Miss Floribunda: Easy flowers for sun & heat

July 18, 2015

Photo courtesy Rebecca Bennett.

Dear Miss Floribunda,

Not many of my annual seedlings survived our unusually hot, dry May, and the spring perennials have died back or look shabby. I am not doing much about weeds because they at least cover the ground and because I can’t stand spending time outside in what feels like a sauna. I notice that a lot of people in Hyattsville have orange daylilies growing in their gardens right now and I’m told they are easy to grow. Frankly, they make me hot just to look at them.  I’d rather see cool pastels, shadowy dark colors, or white. I have bought some hostas with lavender flowers for the shady areas of my garden and snowball hydrangeas for the semi-shaded areas, but I still need something for the sunny areas. Can you recommend anything relatively easy to grow that would give me results this summer and in summers to come? It may be too much to ask, but I would hope for flowers I could admire from my window or at the cool beginning or end of the day. I really don’t want to risk heat stroke by having to go out to water and weed in temperatures near 100 degrees.

Feeling the Heat on Hamilton Street

MISS FLORIBUNDA —

MISS FLORIBUNDA —

Dear Feeling the Heat,

You may want to investigate the easy-care and indestructible daylilies further. There are show gardens to visit at this time of year that enchantingly demonstrate how far daylilies have advanced since the common daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, was introduced from Asia in the 19th century. Beginning in 1921, Dr. Albert Steward, a botanist at Nanjing University, sent radically new cultivars to Dr. Arlow Stout of the New York Botanical Gardens. Since that day, almost 40,000 new daylilies have been developed. You would be astonished at the seemingly endless variety of heights, habits, sizes, flower shapes, ornamentations, colors and combinations of colors to choose from.

Take a look at the  website of the American Hemerocallis Society and be dazzled. Aside from their beauty, these new varieties are better than the common daylily because they are not  stoloniferous (they do not send out underground runners to form new plants) and so are not invasive. They retain the qualities that make daylilies among the plants best suited to our area and its summers. Daylilies thrive despite our heavy soil and resist pests and diseases so well they require no poisons; they are tolerant of polluted air, and can even be planted under black walnut trees or near pavement that has been covered with salt. Rabbits and deer generally leave them alone. You can get away with leaving them un-watered during drought and you need not worry about them during periods of heavy rain. If you let them spread, they form a ground cover that efficiently suppresses weeds. If you don’t want them to spread, plant only one fan (offshoot from a clump) in a spot. If you do want them to spread, plant several fans at a time. Plucking off the dead blooms in the cool of twilight will help “re-blooming” make for a long flowering season. Daylilies love full sun but will still bloom in partial shade. In fact, the darker ones are often grown in partial shade so the colors don’t fade. More and more are being developed with fragrance.

I get my daylilies from auctions or just by visiting the fabulous garden of my friend Fay DeLis, who persuaded me to become a member of the National Capital Daylily Club. All a member or visitor need do is write down the name of any coveted lily and after new fans develop DeLis will dig some up and sell them for a fraction of what they would cost in a nursery or online. Of the many I’ve acquired from her, my favorites from the purple palette range from the dainty 12″ high ‘Velvet Shadows,’ which have a lavender watermark and a green eye, to the 24″ high ‘Blue Grass Memories’ with their ruffled backward-curved petals that surround a green throat and a violet-blue eye.. Between the purples and reds is the elegant 33″ ‘Bela Lugosi,’ which is more the  color of the wine that Dracula did not drink than the blood that he did. The 22″ ‘Scarlet Orbit’ is a sizzling red, but the 34″ tall ‘Carmine Monarch’ has petals the color of frosty cherry popsicles. Among those in mellow shades of peach and nectarine, my favorite is ‘Microburst,’ which although it’s 35 ” tall bears miniature pompoms of petals. If you want to expand your spectrum, you can find many other varieties in gentle as well as bright shades of yellow, as well as some knock-your-eye-out orange varieties. Names like “Primal Scream” tell you how vivid these are!

In my opinion, the refreshingly frosty whites are the most marvellous because they are often tinged with a whisper of other colors: mauve, ice blue, chartreuse, blush pink or ivory. The ones I cherish most in my garden are ‘Tuscawilla Snowdrift,’ which are 24 inches tall, fragrant, and night-blooming; the slightly taller ‘Tip of the Iceberg,’ which sparkles with what is termed “diamond dusting,” and ‘Early Snow,’  a 29-inch-tall plant with huge flowers that open wide and flat like magnolia blooms. The nocturnal whites open in late afternoon and illuminate the night garden till the sun comes up. If you like diurnal blacks for daytime drama you can’t do better than the almost-black red “Midnight Magic,” (24″) or the almost-black purple, ‘Black Friar,’ which adds stately height (60”) to its imposing presence.

If you would like to discuss daylilies and other good choices for the summer garden–such as native plants–please join the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 AM on Saturday, July 18 at the home of  Theresa Goedeke, 5006 37th Place.  There will be a brief meeting and a guided tour of a garden that features many interesting native cultivars.