Hemerocallis (Day lily)
There aren’t many plants that offer so many flowers in such a variety of colours and that, providing you plant a mixture of early, mid and late-flowerers, can provide you with blooms from Spring to the end of Summer.
The name Hemerocallis, combining the Greek words for day (hemero) and beautiful (kalos), refers to the fact that a day lily flower is open for only one day, although each stalk has multiple buds which open over several days.
There are thousands of day lily hybrids available but for an early flowerer you’ll want the species H. dumortieri. Lovely clear yellow flowers open from dark red buds and the emerging fresh green foliage is perfect for camouflaging wilting spring bulbs.
Another species, H. lilioasphodelos (old name H. flava) has trumpet-shaped pale lemon flowers, sweetly scented, held on tall stems. The flowers open in the early evening and perfume the air. They really are beautiful. Yet another fragrant choice is H.‘Stella d’Oro‘. Golden yellow flowers with small green throats, it blooms from May until July, the foliage forming a dense clump that makes excellent ground cover. It’ll be very happy in a pot on the patio where you can appreciate its perfume.
Choose H.‘Happy Returns‘, a late flowerer with clear yellow, slightly ruffled petals to plant alongside rudbeckia and perovskia. For the early-flowering H. lilioasphodelos, the soft blue of Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low‘ works well.
If you follow Beth’s ethos of ‘right plant, right place‘ and are familiar with the nursery, you will have noticed that some of the companion plants I’ve mentioned can tolerate quite dry conditions (V. bonariensis and perovskia), but hemerocallis will be found on the ‘Damp‘ section of the nursery.
Should these be planted together?
Well, hemerocallis are so unfussy and adaptable that I don’t see it as a problem. As long as they get a little moisture in the Spring as the plant is making stalks and buds, they are very drought-tolerant because of their extensive root system. A generous mulch in Spring will help retain the moisture. Hemerocallis do love sun though, so don’t be tempted to plant them in the shade or under trees.
I should mention dead-heading. You don’t really need to for the health and vigour of the plant; the amount of energy used in seed production is insignificant. It does make the plant look a lot tidier though. Spent blooms just hang there looking either soggy of crispy depending on the weather.
You’ll probably want to divide your clumps every three years or so when they get a bit congested. They’re easily divided in the Autumn or Spring when they’re dormant. Re-plant the small clumps and you’ll soon have fantastic verdant drifts – or lots of plants to give away if you’re short on space…
To eat or not to eat
Native to Eastern Asia, hemerocallis were originally introduced to this country as a culinary and medicinal herb. The dried, unopened buds of H. citrina are sold in Asian markets as ‘Golden Needles‘, used to thicken soups. Fresh buds can be used in salads or stir-fried. If you haven’t eaten them before, as with anything new, try just a small amount first in case you’re allergic.
I think it’s a bit of a travesty to eat them though. They’re so beautiful, let them be beautiful for a day and enjoy their delicious perfume and exotic-looking flowers.
Plantarea Sales Assistant