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Contributing Editor:
John A. Morley N.P.D., B.Sc.,  M.Sc.


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The Gardener




            Year’s prior to the arrival in Ontario of Jamaicans, Tamils and others, another ethnic group of similarly fractions repute immigrated here.  Despite prejudices that today would by regarded as politically incorrect to say the least, the Irish flourished.  So did their prejudices.  Even today, the orange daylily is known in some quarters as King Billy’s or, especially in southwest Ontario, as the Twelfth of July Lily.  This is because the unfortunate flower has the habit of blooming about the same day that forces of the Protestant King William III were victorious at the Battle of the Boyne.


Lucy Maud Montgomery, writing in Anne’s House of Dreams (1922), records that the same orange daylilies were flowering in the August sun of Prince Edward Island around the gate of her heroine’s residence on that bucolic haven now infested with potatoes and politicians.  Frances Ya-sing, discussing Chinese landscaping opined in 1988 “different species of orchids, day lilies, lily turf, and ferns with graceful, drooping leaves are extensively planted in rock and plant composition as an unfailing transitional feature that integrates rocks to each other and the ground.”  More prosaically they have, at least until recently, found use in Chinese traditional medicine although now authorities in the Celestial Kingdom say this may be unsafe.  The plant is claimed to be carcinogenic so perhaps it would also be best to ignore rural recipes for the pickled flower buds and similar delicacies from alternate living advocates.


Botanically, daylilies are Hemerocallis.  Our familiar orange species is H. fulva and its yellow cousin H. lilio-asphodelus.  There are, according to the American Hemerocallis Society (PO Box 586, Woodstock Illinois 60098), a total of 15 species and awe-inspiring 3,500 hybrids.


A garden centre owner was recently protesting the plethora of new hybrids.  This writer retorted that he, of Canadian and South African parentage, educated and edificated in England, was also a hybrid.  It is a horticultural fact, of course, that hybrids are often superior to species, at least in some gardeners’ eyes.  Certainly the advances made in daylily tend to support this view.  True, each flower only last a single day, but modern cultivars flower over much more prolonged periods, displaying a symphony of colours.  As an additional bonus, there is superb scent.  And to the delight of city gardeners often pressed for space there are even miniature forms available, such as the delightful ‘Stella de Oro,’ which won the supreme award of daylily fanciers, the Donn Fisher Memorial Cup as long ago as 1979.  


Some Toronto gardeners swear Stella de Oro performs remarkably well in shade.  It certainly flourishes in the full sun of the Harbour Front parks, blooming over very extended period.  The price of this little gem at local garden centres is modest, much more so than many other more modern introductions.  It is always amusing to hear the gasps of the uninitiated at the Canada Blooms show when they encounter that major Canadian hybridizers.  We’re in the Hayfield Now (4704 Pollard Rd, RR#1, Orion, Ontario L0B 1M0).  Closer to home is Brian Bloye’s collection of some 700 different daylilies at 28 Grovenest Dr in Scarborough.  They may be viewed, along with his hostas, the last three Sundays of July or, at other times, by appointment (416-283-5485).


The classic book on the plant comes from the prolific keyboard of Vermont nurseryman and gardener Lewis Hill with his wife Nancy.  Story of Pownal, Vermont 05261 published Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial a decade ago.  This formerly major garden book publisher of late has adopted a veil of silence to entreaties for information so we can only hope that this and other excellent books by the same author remain in publication.

In 1827, the catalogue of William W. Custard’s Toronto Nursery, on ‘Dundas Street, near York,’ printed by ‘William Lyon Mackenzie, Printer to the House of Assembly’ offered the yellow day lily at one shilling each, an amount no doubt regarded as scandalous in its day as do modern viewers of Hemerocallis hybrids.  They were and are sadly behind the times.


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