First of two parts

SHIRLEY -- On a recent blustery Saturday morning, the Gardeners Exchange held its first meeting of the season at the Hazen Memorial Library. After a brief business meeting to go over its calendar of activities, Denise Pavlovich of Covered Bridge Perennials in Pepperell treated the group to a presentation on daylilies.

The Gardeners Exchange calendar, which runs from February through October, includes hands-on workshops, presentations, visits to members' gardens and other garden tours.

The name "Gardeners Exchange" stems from the organization's periodic plant swaps of houseplants, perennials and annuals. Its next meeting on Saturday, March 19 will include a houseplant swap and presentation on seed starting and repotting houseplants.

The perfect perennial

Gardeners Exchange President Janet Tice introduced guest speaker Denise Pavlovich as a member of the New England Daylily Society, whose gorgeous display gardens feature 400 varieties of daylilies, including many blooming in late spring and early fall.

In her slide presentation, "Daylilies for Three-Season Bloom," she introduced the group to various types of daylilies and covered the basics of daylily "care and feeding."

She said that the word Hemerocallis, the name for the flower's genus, comes from the words "hemera," meaning "a day," and "kallos," meaning "beauty." Each flower blooms for a single day, but many bloom over a long period of time.


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Daylilies are in the plant family Hemerocallidaceae and feature many flower buds on each stalk or scape. Many are rebloomers.

Pavlovich described daylilies as "the perfect perennial," citing their variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, from small to 12" blooms. She said that they are able to survive with very little care in a variety of climates, are suitable for all types of landscapes, are drought tolerant when necessary, have very few pests, are adaptable to various soils and light and bloom from spring to autumn.

A little daylily history

According to "The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies" by Ted Petit and John Peat, it was the collaboration of Dr. Albert Steward and Arlow Stout that had the greatest impact on the research and collection of Hemerocallisspecies.

Steward lived in China and taught botany at the University of Nanking from 1921 to 1950, regularly gathering daylilies from their native habitat. He sent the specimens to Stout, who was then the director of The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). After the death of Stout's only son, he sought solace and refuge in his garden and fell in love with daylilies.

He received more than 50 shipments of seed and plants from China during his time at NYBG and became the foremost authority on daylilies. He also began a rigorous breeding program that opened the doors to future hybridizing efforts by others.

The daylilies now found in gardens and in commerce around the world are hybrids many, many generations from the species.

Pavlovich herself began her interest in daylilies on a visit to R. Seawright Gardens in Carlisle. At the time, "I thought I had no interest in 'those orange things,'" she said. "I didn't know there was such a variety. But guess who came home from our visit with the most plants?"

Plant biology

The daylily, Pavlovich explained, is not a bulb, but grows from its root. The crown, or stem of the plant, is a solid white core between the leaves and the roots that produces leaves and scapes from its upper surface.

"You need some crown tissue when dividing them for the plants to survive," she said.