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Rainbow of Colors and Scents Sparks Popularity

July 14, 1991|KAREN DARDICK | Dardick is a free-lance writer living in Eagle Rock.

Day lilies are trouble-free, pest-free, carefree perennials that are surging in popularity as gardeners discover their versatility in almost any setting. Now is a good time to view the blooming plants at flower shows and nurseries to select favorite colors for fall planting.

California day-lily growers estimate that sales have increased 10% a year during the last decade. There are more than 10,000 named varieties of day lilies available, ranging in size from miniature to six feet tall.

The growing interest in these hardy perennial plants is due to the wider range of color choices now available and the fact that many of the new varieties bloom two or more times each year. Some new varieties bloom continuously.

"Day lilies are exploding in popularity because the hybridizers are developing reblooming as well as scented day lilies," said Michael McKain, who, along with John Schoustra, owns and operates Greenwood Daylily Gardens in Whittier.

"They're also very easy to grow because they thrive in almost any kind of soil, and perform well in sun and part shade, although they should be protected from the hot afternoon sun.

"They are now available in a wide rainbow of colors. The only one lacking is a true blue, and we're working on developing that too."

Although plants growing in pots may be planted in hot weather, they will require more water at a time when water is in short supply. Fall remains the preferred time and is best for bare root planting.

There's a mistaken notion that since the flowers last for only one day, the plant is not worth adding to the landscape.

"It's true that the individual flower only survives for 24 hours, hence the name, but each plant produces at least one stalk consisting of many buds," Schoustra explained.

"Some varieties produce stalks with more than 20 buds. Whether left on the plant or cut for a vase, each bud will open on successive days, although the flowers will be a little smaller," he said. "They are excellent as cut flowers, and a flower arrangement containing some scented day lilies can perfume an entire room."

If you want to try growing day lilies, it's worth the effort to seek out the specialty growers. While most chain nurseries carry day lilies, they usually stock just the older varieties of yellows, oranges and reds. A wider selection is available through specialty day lily growers, although both Burkard Nursery in Pasadena and Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar carry a good selection of named day lily cultivars.

Greenwood Daylily grows and sells 2,000 named varieties of day lilies (hemerocallis), and is the largest commercial day-lily grower in the Greater Los Angeles area. Greenwood has a demonstration day-lily garden featuring more than 300 varieties interplanted with recommended companion plants.

Because day lilies, with their grass-like foliage and tall spires of lily-like flower cluster are so easy to grow, they have traditionally been used in mass plantings, especially along roadsides or in commercial landscapings. And when most people think of day lilies, they think of them as only yellow or orange. But those are no longer the only color choices available.

The versatile day lily comes in a variety of sizes. Some can reach six feet, while the miniatures, which are useful tucked in rock gardens or planted along walkways, only grow to 12 inches. They also produce small flowers or large flowers, some attractively marked with what is termed an "eye." Foliage also varies, with some upright and other varieties cascading.

With a trend to smaller home gardens, day lilies can make a dramatic statement without overwhelming all the other plants in the landscape. They also add visually interesting foliage. Many are evergreen, although some are deciduous.

Tom Carruth is a rose hybridizer with Weeks Roses, a wholesale rose grower in Upland. A horticulturist who also appreciates day lilies, Carruth grows as many day-lily plants as he does roses in his own Altadena garden.

"Day lilies are excellent companion plants for roses and other flowers," Carruth said. "I like to create two-story gardens, with tree roses as the top floor, and day lilies under them. I add yarrow, iris and annuals to fill in the empty spaces."

Carruth agrees that day lilies are about to make a big surge in consumer demand.

"It's the reblooming quality that's going to help day lilies find their way into many gardens. The big breakthrough in roses came in the late 1800s when hybridizers were able to achieve consistent repeat bloom. So we're going to see a similar situation with day lilies today."

The reblooming day lilies can achieve their greatest blooming potential here in the benevolent Southern California climate.

"Unlike other parts of the country, we can grow day lilies that bloom throughout the entire year," said Nancy Webb, regional vice president of the American Hemerocallis Society.

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