Daylilies: delightful and dead easy to grow

Janice Wells
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I’ve always been fond of daylilies because they are so undemanding and reliable. They’re not fussy about soil type and won’t sulk in a bit of shade.

They increase in size in a most civilized manner, spreading out from just a shoot or two to a nice clump, but never becoming invasive or uncontrollable.

 The tall, somewhat ungainly orange daylilies of my grandmother’s day have long since given way in the cultivated garden to more modern hybrids; early, mid and late bloomers, repeat bloomers, compact bloomers, longer blooming times, reds, yellows, stripes — the selection is almost endless and probably explains why I don’t have more of them, because with limited space I can’t make up my mind what to choose.

I still have some of the old variety in the city bed out front. I have a real sentimental attachment to them as they were given to me by my neighbour when I lived on Sudbury Street. She told me that she’d rescued numerous clumps when the “poor house” across the street had been torn down.

Over the years they had neatly spread around her house.

Now the divisions she gave me line the front pathway on my Sudbury Street house and divisions from those sit at the corners of the city triangle in front of my Georgetown house.

There was a time, when I was living in the half-renovated old basement apartment in the Sudbury Street house, under-employed, depressed and trying desperately to hang on to the house, that it seemed quite fitting I should have poor house lilies.

Those tough old lilies didn’t quit and neither did I. I have a great affection for them even though the new hybrids are more desirable in many ways.

The only problem I can see with daylilies is that they can’t be cut and enjoyed indoors because each bloom lasts only a day, hence the name. I’m not sure if any of the newer ones have finally overcome this, but if they have, I haven’t heard about it. At any rate, the profusion of blooms on mature plants is supposed to make up for this deficiency.

I neglected to point out this one-day bloom detail when Daughter No. 2  was starting her garden and I was extolling the virtues of daylilies.

She bought a few and quite likes them (even if she is a bit impatient for them to really clump up) but was quite dismayed when I just recently mentioned the reason for the name “day” lily. That’s because her young ones only had a few blooms this year.

She’ll forgive me in a few years time when they’re blooming for weeks on end without giving her any grief.

The old-fashioned orange daylily escapees from gardens are as common as lupins in some ditches, but a couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see some other lilies growing in a thickly vegetated ditch just outside Avondale. These were not the tough old day lilies (hermocallis) which have roots and are technically not lilies at all. These were the type that are called true lilies (lilium) and grow from bulbs.

I think of these true lilies as also being relatively easy to grow, but never would I have expected them to keep on truckin’ with what must have been absolutely no care in a ditch choked with fireweed, grasses and God knows what else.

I peered down the little winding driveway to the house behind the thicket and it appeared as if there was an old garden and perhaps new owners because some renovations to the house were ongoing.

I envied them that old garden and immediately imagined them bringing it lovingly back to its former glory.

Of course, they might not even be gardeners and I could be totally wrong and romanticizing the whole thing, but that’s what I do whenever I stumble across old gardens or old houses.

I really should have gone into the restoration business years ago.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at

Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: Sudbury Street house, MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Geographic location: Sudbury Street, Georgetown, Avondale

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