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Craig Barnes: serious about finding me the right daylily

What a heavenly way to shop!  To wander among acres of gardens with hundreds of choices, in the company of someone like owner Craig Barnes, who pointed out things I would never notice myself, such as which varieties I might not want because they had a low bud-count and hence a short blooming season.  The fact that Barnes is also a painter–quite a good one, according to my friends–didn’t hurt either, as we consulted on color.

I suddenly think everybody should visit growers!  Right to the source!  No more photographic color swindles!  Judge for yourself!  Since daylilies are not the flower to make me lose my head, I’m likely only to make a pest of myself at Slate Hill Farm once a year or so.  But, man, if I lived near Plant Delights, they’d never get me out of their hair!

And who knows, Slate Hill Farm might even turn me into a convert, I liked their plants so much.

Even better than the shopping experience was the way Mary Barnes decided to occupy my children: First she fed them daylily petals.  My kids, who’d eaten nasturiums in the backyard before but never giant flowers like these, were thrilled to stuff lavender and yellow petals into their mouths.  Then she taught them, incredibly enough, how to hybridize daylilies.  And they are not just invited back next weekend to start distinguishing between diploids and tetraploids for hybridization purposes, they are invited back in two years to see the flowers that their crosses produced.


Mary Barnes teaching my kids about the birds and the bees

With hybridization on the brain, I asked Craig about the intellectual property issues.  Do you get royalties if you produce a really great flower?  Licensing fees?  Do you control it?  Can you keep just anybody from propagating it?

"Na," he said.  "You want your flowers to get out into the world.  That way, if a famous hybridizer takes one of yours and uses it in a cross and produces a good flower, you’ll become better known.  Everybody’s really generous about sharing credit."

Doesn’t sound much like Hollywood. 

Their goal in hybridization, according to Mary, "is to make daylilies that look like daylilies.  So many introductions are so gaudy."

Many of the cultivars now auditioning in their fields, on the other hand, are really subtle.  I would have bought either of the as-yet-unnamed varieties below if they were for sale.

Hybrid_1Hybrid_1a_1As it was, I wound up with 36 of a quiet purple miniature called "Little Grapette." 

It’s not, sadly, going to make my hell strip resemble the fields of Slate Hill Farm.  But it is going to class up the neighborhood nonetheless.


  1. I agree the push mower can be a drag (ha ha) — but daylilies en masse as an alternative? No thanks.

    Now, a nice shrub, maybe a spiraea or a weigela, that’d be pretty 😉

    Seriously though, a daylily here, a daylily there, is kind of nice. Especially if it’s paired with something spiky in a contrasting color. After it stops blooming, it’s a graceful mystery clump of leaves. Very attractive at the edge of the garden.

    My neighbor planted dozens of orange daylilies on the slope from front yard to sidewalk and in the “hell strip,” which I assume is between the sidewalk and the street. They’re cheap and you can’t kill ’em, the June beetles won’t eat the leaves, and he has a push mower and it sucks to mow that slope.

    But when the lilies stop blooming, that part of the yard looks like long, ratty grass in a sea of mulch.

    Almost makes me wish they’d done hostas instead.

  2. I live near a daylily and hosta nursery and they have fields of daylilies in bloom. I visited two Saturdays in a row, just to admire the daylilies. It is owned by the nicest people, willing to help, answer questions, etc. Friendliness must run in the daylily business! I am now plotting and scheming on where to plant some more daylilies because they have some beauties. They ain’t just orange and yellow any more!

  3. Some people in my neighborhood lined the entire (long) walkway to their front door with daylilies. It’s pretty spectacular when they’re blooming, and when they’re not, the plants just look like monkey grass. I would guess they’ll look fine in the “hell strip,” even when they’re not in bloom, as long as they’re planted densely enough.

  4. My “hell strip” is the area next to the driveway; it’s also only good spot to dump snow from the driveway.

    The previous home owners planted ugly, non-blooming viburnams, which we ripped out this summer.

    It’s now filled with daylilies. Plain, orange ditch lilies. They bloomed, even after being left in the garage for a month before planting. Don’t you love tough plants? Well, maybe not everyone does, but I do.

  5. It’s a great idea to visit a daylily farm several times a season, so you can find some early and late bloomers to add to the mix. The big daylily awards are given in mid-summer, when the shows are scheduled, so most of the hybridizing efforts go into July bloomers, but there are plenty of lovely varieties that bloom in June, August, or September. (besides Stella) Bloomingfield Farms in Litchfield County CT http://www.bloomingfieldsfarm.com/frmindx.html organizes their online catalog by bloom season (or by color). It’s a terrific organic farm operation, and open for visitors on Fr-Sat-Sun.

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