One Minor Complaint On An Otherwise Perfect Morning



Little Grapette.  In my garden, looks more like Little Bran Muffin.

Daylilies are really useful plants.  As Susan pointed out this week, they are extremely drought tolerant.  They also grow in wet soil near my country pond, in full sun and surprising amounts of shade, too.  Real troopers.  They have great foliage that adds architecture to a border.  They start blooming in earnest now, when a lot of other perennials are taking a mid-summer siesta.  They saved me $14,000 that a mason wanted to charge me for a retaining wall.  I planted the bank instead with $300 worth of daylilies.  They look great and their finger-like roots hold the hillside in place. 

In sum, there’s nothing for daylily breeders to feel insecure about. They have a great product.  So why all the marketing hyperbole when it comes to color?  Last year, I planted two dozen "Pandora’s Box," which, I was promised by the catalog, were white and purple.  They were "white" like white underwear washed hot with an orange sock.  So I replaced them with Little Grapette, which I was assured, was a rich purple.  Purple, my eye.  My plants are brownish maroon.  In no way do they do anything for my purple, white, and tomato red color scheme.

Tomato red, you say?  That ought to be obtainable in the daylily world.  Only, just yesterday, shopping for a pond filter at Lowe’s, I passed a table full of Red Rum.  Were they red?  No.  More of a burnt orange.

I remember the late, great Mrs. Greenthumbs in her first book telling the story of sending away for 100 bargain daylilies, all different, planting them, waiting patiently for a year or two for the minuscule fans to flower–and discovering that they were 100 shades of orange.


Pandora’s Box: "White" as a shade of orange

Now, daylilies are plenty colorful. Any plant that succeeds in shades of yellow, orange, peach, scarlet, and brownish maroon is doing all right.  So why this obsession with color, or rather with covering the color wheel, however sloppily?  Daylily catalogs are even organized by color.  And many of the classifications could cause an arched eyebrow, at best.

I think it’s bad business to gloss over reality that way.  If I’m buying a brown plant, I want to know.


  1. My purple grapette is purple. Remember that daylilies change color according to weather conditions and soil. THey even change color throughout the day so it could be purple at 9:00 but brown but 12:00. My friend lives a half a mile away. We bought one plant and split it, and we have two different shades of red. So don’t blame the person that named it. It probably looked that color in their yard or greenhouse. Check out, go to plant files, and then daylilies. You can find one of the ones you have mentioned here and see photos of different plants of that cultivar. Each one is different from the next. That’s the joy and the mystery of the daylily.

  2. I agree that growers can’t really predict color for every garden. So you see gardens with various red-bloomers that range all over the place and looking crappy. Ditto for whites. Pale and golden yellow don’t mix well, so yellows can be tricky, too. Whereas when blues, purples, pinks, silvers and grays are a mishmash of shades, they still look great. To me.

  3. This post was very interesting as are the comments. I was wondering why my “Summer Wine” daylilies (aptly named I think, since red wines have various shades) look different in different parts of the garden. Fascinating.

  4. Perhaps the daylily retailers should list a range of color for the plant depending on soil conditions. It is very disappointing to order pale yellow and receive hot yellow! The mysteries of plant color continue! Sometimes the surprises are nice ones!

  5. Oh, come on Michele, this is just plain whiny. Are these photos from your garden? If so, I’d say these daylilies look pretty good. Other than yellow, they’re never going to have crayola-clear colors, that’s just not what they do. There’s a wonderful wide range of colors out there–I have a lot of pinks & purples in my garden–but I don’t expect them to look like oriental lilies, colorwise. They are what they are.

  6. One thing I know for certain: the colors of the daylilies in my garden are quite different depending on whether the night before was warm or cool. And the reds and purples, especially purples, look best with warm nights. (Cool=lower than 60F; Warm=higher than 70F)

  7. Maybe that’s why the daylily I bought a couple of years ago which is supposed to have a flower with two shades of purple, instead blooms in ugly puce and a nasty kind of flesh-tone. Maybe I’ll try amending the soil around it a bit. My alternate plan is to shove it in outside my back fence and replace it with something nicer.

