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Daylilies take the stress out of life

Garden Muse
by: Barbara Blossom Ashmun, At Midnight Gardens, big bright flowers adorn "Memories of Ken" daylilies, in memory of Ken Austin, with "Pink Playmate" in the background. Both are Al Rogers introductions.

After all the hot weather I needed a lift, so I set out to visit Midnight Gardens (www.Midnight-Gardens.com). On a Saturday morning in July, owner Bob Anderson showed me through his retail nursery (open by appointment) and also demystified the process of hybridizing daylilies.

When he told me he'd named his daylily business for a favorite film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I felt an instant kinship - I also loved the movie. Set in Savannah, the murder mystery, based on the book of the same name, stars Kevin Spacey, Jude Law and John Cusak, and is directed by Clint Eastwood.

Despite its name, the nursery has none of the dark atmosphere of the movie. The sunny site radiates color from a dozen rectangular beds filled with orange, red, pink, yellow and wine flowers. For Anderson, raising daylilies is great stress relief from his day job in finance.

A daylily grower for more than 24 years, he started the Tualatin nursery on a little over an acre in 2000. He mowed down the field grass, then topped it with four to six inches of Valley Landscape's garden mulch.

'It was for weed control and soil enhancement,' he said.

Since 1994, he's hybridized new varieties, at first learning on his own, and then getting together with daylily expert Al Rogers, retired owner of Caprice Farm Nursery. Anderson aims for certain qualities when he crosses daylilies with each other - blue-green or variegated leaves, blue tints in the flowers, thick petals, and the ability to bloom even when evenings are cool. Most important is a long flowering period.

'I'm working on better branching, higher bud count and rebloom, so gardeners can enjoy them all summer,' he said. 'Older ones have no branching at all, with the buds all at the top, and once they're done, you're done.'

He showed me some of the more modern daylilies, pointing out the strong upper scapes (leafless stems that bear the flowers) already packed with flowers and buds, as well as scapes lower down on the plant that will extend the bloom. 'Shining Beacon,' with red petals, distinctively tapered to a point, was a good example.

'Normally, daylilies bloom for four to six weeks. This one blooms more like three months!' Anderson said.

He showed me how he hybridizes by taking pollen from one daylily's stamen and brushing it onto another's pistil. The best time to do this is early morning. Then he watches for a pod to form under the shriveled flower, and lets it dry right on the plant. In September, when the pod starts to crack, he puts it in a paper bag to dry completely and writes the names of the parent plants on the bag.

In autumn he starts seedlings directly in the ground. Then he patiently waits for flowers. About 80 percent of the seedlings bloom within three years.

'If you're lucky, within two years,' he said. 'Then I evaluate them, and divide them.' It takes six to eight years before new hybrids are ready to market.

All of Anderson's hybrids have 'Midnight' in their names, for example 'Midnight Depression Glass,' a light red with darker red veining, and 'Midnight Smoke Rings,' dark purple with white rings that look like smoke around the central eye.

Since it was already midsummer, I was especially interested in late-blooming daylilies. Anderson showed me 'Late Bouquet,' introduced by Al Rogers, with enormous golden-orange flowers that recurve dramatically. 'Several flowers bloom on a stem at once,' he pointed out. 'Gypsy Caprice' is another late bloomer with medium purple flowers and darker veins.

It was hard to choose from the smorgasbord of temptations. As we went around the garden, I took notes, putting big stars by favorites. At the end of our visit, scanning the star-studded pages, I resolved to resist my usual attraction to red and purple daylilies - I already had so many. Even though I'll probably return later to get them, I passed up 'Shining Beacon,' 'Watermelon Man' and 'Jungle Beauty.'

Instead I chose yellow daylilies to contrast with my dark ones: yolk yellow 'Bisque,' creamy yellow 'Caribbean Whipped Cream,' ivory 'Beautiful Edgings,' with a delicate pink rim, and 'Fragrant Light,' which perfumed the car all the way home.

But at the very end, I just couldn't help myself. I asked Anderson to dig one luscious red daylily for me, 'Ruth Oliver,' just because I had to have her. As he wheelbarrowed the bagged plants to my car, I felt renewed, happy to be heading home to find places for my new children.


Coming events

Heucheras: the New 'Bells' of the Ball, talk by author/nursery owner Dan Heims, 2 p.m., Aug. 15, Al's in Sherwood, 16920 S.W. Roy Rogers Road, Sherwood. Free event, registration required, www.Als-GardenCenter.com , or call 503-726-1162.