Daylily Amnesia

Wasn’t the daylily bloom spectacular this spring? Daylilies danced all over the garden. Some we greeted joyfully as old friends come back for a visit. Some we welcomed as prodigals gone awol for a time.

‘Monet,’ an all-time favorite of mine, so I can’t forget the name

Others were, what can I say, except, “Where did these come from?” Or, “Did I really plant these?”

What was it about this year? More sunshine from trees we’d removed?

Terribly rainy weather here that left us awash in muck? (I don’t think daylilies like drowning.)

Timid deer that kept to garden perimeters? (I’d sprayed Liquid Fence soon after most plants budded, since our deer seem to prefer crunchy buds to floppy petals. Did I actually nail it?)

Our “ditch lily,” not native but naturalized here, wanders round the garden

Probably none of the above. What’s canny about the luscious bloom is this: even gardeners who live in different latitudes with different weather and different growing conditions are crowing about their stellar daylily bloom.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It happens every year. Not necessarily daylilies.

One year it was hellebores. I was so proud I’d finally gotten them to grow well, then learned that gardeners up and down the coast had wonderful hellebores that spring. (Instant deflation.)

Wild and woolly, these bring color year after year

Ditto for hydrangeas across the miles, good and bad years. Bloom on viburnum, too, seems to wax and wane in harmony with distance. I chalk it up to one more garden mystery that eludes me — and keeps me humble.

Which brings me to the mystery of Daylily Amnesia. You ask me about any plant I grow, the barest of twigs, and I can locate it in the time it takes a mosquito to land and bite. Ask me about daylilies when they are not in bloom and I freeze.

How could I forget the name of these reliable, 18-inch sweeties? ‘Mini Pearl’

Each spring I say I will get them right. But the moment the last bloom falls, I’m lost in a haze of naked bloom scapes.

Was the yellow one over there, or was it the peach? And where was that nice red one?

I wander with camp shovel in hand, a glazed look in my eye, wondering where those favorites once were, the ones I was sure I wouldn’t forget, the ones I was going to divide, the ones I was going to combine to create indelible, memorable color combinations that I’ve already forgotten.

Scrumptious no-name yellow

I have tried to be smart about this. From my very first purchase I faithfully recorded names on plastic plant labels and started lists.

Yessir, I made lists and I duly filed them in safe places. Didn’t matter. I could never put the names with the colors.

Names like Tiffany or Shooting Star or Summer Ruffles don’t give much of a clue about colors.

Affectionately known as Double Orange, this strong grower wanders around our garden

I figured if I deepened my knowledge my memory would improve.

I took classes offered by nurseries and master gardeners.

I learned good stuff about fans and scapes, diploids and tetraploids, daylily trials and daylily medal-winners, big blooms and small blooms, early, mid, late bloomers, the tall and the short of them, strong stems (good, obviously), evergreen habit (best for the South).

Great classes, great teachers. Didn’t take.

Jazzed-up Double Orange  aka ‘Kwanso,’ surround a glass garden ornament by Linda

I bought the first daylily I saw that I liked. In the heat of swooning over the bloom, checking pedigree was the last thing on my mind. Strong stem, weak stem, who cared.

Mystery plant suddenly bloomed near the path. Turns out my daughter gave it to me last fall (at my request). ‘Frans Hal’, an oldtime and popular daylily 

I bought daylilies I liked from growers I liked, mostly local, and the growers would give me nice freebies, which of course required more memory work.

During a trip to New England many years ago, my daughter and I lapped up a couple dozen daylilies at a growers’ sale before we realized we had no cash.

Clutching our prizes, we must have looked pretty crestfallen. After a split second of indecision, the kindly grower took pity on us and told us to take them home and send him a check “when you have a chance.”

When you have a chance! I relate this incident merely to illustrate how acquiring daylilies was a happy, haphazard affair.