  8. This is why I don’t bother planting with “color schemes”… Too many factors out of my control, so my stance is, if it grows and blooms, then it’s beautiful and I love it. 🙂

  9. Of course I’m whining, Carolyn Coates! The garden looks glorious at this moment–mainly thanks to the actual lilium–and I’m only annoyed because I bought two dozen of a hemerocallis variety that’s the wrong color.

    But forgive me, I still don’t understand why a plant where the color question is so very complicated–varies by garden, as Marie pointed out, by temperature, as Kathy pointed out, even by location in the garden, as Marte pointed out–should be marketed primarily by color.

  10. Michele, I agree with you 100% on the virue of Daylilies.

    If I were John Keats, I’d compose an ode to daylilies worthy of them. Daylilies. Magnificent, adaptive, gorgeous plants… tested and proven by the ages. I’m Southern. Daylilies feel southern to me… because they were everywhere in my youth. But daylilies are ubiquitous, neither southern, nor midatlantic, nor midwestern, nor…

    Dig ’em up. Split ’em. Move ’em around. I have THOUSANDS. Maybe too many. I’m always trying to find another place for them (anyone want some?). And they are ALL shades of orange… tawny… (or on their way to orange)… which is fine by me. They ALL go orange eventually! A little fire in the garden. Some are doubles. Some singles. Some short. Some tall. I love daylilies.

    And the name is a delight. “Day”-lilies because each flower lasts only a day.

    Of course, they aren’t lilies at all. But I don’t care. The botanical name for a daylily is not Lillim but Hemerocallis. This is particularly beautiful. It comes from the Greek hemera (for a day – ephemeral) and kalos (beautiful – kaleidoscope, callipygian, Callisto). “Beautiful for a day.”

    A daylily.

    Ephermal, beautiful and reliable… Almost as though they are gifts to us from some other plane.

    And the buds are excellent in a stir fry.

    Thank you Michelle for these daylily thoughts. What pleasant Friday morning thoughs they are.

    Don’t let a little pigment get you down, you have a wall of daylilies! What could be so bad?

    Thanks again.

  11. I had daylilies in the hellstrip back when I was a city dweller, and now I have daylilies by the thousands in my country roadside ditch. I like their reliability, and stalwart nature, but other than that, I certainly don’t ask anything of them. Especially color.

    How’re the ones your kids cross-pollinated doing?

  12. But how else should they be marketed? Sure, flower form varies a bit, size, foliage color, time of bloom give or take a couple of weeks… But color – that’s where the fun begins! Although… all that said, I might be more inclined to buy any daylily advertised as having easy-to-yank foliage…!

  13. El, my kids are EXTREMELY interested in answering the question you asked. We went to Slate Hill two weeks ago–the place looked gorgeous, but no Craig and Mary. So we’ll try again this weekend.

  14. I tell my customers with color schemes to come back when they are in bloom. With the 10,000 plus registered cultivars out there, I’ll be out there all day debating color with them. It’s impossible. “tomato” “fire engine” or “christmas” red? Each of us will interpret those colors differently, and if a customer is that picky, I’d rather not do “bad business”. I’ll have them make their own decision as to which color they would like.
    As far as catalogs go, you can never trust a picture. I’ve seen terrible doctoring of photos… but that picure of the ‘Pandora’s Box’ looks as white as I would expect any daylily to look.

  15. OMG. Mrs. Greenthumbs is gone? I HAD NO IDEA! I just heard it here!

    I have often wondered when her next book was coming out. I have adored her bawdy sense of humor and passion for the FUN of gardening.

    (I know that was an aside in your column, but I’m shaken here. Really.)

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  16. Interesting debate. Another thing told to me by daylily growers–they often don’t come true to their colours (colors) the first year or so. AND if they were tissue-cultured, apparently that raises a huge pile of red flags about plants not coming true to form or colour. I’m not a breeder or a seller. I have probably 5 dozen daylilies of various colours and cultivars, many registered, some not–but there are more than 50,000 hemerocallis cultivars registered. No true blue or pure white exist but I like Swiss Mint for being almost white. Okay, I just like em all. Hopefully you’ll find some that do ring your colour chimes.

