A fine day for daylilies

By Nancy C. Hauswald | Aug 08, 2014
Daylily at the Maine Garden.

The Belfast Garden Club invites you to step into a rainbow on Friday, Aug. 15, when Bill Warman’s expansive daylily gardens in Waldo will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of the club’s annual Open Garden series. More than 2,000 varieties of daylilies will beckon you to stop for a moment and admire their glorious colors, unusual leaves or habits. Some intermingle several colors — yellow, melon, pink and lavender, for example — in one flower; some boast edges that are a different color from its flower; and some are home to tiny crystals that reflect light, especially in the sun, giving the flower a sparkling appearance as if sprinkled with gold, silver, or tiny diamonds.

Bill and his wife Lynn own and operate The Maine Garden, where they work to hybridize color saturation in petals, create ruffled petals, and produce new color combinations in daylilies, or genus Hemerocallis, two Greek words meaning “beauty” and “day,” referring to the fact that each flower lasts only one day.

“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” Bill says.

Walking around the 10-acre property with him, it’s clear that his childhood dream has become a happy reality. Today, Bill is recognized as a hybridizer of organically grown daylilies. He started collecting and growing daylilies in the 1970s and, upon retiring in 1991, began his education in earnest.

“I talked with as many different hybridizers as I could," He said. "I read everything about the plant that I could get my hands on. I traveled throughout the country to meet with hybridizers and learn from them.”

In his 20-plus years of planting, growing, hybridizing, and cultivating daylilies, Bill has always worked “the old-fashioned way. I want to do things the way our grandparents did.” To that end, he makes 75 to 100 yards of fish-based compost each year by hand. In addition to fish waste, which is a great source of nitrogen, Bill gets crab, shrimp and seaweed delivered regularly. He goes through approximately 375 pounds of crab waste weekly (during the growing season) and 3,500 pounds of fish waste annually. It’s clear that the daylilies and nearly 200 peonies that he raises thrive on the mix. He doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers.

According to The American Hemerocallis Society — of which Bill is a life member — the daylily is native to Asia. Originally, the only colors were yellow, orange, and tawny red. Today, thanks to hybridization, the range of colors is seemingly endless and often reflected in a plant’s name. A quick Google search of “daylilies” yields Butterscotch Ruffle, Carefree Peach, Buttered Popcorn, Lavender Tonic, Lilting Lavender, Raspberry Candy, Heidi Edelweiss, Bone China, Chorus Line Kid and Frankly Scarlet, among thousands of other descriptive and colorful names.

Bill explains that the daylily is often referred to as “the perfect perennial” because it is easy to grow, available in hundreds of colors and requires little maintenance. Further, daylilies are generally suitable for all types of landscapes, adaptable to various soil and light conditions, and can bloom from late spring until autumn. The plants that Bill cultivates are Maine winter hardy with clear colors and numerous blooms per plant. Most daylilies do best in full sun (a minimum of six hours of direct sun daily), although red and purple cultivars benefit from partial shade in the hottest part of the day.

At The Maine Garden, Bill hybridizes for the unusual, such as two stalks from a single fan — an individual unit of a clump containing leaves, crown and roots — for great branching “more branches means more blooms,” and for great clear colors. In creating a new daylily, he says that the first thing he does is think about what he wants to achieve in the new cultivar: “It might be a new color or color combination, an unusual shape or size, or improving re-bloom time.”

Currently, he’s focusing on producing a daylily with a green throat (center of the flower), a black eye (a darker colored zone of the flower petals, just above the throat), a red self (a flower that’s all of the same color, except for the throat), and a white edge. Bill says that he’s within two generations of producing that daylily, at which time he will register it with the American Hemerocallis Society. Acceptance by the Society is “proof” that a hybridizer has created a new daylily.

Bill generously donates daylilies to many area nonprofits, including the Belfast Garden Club. This past spring, for example, he donated dozens of daylilies to the annual plant sale, which is a major fundraiser for the club. He enjoys introducing people to the beauty of the daylily and educating them about hybridizing the older cultivars.

If you are someone who hears the word “daylily” and pictures an orange flower growing alongside the road, don’t miss this chance to be introduced to an entirely new world of beauty. Thousands of daylilies, spanning the color wheel from the palest white to the most vibrant purple, await you. Prepare to be enchanted.

The Maine Garden is located at 49 Old County Road in Waldo. From Belfast, drive out of town north on Route 137, and bear right onto Birches Road — shortly after you pass the Waldo County Cooperative Extension building. At the stop sign (Route 131), go straight onto Old County Road, a well-maintained dirt road.

This is the seventh of eight Open Gardens, all of which are on Fridays, rain or shine. The final Open Garden, on August 22, is the Coller-Wilson Garden in Belfast. It is truly a “Secret Garden,” not visible from the street, and one that is designed to amuse and entertain children and adults of all ages.

All Open Gardens can be visited by making a $4 donation at each garden. For a complete schedule, visit belfastgardenclub.org or pick up a brochure at numerous retail businesses in and around Belfast. For more information about Open Gardens, call Martha Laitin at 948-2815 or email marthalaitin@yahoo.com.

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