During a drought, some gardeners may feel parched for flowers, but don't give up on adding color to your garden just because it's getting hot.
Instead, discover daylilies, the tough beauties that can stand up to a lack of water, even during summer.
I found these treasures almost by accident. It all started when I decided, with a beginner's zeal, to scrape off what was left of my St. Augustine grass and plant only water-wise plants.
Butterfly gardens were all the rage, so I bought a range of plants, including a few simple orange daylilies, which I later learned are called ditch lilies.
It turns out ditch lilies have a bad reputation; some gardeners even call them invasive. Yet while other drought-tolerant plants wasted away, their happy blooms popped up in succession for about six weeks. It was hard to hate them. Instead, I decided they're like any weed: In the right place, they're perfect.
Best of all, they introduced me to their fancier cousins.
I started with a class taught by Linda Sample, a member of the Bay Area Daylily Society. Daylilies come in an array of colors except blue and white, she said, and in a variety of forms: circulars, doubles, flats, ruffles, spiders, stars and trumpets. The scapes, or flower stalks, grow anywhere from 6 inches to more than 3 feet tall, with some producing 10 to 40 flowers. There are more than 50,000 registered cultivars (a single type of daylily), and more are added each year.
As the common name suggests, each bloom on these plants lasts only one day. But the flowers keep coming all summer because there are many flower buds on each stalk, and there are many stalks in each clump of plants. Also, many cultivars have more than one flowering period.
The best part of all: Daylilies like midday Florida sun.
Daylilies offer so many possibilities, in fact, it's just as important to cultivate daylily friends.
Hybridizers and daylily club members keep records of what grows well in their gardens. For instance, Brooksville, Tampa and St. Petersburg are all part of the American Hemerocallis Society Region 12 area, but the climate is slightly different in each area. Some plants do better than others, even within such a narrow range. Generally, in the Tampa Bay area, evergreen or semievergreen varieties grow best.
Plants can range in price from $3 to $500. (Those in the hundreds are generally the newest cultivars.) Daylily friends come in handy here, too, as the plants are easy to divide and share. Many collectors seek out flowers of one type, such as spiders, or a certain color.
"I want color, pure color," says Gloria Hite, a backyard hybridizer. "I also look for a strong scape and a candelabra form that floats, twists and curls."
Several daylily enthusiasts will be on hand to answer questions and help newbies at the Bay Area Daylily Society Annual Spring Flower Show on May 2 in St. Petersburg (see accompanying box). Linda Sample will teach Daylilies 101 at 10 and 11:30 a.m.
You also can learn more at the Bay Area Daylily Society Web site (bads.us/index.htm) and the American Hemerocallis Society site (daylilies.org).
Kyle Pierson is a freelance writer and has been growing daylilies for about four years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.