  17. Colour variation isn’t just a problem in daylilies. While differences in soil, temperature etc may explain some differences in bloom colour it surely can’t explain the variation I have seen in specimens of the clematis Niobe, which is supposed to be dark red. The first one I bought has a large (6″) purple flowers with a magenta stripe down the centre of each petal and grows no more than 3ft tall. The second one has small (4″) flowers and is dark purple. My friend two blocks away has two Niobes planted next to each other, one is indeed a rich maroon and the other is so dark it is almost black. I suspect that some major suppliers are producing so many plants that they are no longer true to type and I suppose the only lesson to be learned is not to buy anything unless it is flower, which of course is not the best time to transplant anything.

  18. Nice article, but you must be growing something more than daylilies in your garden to pen the line, “They have great foliage that adds architecture to a border.”

    I suppose a city slum does evoke some form of architecture.

    Daylily leaves are dreadful, plain green, unkempt, drunken in their floppiness. The variegated (green & white) varieties are an improvement, but breeders have difficulty getting the variegation to hold.

    When not in bloom, a daylily plant flops about the garden like Jabba the Hut. The clumps get large, to the point where one daylily takes up the space that could be used to exhibit five far more attractive perennials.

    The alleged “repeat bloomers” only provide the much heralded “season-long bloom” from Z 6 south, and even there the blooms come and go. “Stella de Oro” may be the most worthless perennial of all time. About the best that can be said is that the small, plain, light yellow flowers (that lack the true lily form), and the thin, reedy foliage deserve each other. Stella has put American commerical landscape design back 30 years.

    I use daylilies sparingly, as singles, one here, another way over there, middle of the bed, where their vapid foliage can be mostly obscured by perennials of a higher order. In bloom, daylilies are gorgeous, yes, but from September on through the entire fall, all a massed bed of daylilies serves is as a reminder that at some point we are all going to wither and die.

    Daylily fanatics hve been hypnotized by bloom color. Study gardens, via pictures or in person, that sizzle, that drop the jaw, that lift the spirit while lowering the pulse, and you will see that the secret to a beautiful garden is to place plants so that there is constant contrast between the color, size, shape and form of the leaves. Color of bloom is secondary.

    RENEGADE GARDENER … who has just suffered through a lousy divorce, that’s my excuse for coming on so strong. And for using old material. Albeit, classic, old material.

  19. And here I thought I had bad daylily color karma…I guess I’d better be careful tomorrow since I’m heading to Amador Flower Farm…our closest daylily farm.

  20. Little Grapette is definately purple in our garden. In fact she is a favorite for her abundant bloom and neat habit.

    Color in the plant world is. however, a relative term. It behooves the new gardener to visit nurseries and gardens to get a sense of what daylilly people mean by white, and purple and what Iris people mean by pink etc etc – and photos in catalogs won’t help!!!

    I have a “white” garden that I love – the search for a “white” daylilly lead me to a number of weak and disappointing choices. I settled on “Ice Carnival” which is actually a cream color more than a white – but it is glorious!!!

    I adore daylilies – they are the glory of high summer – they bloom for us as early as may and as late as september!!! Color becomes less of an issue when weighed against the virtues of this reliable friend.

    I will have the pleasure of seeing our local farm – Tranquil Lake – in full bloom next week. I am delivering a talk at their open house celebration – I can hardly wait to see those fields – especially as the light fades a bit into the evening.

  21. I have to second the Renegade’s bashing of daylily foliage – I’ve ranted about it myself on occasion, through more than one marriage and divorce.
    And the only good thing about Stella D’Oro is that the foliage is smaller – I agree it doesn’t produce the masses of repeat bloom that are promised.

  22. I purchased standard orange daylilies a few years back. I split the pots and planted them in various places in the gardens. They bloomed in orange the first couple of years, but now they are blooming in a deep magenta color. I do like the color, which seems unusual, but can someone tell me why this is happening? Last year it was just a few plants that bloomed magenta, but this year it’s just a few plants that remain orange.

  23. One of the most boring and overused of plants, IMO. I just don’t get the obsession people have for this loser. For any site and level of care available, there’s at least one other option that offers more benefit. And to tick off the other half of readers, it and hostas are forever banned from any garden I’m the steward of.

  24. Hi Michelle-
    Sorry you were not bowled over by Little Grapette. Yank them out and bring them back for a full refund or exchange. Come at bloom time so you can check out our new line of REALLY brown seedlings.

    There are about 20 plants from the crosses your kids made in 2006 that will be blooming for the first time in July!

    It was nice to see you in the new issue of THE AMERICAN GARDNER.

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