One perfect day in early July the entire garden looks wonderful. The 'Lovely Fairy' rose has opened its dark pink flower clusters, the daylily blossoms are wide open trumpets in yellow, red and raspberry, and the sweet perfume of Hall's honeysuckle drifts through the air.
Then it rains and the whole picture changes. Overnight, the garden has grown two feet and everything has collapsed into a big messy heap. The purple filbert tree droops over the rose-of-sharon bush, 'Hedgerows Gold' redtwig dogwood drapes dangerously over 'Mutabilis' rose, and 'Scarlet Floral Carpet' rose sprawls over the lawn. The mulberry tree, laden with ripe, wet fruit, hangs low, and the branches of the 'King' apple tree, studded with small green apples, knock me in the head as I push the wheelbarrow down the path.
Suddenly pruning is urgent. I grab a bucket and fill it with tools -a long-handled lopper, a folding saw and a long pole saw -and plop it into a wheelbarrow. I strap on my tool belt, equipped with two holsters, one holding my hand pruners and the other holding my Japanese knife. I'm ready to attack the overgrown garden and tame it back to manageable proportions.
Pruning is a dance of lop, saw and snip. Let the debris fly onto the lawn, then step back and look. I remove dead wood and crossing branches, then, selectively thin out branches growing in the same direction. The crucial part of the process is continuing to step back to look at the big picture.
Daylilies for Great Color
July is when I fall in love with daylilies, all over again. I adore their big, vivid flowers that say 'Summer is here!': Lipstick red 'Mary Oliver'; banana yellow 'Self Propelled'; 'Beautiful Edgings' the color of lemon sherbet; 'Lilting Lavender' that reminds me of cake frosting; 'Fragrant Light' that perfumes the garden.
If I could pick a favorite, nearly impossible, it would be 'Strutter's Ball,' with jumbo burgundy flowers that look like velvet.
Like most daylilies, 'Strutter's Ball' grew so well that after five years I divided it into at least half a dozen pieces and replanted it to edge a sunny bed where three 'Snowfire' rockroses (Cistus) bloom, their white flowers punctuated by burgundy centers. Burgundy 'Strutter's Ball' is the perfect color echo for those rockrose flowers. To keep this theme going, I planted a handful of purple-leaved 'Xenon' sedums at the base of the daylilies.
During the years, I've bought more than 50 varieties of daylilies and I simply can't stop. Easy to grow, quick to expand, simple to divide and move around, they bring midsummer color to a huge crescendo.
Deadheading daylilies is my great pleasure as it brings me nose to nose with the flowers, where I can soak in the colors. I love snapping off the old spent blossoms -just a minute of grooming cleans up the plant, freeing the newly opened flowers to shine.
I've framed another sunny island bed with daylilies in shades of red and yellow, with blue-violet 'Rozanne' cranesbill billowing between them. Deep purple 'Romantica' clematis blooms on a trellis at the center of the bed, with 'Bowles' golden sedge at its feet like a skirt. Every one of these plants are easy to grow, easy to find in nurseries and very satisfying.
I recently visited Midnight Gardens (www.midnight-gardens.com) in Tualatin, for the second year in a row, because, frankly, it's a relief to talk about daylilies with someone who's even more besotted with them than I am. Owner Bob Anderson hybridizes daylilies, aiming for better branching, more flower buds per scape, and clear colors.
I found six daylilies I couldn't live without, and placed my order. But one unnamed seedling, a dark red spider daylily, kept calling to me, and I said I'd love to buy it next year if it's introduced.
Not long after I got a beautifully hand written note from Bob in the mail, asking if he could name the seedling for me. Tom wasn't home at the time, so I shouted the news to the cats and danced around the house. Jubilation!
If there's anything more exciting than a new plant, it's having one named after me -a small piece of immortality, especially meaningful since I have no biological children.
Thank you Bob! Maybe I will come back as a daylily in my next incarnation. If I had to make a wish, it would be a tossup between a flower and a cat.
Plant Sale at Petal Heads, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., July 30, 2625 Dillow Drive, West Linn. Lots of new coneflowers, single and double, and new Heuchera and Heucherella from Terra Nova. For more information, call Annilese Doolittle, 503-310-0747; by e-mail, portlandpetalheads @gmail.com .