, and height is 24-36 inches. There is little or no fragrance. The arboretum is propagating this clone and when supplies are sufficient it can be purchased at the PHA nursery.

Somewhere in between 'Hyperion' and 'Polly Forever' is another good yellow daylily that is a favorite of mine. 'Ice Carnival,' a 1967 diploid, is sometimes excitedly described as "near-white!" but I find nothing wrong with describing it as very pale yellow. It is between 30 and 36 inches tall, with typical, slightly ruffled flowers neither rounded nor spidery. Its light color makes it visible at dusk, when its strong fragrance carries well, too.

Hurrah for hostas

I often think to myself how pleasing the combination of yellow daylilies and lavender or purple-flowered hostas is. There are many variants of this to be created, when one considers the sizes and heights of daylilies and hostas, and the range of yellows and lavender-to-purple shades in these two genera; then, in the hostas alone, there are also the foliage variations of color and shape. It is not only the Easter egg colors, the nice contrast of leaf textures between the grassy daylily foliage and the rounded shapes of the hosta leaves, but also the easiness of the combo that appeals.

While daylilies do need a reasonable amount of sunlight, more than hostas, hostas can take more sun than one would think. Give the combo good soil and a yearly top-dressing of compost in the spring, and your reward is many years of a pretty and presentable tableau. The planting at our place consists of 'Ice Carnival' and late, small-leaved hostas, possibly H. fortunei. They are backed by bracken ferns and are a little out of sync with each other's bloom times, the hostas coming in a bit after the full display of daylilies. Even so, the mounds of contrasting foliage please me, with the bracken interwoven, so I let them be.

In the vegetable garden, where some annuals for cutting grow, another nice combination for easy little bouquets has woven itself together: 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias and 'Milkmaid' nasturtiums. The nasturtiums grow between vegetables (okra and collards) as aphid magnets. The golden orange zinnias with fiery magenta centers, an All-America Selection for 2006, have their own row. 'Milkmaid,' from Johnny's Select Seeds, is similar to the older pale yellow nasturtium 'Moonlight.' Its pale creamy flowers tone down the zinnias. I had thought that it would not wander as far as 'Moonlight' does, as the height was given as 12 to 16 inches, but I was mistaken. It is a trailing nasturtium, not a bush type.

Managing mildew

We are in that wonderful, wonderful time of summer when there is nearly 100 percent humidity, and no rain! Mildews, molds, fungi, and more, abound, not to mention the annual swelling of the bathroom door, (which won't close fully, at just the time one actually has houseguests.) Dry or stressed plants are much more susceptible to foliar diseases, and many container plants give up the ghost completely after just one episode of drying out.

Garden phlox (P. paniculata) are making their appearance and in many gardens that means some powdery mildew is showing up too. Kitchen sink remedies of various sorts become popular in cycles for its control, but I stand by the use of a well-known anti-desiccant. I believe it works by waxing up the leaves' surface so the mildew organism is unable to get a toehold on it. However, it also helps the plant conserve water by cutting down on transpiration. Each application lasts quite a while but of course the plant's new growth needs to be treated as it appears.

My preference in phlox had previously been for pale colors: whites, pinks and lavenders, again, because like the daylily 'Ice Carnival,' their fragrance is often very potent at dusk, and then it is nice to have them gleaming through the waning light. Several years ago, however, I became very taken with a wonderful phlox introduction, 'Blue Paradise.' I found myself planting it in numerous gardens, including my own.

Recently I have noticed a funny thing about 'Blue Paradise.' In my garden it grows near a Clematis durandii, also a blue-flowered plant. In the morning the flowers of both are an almost identical color, a velvety ultramarine. By the end of the day, while the D. durandii remains looking the same, the 'Blue Paradise' is no longer ultramarine blue but almost magenta. It is odd and I wonder if it is just my plant, or do they all behave like that?