No-name apricot

Apparently growing them is a happy, haphazard affair for me, because I can’t remember where I’ve planted them the day after they stop blooming.

Most daylilies are pretty happy in most climate zones, but after our purchase, I learned that some daylilies grow best in the north, others prefer the south.

Wonder which ones we bought? And where they are in the garden. . . .

Twins, small and low

One day I had an epiphany. I wasn’t all that interested in remembering the names of daylilies. What was important to me were the colors. I decided to write colors, not names, on tags. Not basic colors like Red or Yellow. Too simple. Too vague.

I would write a little essay on each tag: “subtle pink, hint of orange; yellow throat w. greenish tint; tall; late; strong grower; large bloom.” To ensure my notes would endure, I used pencil, because pencil doesn’t fade like marker.

Yellows brighten a woodland nook with faded stokes aster and joepye weed and hydrangea in he backgound

I went one step further. I carried pencil and paper with me, tucked in my pocket at all times for taking notes about current plantings, possible divisions, and smashing combinations. Then I filed the paper in a safe place. The record keeping took hours, probably days.

And did I mention? I took copious photographs, particularly from angles that would illustrate garden locale. These I planned to use as cross-reference to my notes.

‘Brownie Boy’, a bonus gift, blooms up a storm and blends well in groupings

Sorry to say, all that work didn’t help my memory.

When I checked in spring, either I had no idea what my scribblings meant.

Or they had become an illegible scrawl caked in mud.

Or a squirrel had snagged the tags.

My VIF, or Very Important File had apparently rejected my crumpled notes, so photo cross-referencing was out.

‘Brownie Boy’ with roses

Then there were daylilies that were never tagged because the deer got to them before I did or stringy plants had such fleeting bloom they escaped my vigilance.

Sometimes my notes didn’t apply. If daylilies aren’t coddled with good sun, good soil, good moisture, they can get persnickity.

“Tall reds” grow short on dry ground, “strong bloomers” are stingy in shade, and “reliable plants”  faint away if our hard-pack is not laboriously enriched.

Sweet lavender, reliable but retiring, difficult to combine with other colors

You are beginning to wonder now, Why all the fuss?

You ask, Why not transplant daylilies while they are still blooming?

After all, you buy them in bloom. Just cut ‘em back (fans, that is) and plop ‘em in and hope they can stand up straight and finish blooming.

Then you wouldn’t have to decipher all that chicken scratching.

One has to recognize one’s limitations.

Tall red duking it out with wandery woodland sunflower

I happen to be an unbalanced high-stepper in the garden, and a simple but awkward lunge in a tight border (jungle) can bring on disaster.

Wish I could greet this one by name

I dread the sound of snap crackle pop as buds break off. Think what damage I could do if I were lunging and wielding a tool.

And all the more chance that stubborn, fleshy roots will break, especially if they embrace roots of shrubs or trees.

Good gardeners use spading forks to minimize root loss. I use a small camp shovel, inefficient, ineffective maybe, but it suits my size. Which may be why I wind up with five frilly yellows down the road when I am pretty sure I only planted one, which further addles my amnesia.

Volunteer phlox, along with rudbeckia in the background

Our daylily season will end around July 4.

Crepe myrtles will take on starring roles in the landscape at about the same time that daylilies in New England are coming on stage.

I hesitate to deadhead those last lonely blooms. It’s like a final curtain call.

All that’s left is cleaning up rangy, tattery, duly labeled but now anonymous plants while summer bows to autumn’s rolling pageant.

In the true spirit of hope-springs-eternal-in-the-gardener’s-breast, I am content that I have, this season, devised yet another cure for Daylily Amnesia.

An unnamed favorite

I will tell you about it next year, if it is successful.

A hint of skepticism behind my optimism reminds me that, after all these memory-challenged years, the new system might, just might, be deficient.

The surprises next spring will keep me humble – and happy.

Author’s Note: The unnamed daylilies in this post are the products of my record-keeping.

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