Daylily

daylily

These lovely plants produce a succession of lily-like flowers each of which lasts for just one day. At first, this seems rather disappointing, but they are such bright, exotic flowers and produced in such profusion that this isn't actually a drawback. In fact, it means the plants always retain a fresh boldness as the flowers never hang fading and waning on the plant. They range in colour from white through yellows and orange to the deepest, richest reds. Originally from the orient, daylilies have been cultivated for over 4000 years and there are now over 35,000 named or hybrids, so the choice is almost endless. Daylilies were incredibly popular in Victorian times but, until recently, had fallen out of favour with many gardeners. Now, with the inclusion of grasses and hot colours in many garden schemes, daylilies are making a come back. They flower for such a long period of the summer that they remain a constant feature while other flowers appear and disappear around them.

Using daylilies

Daylilies make excellent border plants and smaller varieties look good in containers. Once clumps are well established, daylilies can be used en masse forming wonderful deep groundcover, effectively suppressing weeds. Ideal for difficult areas such damp, slippery slopes that are awkward to weed. Larger more vigorous varieties of daylilies can also be used as specimen plants. They look particularly effective when planted next to water where their fine form and colourful flowers can be highlighted in the surface reflection.

Curiously, daylilies were originally introduced to this country not as an ornamental plant but as a culinary and medicinal herb. The flowers and buds of old-fashioned varieties are still used today to make a tasty and colourful addition to salads.

Variety guide

Daylilies look equally good in traditional garden borders or more contemporary schemes. Mix the beautiful white flowered 'Ice Carnival' with pale lupins, foxgloves, phlox and scabious for a real cottage garden feel. Alternatively, plant the rich yellow 'Golden Chimes' or 'Stafford', which bear the most gorgeous dark red flowers, with other vibrant colours, such as the iridescent purple dot flowerheads of Verbena bonariensis, the huge blue globe heads of Agapanthus africanus and small, flaming red trumpets of Crocosmia 'Lucifer'.

Grasses also look lovely with daylilies as their thin swaying leaves offset those of the daylilies which are much more stiff and arching. Their gracefully arching foliage is particularly effective when planted along a pathway helping to soften any harsh edges. Try planting daylilies alongside the soft grey leaved and lilac-flowered catmint for a really pretty combination.

Some of the taller growing varieties, such as 'Frans Hals' can reach up to 1.2m, making them excellent mid- to back of the border plants, their fountains of leaves making a luscious foil to the flowers around. This particular variety also has unusual red and yellow striped flowers.

In containers

There are smaller growing daylilies which look stunning in pots and can withstand the dry conditions found in containers. This allows their green strap-like leaves to cascade over the sides and soften the harshness of the containers. Daylilies are best planted singly because they are quite effusive in their nature and should be given the space to spread their leaves unhindered. 'Stello d'Oro' is an excellent plant that has a really long flowering period and grows to a neat 28x30cm, with fragrant brassy yellow flowers.

Another good variety for pots is the unusually named 'Little Bugger' which grows 60x50cm with golden yellow flowers. Plant in a special container compost which is better at retaining water than many other composts.

Growing guide

Daylilies are easy plants to grow and are tolerant of most soils as long as it isn't water-logged – they cannot stand stagnant conditions. Although they hate to be standing in water, daylilies need quite a lot of moisture for the buds to form properly. Mulching in late autumn and spring will help to keep up the water levels in the soil without making it soggy. Daylilies prefer a sunny spot where they will produce the biggest and most numerous flowers, they can cope with dappled shade but will flower less. Be careful with the dark coloured flowers which will fade and even shrivel in extremely bright midday sun as they absorb so much heat. Plants are best divided every two or three years to keep them vigorous.

Each spring, give plants a generous mulch of well-rotted organic matter to help retain moisture in the soil during the summer months. During periods of drought, daylilies are worth watering thoroughly once in a while to keep the production of flowers going. When the leaves turn brown in autumn, pull them off the plant rather than cut them back, so that there are no convenient over-wintering hiding places for their main pests.

Propagation

Seeds can be sown in containers in a coldframe in autumn or spring. The seeds collected from hybrids and cultivars don't come true, so they need to be shop bought. Regular division every two or three years is the best way to create more plants.

Potential problems

Daylilies can be quite prone to pests and disease when they get old and lose vigour. You can prevent this by dividing clumps every other year in either spring or autumn. The problems to watch out for are rust, spider mite, thrips and aphids. Slugs and snails can also be a problem (when can't they?).