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Daylilies

08/09/04 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer says there's one flower we often take for granted but shouldn't.


(Homeyer) I'm guilty. I admit to prejudice and discrimination- against the common orange daylily. Like many gardeners, I really stopped looking at the orange daylily years ago, dismissing it as trite and boring.

But there are good reasons why we have so many orange daylilies- one being that it's a good flower. It's pretty, and you can't kill it. It'll grow in sun or shade, wet or dry. Clay, sand or loam. So it's great for beginners. It blooms best in sunny spots, but it isn't fussy.

Unknown to many gardeners, daylilies can be used as cut flowers. Each blossom lasts only a day, but larger buds will open in succession if the arrangement gets some direct sunshine each morning.

Daylilies are useful for stabilizing steep banks or filling in places you don't want to mow. Planted 8-12 inches apart they'll fill in and shoulder away almost any other plant.

And they're cheap. In fact, you should never have to buy the common orange daylily, as everyone you know has some. They're usually free for the digging. You can dig them anytime of the year, but watch out if you don't get around to planting them. Years ago I set some down on the edge of our lawn and forgot about them. Now they're a big clump.

Daylilies are good to eat, too, from blossom to bud to root. Lewis Hill of Greensboro likes to serve ice cream in the blossoms. And he told me the roots are for sale in the Asian Food market in Montreal. Being a constitutionally curious sort, I dug some, cleaned them up, and boiled them for 3 minutes. Served with a little salt and butter the bulbous part of the root was delicious. They taste a little like water chestnuts.

Daylilies are easy to hybridize - so easy that there are over 100,000 varieties. Here's how to do it:

Carefully examine a blossom. You'll see 7 small parts in the center of each flower. Six are identical, the male anthers, each of which is loaded with pollen. In the center is the pistil, or female part, which is longer and light colored. With a pair of scissors cut off an anther from one color of daylily, and touch the pistil of another. Done. No chit chat, no flirting.

The common orange daylily can be used for hybridizing, but fancier ones are better, because their genes pools are more diverse. But put a paper bag over the stems you wish to hybridize the night before, so the bees don't get to them while you're still drinking coffee. It takes about 6 weeks for seeds to be ready to harvest. Pick them when the seeds rattle inside the pod, and plant right away.

People say that cockroaches would survive a nuclear holocaust. Orange daylilies might, too. So we might as well welcome them into our gardens. They're here to stay.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, from Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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