John P. Peat of Toronto, Ontario, is a research technician in biology, daylily hybridizer and nurseryman. He is the owner of Cross Border Daylilies.
Timber Press: In your book you state that there are more than 40,000 registered varieties of daylily with hundreds of additions being made each year. What makes the daylily such a popular plant?
Ted and John: The reasons the daylily is such a popular plant are the ease with which a gardener may grow them and the speed at which the individual cultivar clones itself. It is as simple as digging a hole, dropping the plant in that hole, and covering the roots. Of course, a little fertilizer, some amended soil, and water will help the plant to produce the maximum number of flower buds that it can. Daylilies love the sun but also grow very well in partial shade — full shade is not ideal for the plant as it needs the sun's energy to produce a larger flower bud count. The plants are essentially insect and disease free, which means they grow carefree with almost no effort required from the gardener.
Another important factor is that the daylily is a perennial that grows across an extremely large climactic range. They flourish from Florida to Canada in North America and from North Queensland, Australia, to New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere. This tolerance of such wide climactic extremes is an amazing quality for any plant.
Breeding daylilies is also something that anyone can do; it is easy and fun for backyard gardeners to create their own hybrids. Daylilies also come in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns, making the daylily appealing to anyone regardless of their personal preferences for the look of a flower. Creating your own special hybrid is as simple as taking the pollen from one flower to the pistil of another, with the only rule being that you can only cross tetraploids to tetraploids and diploids to diploids, regardless of the other plant's attributes.
TP: What has been the most striking development achieved through the breeding and hybridization of the daylily?
T and J: Every hybridizer would argue that different characteristics such as color, flower shape, climactic adaptability, et cetera, are the most important achievements. Probably the most striking development was the gradual advance in color, since the flowers of the species only bloomed in orange, rusty red, and yellow. We now have a vast array of different colors to choose from. It is only a matter of time before we get the true blue and jet black daylily.
TP: What recommendations would you make to a gardener new to daylilies?
T and J: For a gardener new to daylilies, selecting which daylilies to buy can be a difficult task, and the first hurdle to overcome. There are over 40,000 cultivars to choose from, and, to make matters worse, daylilies range in price from $2 per plant for older cultivars to $200 per plant for new hybrids. There are many fine daylilies on the market today that the average backyard gardener may purchase without prompting a divorce. Investing in a copy of The Color Encyclopedia of Daylilies will be very worthwhile since here gardeners will have at their finger-tips all of the information needed to not only grow daylilies but also to create their own hybrids. And we list 1200 of the most popular daylilies in commerce today.
TP: On your Web site www.distinctly.on.ca you have an area titled "A Hybridizers Dream Series" where you have used computer simulation to predict future hybrids. What role do you feel technology plays in developing new breeds, and where do you see this trend moving?
T and J: Computer technology has allowed people to use their imaginations to create images of cultivars with various traits that they might like to see in future daylilies. During one of the many visits with the famous hybridizer Bill Munson, we brought with us a slide of our recently produced electronic image of the gold-edged, purple, double daylily and that we use as the logo on our Web site. We gave Bill the slide and said, "Bill, check this out! In just a couple of hours we did what you have been trying to do for 50 years." Bill turned the slide toward the sun and immediately burst out laughing. Later he commented that it was a fantastic method of clearly expressing one's personal vision of the future daylily and a great method of sharing that vision with others.
Through the Internet, technology also allows hybridizers to quickly and inexpensively showcase their new creations to the entire world. Sharing new breaks stimulates the excitement and imaginations of others, who are "painting with pollen."
Of course, the future seems unlimited with potential genetic technologies that will likely ultimately be applied to daylilies as well as other flowers. With these technologies virtually any aspect of the daylily will be modifiable, but this seems to be a long way off at the moment.