The most exciting part of the summer is walking the daylily seedling fields to meet the flowers that have opened to the world for the first time. Many are ordinary, some are spectacular and some are totally unexpected – all are unique-never seen it before-wonders of the imagination. While everyone has their favorite colors, my focus in recent years has been to create saturated reds, clear blues and the greenest greens – easily the most challenging colors to produce in daylilies and also the most rewarding. I am also working with some patterned genetics – the broken or striped genetics a la PINK STRIPES as well as creative eyed genetics such as MIDNIGHT CALL ME AL and MIDNIGHT SMOKE RINGS. Finally, I am working on a line of plants with dark, eggplant-colored buds out of the MIDNIGHT KENYAN SAFARI line.
In all of these cases I am working toward my passion of large-flowers with intense color on tall plants. Branching and bud count are always important, as is the ability for a flower to open properly even after cool nights – a common occurrence in the Northwest and one of the reasons why heavily ruffled plants from Southern hybridizers fail to thrive in this climate.
As it turns out, many of the genetics I’m trying to uncover or enhance are recessive or incompletely dominant in nature – making it difficult to reproduce the traits with a simple F1 outcross. The green of EMERALD STARBURST, blue of NAVY BLUES and stripes of PINK STRIPES often times do not fully express themselves in the first generation of seedlings. And so this year many of the crosses I am making are F1 back to the parent in order to concentrate recessive genetics.
The truest, blood red in my garden is RUTH OLIVER. She is one plant I’ll probably always have, and has been crossed this year with some large flowered seedlings out of COWBOYS DON’T CRY and ROSA BRYANT. Give me RUTH OLIVER with a larger flower and more branching and I think I will die a happy man. On the green front, EMERALD STARBURST remains the star of the show. This year I am crossing her back with F1 seedlings as well as CERULEAN STAR, MIDNIGHT SHUKRIA, GHOST RANCH and a BLUE PETUNIA LACE seedling. And the blues, well, KALEIDOSCOPIC INTRIGUE is a favorite pollen parent with SOUTHERN BLUES, LITTLE BLOOMRIDER, MIDNIGHT COOL WATER and MIDNIGHT CALL ME AL. I’m also using KI on some NAVY BLUES X LAVENDER BLUE BABY seedlings which are showing exceptional branching and interesting color patterns. For those who are not familiar with Salter’s NAVY BLUES, it was one of my favorite true blue eyes but did not like the cool NW weather, like many blues was not pollen fertile and set seeds only grudgingly. So after many years of trying and failing I am very pleased to have these NAVY BLUES seedlings in my hybridizing program.
Blue eyes are one thing. An entire flower of sky or cobalt or azure blue, well that’s another story entirely. LEONARDO DA VINCI was always the closest in my eye – although it is technically silvery lavender. BLUE PETUNIA LACE is on the cooler side of lavender and MADAME ROYALE is as close to steel blue gray as any daylily has come. The theory regarding the quickest path toward a completely blue daylily is that the lavenders or purples should be crossed with near whites and the coolest lavenders should be kept for future crosses. This year I am using a very nice BLUE PETUNIA LACE seedling crossed with PREMIUM CREAM – a plant with excellent branching and a 7 ½ inch flower. Only time will tell whether this cross is successful.
PINK STRIPES is an excellent and very popular plant. It is very vigorous and almost always produces seedlings with large flowers, even if all of them are not clearly marked. If I could fault PINK STRIPES it would be for the warm tones of creamy yellow and coral orange that comprise the color scheme. Give me some combination of red, white, pink and purple. That’s why I have been excited by one seedling in particular out of COLD FRONT – a huge flower with distinct striping of clear pink and white without a hint of yellow or orange.
Finally, the MIDNIGHT KENYAN SAFARI line. Gorgeous lime green leaves, eggplant-black buds and terra cotta blooms. Don’t get me wrong, I like terra cotta. It just isn’t my favorite flower color. So the F1 seedlings out of this plant have pollen parents of pink and lavender – but none carry the dark pigment in the scapes and buds. So I am crossing the lavender F1 seedlings back to the parent plant with the ultimate goal of creating white, pink and lavender flowers with dramatic purple reverse.
Call it an exercise in patience, faith and an expanding knowledge of plant genetics. The journey itself is rewarding, but the fireworks at the end are those one-of-a kind plants that wouldn’t have come into existence otherwise.