by Mary Jasch
Sitting under a giant European linden planted decades ago, Hildegarde Howell, proprietor, Heart’s Ease Nursery & Tewksbury Orchids, Tewksbury, New Jersey, enthusiastically speaks of one love of her life – hybridizing daylilies. She speaks of the new hybrid seedlings from crosses she made two years ago. She planted them out this summer and is watching their development. “They’ll live outside now,” she says, “just like any daylily, and next year they’ll flower.”
These are her babies, born of an affection for hybridizing daylilies. Why? “They’re so beautiful, colorful and diversified. And they require very little.”
On the table is a tall ruffled pale yellow daylily, one of her own cultivars and favorites.
“I breed with a plan in mind,” she says. Right now the plan is to breed a pure white daylily. Is her mission impossible? “I still haven’t been successful although I have been very, very close to having one being white.” It has good substance and very tall – 40 inches. She’ll breed next year.
Among her hybrids, Howell looks for clarity of color (I’m real big on that with all my flowers.), good ruffling, even sepals and petals for a full flower, halo markings in throat, good scaping (lots of buds), and good substance (the ability to withstand brutal heat). Older varieties on a hot day almost melt, she says. Those that don’t hold up well get ditched. “I mostly look for improvement. If I can’t improve, there’s no point in doing it.”
How to hybridize a daylily:
First think: what will you do to improve a particular one? Then look for a companion to use for pollen. Take the pollen and put it on the pistil and if the weather cooperates you should get seed at the end of the season if pollinated early. Make sure you have nice pods and when they start to get a little tannish bring them in and let them finish drying. Then harvest the seed.
When naming a variety, list the seed parent first, the pollen parent second. Hybrids from the same plants will be different. Her hybrids are all named “Heart’s Ease,” an old English name for pansy. Cultivars have opera names.
Howell has worked and played with plants since childhood, raising pansies with her mother, working for florists and growers, and reading books. “The people I worked for, I learned a lot. I’ve just always loved it.” Howell came to New Jersey in 1961. It was with her husband, a florist and gladiolus breeder, that she hybridized her first daylily and started Heart’s Ease.
How to grow daylilies:
Soil: pH 7, well-drained, rich soil in sun
September: clean up yellow and dead leaves. For re-bloomers like Stella de Oro, when cleaning them up, be careful not to damage new buds. She cuts foliage back to 8 – 10 inches because she starts digging orders for customers. You can cut them back when dividing daylily clumps.
September thru mid-October: best time to divide daylilies so they have time to re-establish before winter. Dividing: Dig up the clump and carefully, with your hands, take the soil off the roots and split them apart gently. Shake off enough soil to see the roots and to see how to pull them apart. Keep at least two good fans in each new division (fan: a unit within a clump with roots, leaves, crown). They’ll look poorly after division but will soon pick up. Water well for at least one month until they become well-established.
Fertilize: twice a year. Use 5-10-5 in March/April when they’re up a little bit, and use bone meal in late September/early October after digging and dividing clumps or in November “before they go to sleep because that will work over the winter.”
Howell is all about plants – daylilies, orchids, alpines, and unusual perennials, shrubs and trees. On 1.5 acres of nursery, gardens and greenhouses, out front near the woodland garden and behind the alpine and water gardens, a large patch of daylilies grows all in row in the suns: Howell’s hybrids, stock, and new cultivars. Out back, beyond the greenhouses, blocks of gardens have everything: more daylilies and unusual perennials and orchids.
Visit Hildegarde Howell and her passions – daylilies and orchids.
Heart’s Ease Nursery & Tewksbury Orchids: www.tewksburyorchids.com
**Photos by Mary Jasch unless otherwise noted
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published September 12, 2010