(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
It was the first day of June this year and my phone rang just after daybreak.
"Has the parade started yet, Mom?" asked my daughter in Fort Lauderdale.
"Memorial Day was last week, dahlin', no more parades for awhile."
"Not that one, Mom, YOUR parade, the one you have every year in June."
It only took a minute and I was wide awake. I threw the phone back in its base, and grabbed my clothes and camera, coffee would just have to wait for a few minutes. I couldn't possibly miss the first day of my own parade. The daylilies were in bloom, and just as they did every single year for the past 35 years, those blooms would begin their parade in my own back yard.
I have told you before that my gardens were accidents. I was a busy mother, a teacher, a wife, and I had little time for gardening. But my well-meaning family had other ideas. Aunt Bett was the first when she said that long ago summer: "You must take a ditch lily with you, for good luck. You won't never be hungry with a ditch lily at hand. Just plant them in sunshine and give them a drink of water." She had fed me my first flower, a daylily bud, mixed with bibb lettuce, a few tiny green onions, and doused in hot bacon grease, when I was only a little girl. So I brought that old ditch lily to my apartment in Louisville, and kept it in a pot on my balcony. I never went hungry, and it never got eaten, but later I brought it to my new home and planted it in a place of honor in my back yard far away from Aunt Bett's garden.
When I was moving from Louisville to western Kentucky, my uncle said: "Let's go to Grandma's old home place and get you some flowers for your new house." So he and I made a trip to Bardstown, Kentucky, not far from Louisville, and in my great grandmother's yard there grew daylilies of red and yellow. "Now plant these in the sunshine and give them a drink of water. They'll be just fine." And so I did, and he was right. I planted them right beside Aunt Bett's old ditch lilies. By then I had yellow, orange, and red.
Some time passed, only a few years, my children came along and gardening time was scarce. My Mom came to visit, and she brought with her peach and salmon colored daylilies. "These are old," she said, "they came from Granny Ninna's and Gramma Ell's gardens. Just plant them in sunshine and give them a drink of water. They'll be just fine." She helped me plant them right beside those that already had started their march, yellow, orange and red, across the back of my house.
Very soon after I had settled into my community I met an older lady who invited me to visit her garden. She had beautiful perennials, every kind imaginable, and in one corner I saw a daylily I had never seen before. I admired it, and told her I had a few of my own. That fall she called and asked me to stop by her home when I had time, because she had something for me. She had thinned her daylilies, and she handed me a bucket filled with them. "Plant them in sunshine and give them a drink of water, they'll be just fine," she said. And I did, right beside my yellows, oranges, reds, peaches, and salmons, I planted the gold with tan throats.
I had a student who was a real handful. We did not start out very well when I asked him to please remove his feet from the middle of the aisle where I kept tripping over them. He told me that he didn't believe anybody was big enough to tell him where his feet belonged, and I asked him very kindly who raised him. He told me he lived with his granny, and I asked to meet her. His granny came to see me one afternoon, and we had a nice little chat. The next day her grandson, Eddy, came into my room early one morning before other students were there and he handed me a bucket and an apology. I accepted his apology with a smile and the bucket with a laugh, because in it were daylilies. "My granny told me to tell you that I'll put my feet wherever you say, and if you don't mind, I'll plant these flowers for you, too. She said to plant them in the sun and give them a drink of water and they'll be just fine." And so he did. The daylilies were white and we planted them right beside those that were gold and brown.
By this time daylilies covered the back of my house and around the deck. My husband asked if I thought there would be anymore because we were quickly running out of back yard flower space, and I assured him I thought I had every color. The next summer my uncle called and told me there was a new daylily, and it was so amazingly dark it was very nearly black. He told me he would bring it to me since he was going to be at the lake anyway. All I had to do was plant it in the sun and give it a drink of water, it'd be just fine. I gently told hubby I thought we needed to buy some digging tools because we might need to start a new flower bed up on the hill in the back yard. He grumbled a little, but we dug a little round area, and worked the soil around somewhat, and I planted my almost black daylily that my uncle brought me.
It seemed a little forlorn there in the back upper corner of the yard, until my friend Bette came by one day and mentioned that she had a lovely lacy yellow daylily that had blooms as big as a dinner plate, and she thought it would look nice with that almost black one up in the corner. All I needed to do was plant it in sun and give it a drink of water and it would be just fine. We planted the big as a dinner plate daylily with the almost black daylilies, and when June made an appearance again, the show started. By this time I had orange, then red, yellow, salmon, peach, gold with tan throat, white, almost black and lacy big as a dinner plate yellow. And they bloomed in that order all across the back of the house and up on the back corner of the hill.
My children grew up, went to college, made lives of their own, and I had more time to garden. The father of one of my students had a nursery, and occasionally he made a delivery of mulch to my house. Sometimes his daughter, Holly, came with him. One bright June morning she saw my daylilies just beginning their march of color around my back yard. "Oh you have a daylily parade! But you don't have purple, you really need purple," she said. That evening there was a knock on my door, and there stood Holly with a pot of purple daylilies. "I'll help you plant them, we just need sunshine and a drink of water. They'll be just fine." And so we did, right beside the lacy yellow big as a dinner plate daylily.
It didn't end there. I discovered Dave's Garden, and once here, I made many friends. Somehow, daylilies were mentioned in a few conversations, and suddenly now I have lovely reds and purples and oranges from California, the softest pinks and lavenders from New York, a lovely red with yellow throat from Bardstown, and a very old fashioned bright red from Benton, Kentucky. When June rolls around those daylilies bloom in the order of their appearance in my yard. There is no question of who blooms first, it's always Aunt Bett's ditch lily, soon to be followed by the red from my great grandmother, then on through the family, to my students, my local friends and my Dave's Garden buddies. And I do know most of their names except those that were the very oldest. But you know what? They don't answer to those proper names, they answer to the names of those who gave them to me. So Aunt Bett blooms first, then Gramma Combs, followed by Granny Ninna and Gramma Ell. And there's Uncle Bill and Miss Erma, Eddy and Holly, Bette and of course my dear Dave's Garden friends, Pirl and Melody, Doug and Laura. There are others, too, who left their marks of color in my yard and touched my heart with their kindness.
My parade has started now, and my daylily beds very nearly cover my back yard. On the first day of June there are usually two or three blooms of each color. By the middle of June, every one of them is in full bloom, and it is a riot of color out there. I start each day of the month with a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag in the other. I call it my daylily bag because it holds clippers, a plastic trash bag, and my camera. The clippers and plastic bag are for deadheading, and once they are well groomed, I take a picture of them. It seems my colors have increased over the years. Just like magic, various shades of pink, yellow, lavender, burgundy, creams and lemon yellow have joined the parade.
I write about a lot of plants, and I love them all, but none of them makes me any happier than my daylilies on parade, as they proudly march through the month of June, every year, without fail. Two inches of ice last winter did not fade their glory and the winds of Hurricane Ike last September did not a thing to halt their march. Just like the colorful uniforms of the various bands that march in the Rose Bowl Parade, or those blossoms on the hats that adorn the heads of church ladies at Easter time, my daylilies march on.
Next year at daybreak on June 1, 2010, I will call my daughter and invite her to join me in my Daylily Parade. I might even give her one of my daylilies.
"Plant them in sunshine and give them a drink of water, they'll do just fine," I'll say.
All photos in this article are the property of the author, and all the daylilies (plus many more) grow in my gardens, thanks to so many very special people in my life