Written by Victor Smith
Inspired by his grandmother's legacy, an amateur gardener's avocation yields stunning results.
Growing daylilies is an addictive hobby — and one I got exposed to at a young age. Of course, as a boy, gardening was the furthest thing from my mind.
My maternal grandmother, Mildred Primos of Jackson, had a large garden and was known for growing and hybridizing daylilies in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. She was responsible for the registration of 55 of her own unique creations with the American Daylily Society. I remember as a child her letting me run free around their yard — with a warning about not getting in the flower beds.
Some weekends I would go with my grandmother to the fairgrounds for flower shows — certainly not by choice! I would have preferred to hang out at my grandfather’s restaurant, or stay home and watch cartoons.
I’m sure my frowning face as I tagged along with her wasn’t something my grandmother saw as a predictor of my future obsession. But I knew how important her garden was to her — I’d say she taught me by example. She created a culture of gardening as a worthwhile hobby and an extension of one’s way of life, that was passed down to her children and on — to me.
I inherited some of my grandmother’s irises and daylilies, but my garden isn’t exactly manicured — it’s more like my laboratory! I have close to 200 types of lilies and every year I experiment with different cultivars.
I heard this somewhere once, and it’s certainly true for me: “Daylily people don’t get tired of daylilies. We are an evangelical lot, and enjoy nothing more than proclaiming the gospel.”
So what draws gardeners to daylilies? For one thing, they are prodigious bloomers. Each flower on a daylily scape (stem) blooms for only one day, but each scape has many buds and each mature plant has many scapes, so the plants may bloom for several weeks, producing fresh new flowers each day.
For another, they come in an incredible range of sizes, shapes and colors. For centuries, daylilies came in yellow, orange and fulvous (a dull reddish-yellow). You still see these common yellow-orange varieties along roads and in cemeteries, parks, and old flower beds. But thanks to hybridization, the diversity and stunning patterns of the modern daylily are pretty much unlimited.
For me, daylilies are the perfect hobby flower. I’m strictly an amateur — although I’ve been a home gardener for 25-plus years now, I only started trying my hand at creating new cultivars the last three summers. Daylilies are endlessly mutable and easy to breed. The flowers themselves cooperate in this endeavor — their pistils and the pollen-bearing stamens extend beyond the fully opened blossom, inviting even amateurs to try their luck at creating new forms.
So how do you create a hybrid lily? There’s nothing to it. To make a cross, simply pick a pollen-laden stamen from one daylily, and brush it across the pistil of another. That bud will close up and hopefully produce a seed pod. It’s that simple — no wonder there are over 50,00 named cultivars!
The joy of seeing a seedling bloom for the first time, a flower that I had a hand in creating, is a feeling as unique as the flower itself. I think my grandmother would be most pleased and definitely a little surprised to know what a legacy she created.