The quest for the ultimate daylily launches a garden by the sea.
From early May through late June, every dawn finds Charles Douglas knee-deep in a dewy sea of daylilies. Eager to see the day's blooms, he walks his 3-acre Georgetown garden to inspect as many as 100,000 flowers that open to the sun for 24 hours of glory.
Charles calls himself a collector. "Some people collect stamps or guns. Believe it or not, some people collect new daylilies," he says with a smile. "For me, daylilies are a hobby that got out of hand." His quest to own or create beautiful flowers accounts for more than 1,200 kinds in his garden, so many that now he shares them with other daylily lovers.
Creating a new daylily requires more patience than most people can muster. Charles selects parent plants for traits such as color, shape, or hardiness. He carefully marries pollen from the stamen of one parent to the pistil of the other. If the cross works, a pod will form and ripen into seed. Then the waiting begins.
Two years later a seedling flowers. "The excitement and satisfaction of seeing my seedling bloom for the first time and finding it beautiful-that's what it's all about," he says.
Blue flags mark new types that have the best attributes: sturdy stalks, a high bud count, and pretty foliage. Charles takes pride in every one, but he chooses only the best to submit as named varieties to the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS).
"Sometimes I name flowers after people or places, other times a name just pops into my head," says Charles. For one layered bloom, its rose color suggested the name 'My Lips Are Sealed.' He named his current favorite, pale yellow with a black center, 'Black Mingo' after a nearby creek.
Daylilies by Trade
Naming his business for the road, Charles established Browns Ferry Gardens on the farm where he grew up loving his mother's flowers. Employees and a crew of volunteers mail 10,000 catalogs each January. Every week from March to October, they ship about 30 to 50 mail and online orders to daylily lovers throughout the world.
Prices range from $5 to $100. "Introductions are expensive because a hybridizer has to go through many trials to get a good one," Charles explains. The investment pays off when the purchased plant grows big enough to divide into multiple smaller plants.
Charles also gives presentations to AHS groups throughout the country. "There's more to daylilies than just the orange you see in a roadside ditch," he explains.
Most daylily hybridizers dream of creating a true blue flower, something not yet achieved. For Charles, the ultimate goal is a clear white daylily with a bright red center. "I may not ever get there," he says, "But I'm going to create a lot of beautiful flowers along the way."
Browns Ferry Gardens: 13515 Browns Ferry Road, Georgetown, SC 29440; (843) 546-3559 or www.brownsferrygardens.com. For tips on selecting, growing, and dividing daylilies, visit southernliving.com/gardens.
Daylilies are a lot like ice cream: The more you have, the more you want. Maybe that's why the daylily ranks as the South's number one perennial for sunny locations. Maybe that's why there are more than 50,000 named selections of this plant. And maybe that's why otherwise rational people will often pony up $20 or more for a single "rare and choice" kind.
Twenty bucks a plant? Who on Earth can afford to pay that? Well, just about everybody, once you know a little secret: Most daylilies form ever-expanding clumps at an extremely rapid pace. Within a year or two, you can get six or more new plants from the original one if you divide a clump at the right time. That works out to around three bucks a plant, which is no more costly than your daily mocha latte. Keep dividing daylilies each year, and before you know it, you'll be a supplier instead of a buyer.
It's So Simple
Dividing daylilies is easy, easy, easy. Do it when the weather is cool and the plants won't be stressed by the operation. Early spring and fall (and winter, too, in the Coastal and Tropical South) are good times. I divided the plants shown at right last spring. All of the divisions bloomed later that same year.
Are you ready to begin? Here's what you need to do.
- Step 1: Use a garden fork or a shovel to lift the clump from the soil. (I prefer a fork because it does less damage to the roots and penetrates the soil more easily.) Shake off most of the soil sticking to the roots.
- Step 2: Place the clump on the ground. Use a knife, trowel, or shovel to cut it into two equal pieces. Do this by placing the cutting tool between the green leaves rising from the roots and then cutting down the middle of the clump all the way through. Try not to damage the leaves, but don't worry about cutting roots. Each new division will have more than enough roots to support it.
- Step 3: Divide the two new sections in half. This gives you a total of four sections. If these new sections have more than six tufts of leaves each, you can divide them again. Now you have eight plants, where before you had just one.
- Step 4: Replant the new divisions in a sunny location in your garden. If you're going to place the daylilies in a group, space them 12 to 18 inches apart so they won't soon crowd each other. The soil should be loose and well drained and contain plenty of organic matter, such as compost, peat, or chopped leaves. Water the plants thoroughly every other day until the leaves stop wilting in bright sun. When this happens, you will know that the divisions are established and ready to put out new growth.
- Step 5: Admire your skill and expertise. You are most definitely a primo gardener.
"Blooming in Georgetown" is from the May 2006 issue of Southern Living.