Those oldies but goodies - their place in hybridizing modern faced daylilies

by Lanny Morry


Greetings all, Lanny Morry here in suddenly rain soaked Manotick, Ontario,
Canada, where the heat of the day is temporarily gone as a sudden very heavy
rain shower brought cooling temperatures (we went from 86 to 74 degrees F in
the past 20 minutes as the rains came). I am not sure two inches of rain is
good for much of anything except nuisance value, as our gardens have had far
less rain than any summer in recent memory and the daylilies really could
use the boost a bit of water can give them. Ironically I was just watering
my over six foot tall tomato plants when the rains forced me under cover.

Someone noted, and they are right, that my son Mick and I are amongst the
strongest proponents of using older daylilies with desireable traits in our
modern hybridizing program. We do so for a number of reasons.

First, we think the massive number of intros now being put out each year (I
note Kevin Walek announced there were already more than 1,000 new 2010
registrations in his recent report) forces or persuades -- which ever way
you want to consider it -- hybridizers to move on to new plants, long, long,
long before all the values of existing cultivars have been explored and run
with. This may be a big mistake. No, let me be more categorical than
that. In my view, many of those "older: cultivars still available today
often have vigor and strength and other qualities that have allowed them to
endure, and resonate with growers today, that are not found in many of the
most modern introductions. I note that often they are widely dispersed
across all AHS growing zones, whereas some modern cultivars demonstrate
difficulties in growing in anything more than a handful of warm-weather
blessed AHS growing regions, usually in the US south.

We also think a lot of older cultivars that are characteristically strongly
both pod and pollen fertile are frankly more valuable than a pretty face
that can only be used one way, or sometimes with limited two way fertility.
I personally worry about future fertility if plant after plant after plant
is hybridized down the chain from pollen parents who have never produced a
seed of their own because they cannot.

And we also think a lot of strong and vibrant colour has been lost in the
walk away from strongly coloured oranges and reds in particular, and into
the world of muted, subtle, sometimes wishy washy coloured plants that have
nice edges it is true, but no smack it in your eyes colour that you can see
from half an acre away in the garden.

We started using the oldies but goodies because that was what we had to
start with and we owe them a huge debt in building the first registrations
that Mick in particular put together as the building blocks of his, and my
hybridizing program today.
Today we continue to marry evocative older plants that give us a reason to
use them, in hopes of stealing their colour and cementing it into modern
beauties, in harnessing their enormous ability to produce strongly fertile
plants that set every grain of pollen when taken to other blooms, and that
produce pods themselves with 20 or 30 seeds, and this for tetraploids. And
we look to cement their hybrid vigour that lets them grow widely and well
across all the AHS growing regions, and not just in southern pockets, or
limited northern pockets.

What is wrong with reaching back to James Marsh, or Red Regatta, or Royal
Mountie or other wonderful reds, including David's fabulous Betty Ford, to
capture those qualities -- colour, health, vigour, fertility -- and cement
it all into new, more modern faced daylilies, I cite these ones because I
have registrations or futures from them (and I have my Hottie collection
still growing of two dozen unique seedlings, some of them eminently
registrable in today's modern world, and all grown from a single pod from
Royal Mountie x Maple Leaf Forever. Garden visitors have had a hard time
wrapping their minds around the fact those two parents could produce more
than 20 unique children -- each readily and easily identifiable). When I
think of the "oldie" crosses in our garden (and here I am thinking of
parents that are at least 20 years old, and often older) and see them laden
with pods -- I see clear and compelling evidence that the qualities of the
parents have passed successfully on to the children.

This is not to say that every daylily merits being used years, or decades
after it has been introduced. But there are daylilies that are hallmarks of
quality and vigor and that demonstrated superior qualities as a plant, and
as a parent, in any decade when they are introduced. You need only roll
your mind backwards and you can easily think of the standouts. It seems to
me to be a mortal sin to race speedily past them because they are 'dated' or
'old' and there is 'newer' and 'hotter' out there now, without fully
exploring the potential of those oldies but goodies. The head spinning pace
forced on us by the overload of new introductions and the urge to get the
newer and better faster so you can stay with, or try to be ahead of the
hybridizing herd, too often allows reason to be thrown out the window and
with that the older favourites get thrown out too.

The best hybridizing programs I have seen are those where a hybridizer
establishes a foundation, builds on it, marches to his or her own drummer,
and faithfully ignores the trends of the herd in favour of the knowledge
base they have built and rely upon, on their gut instinct about the
qualities of the plants they are working with and what they can and will do
for them. Quality emerges from those programs. It cannot be bought by
buying the newest and the best unless you plan to use the newest and the
best as the basis of a similar longer term considered program and can wait
out the decade or two it will take for others to recognize your vision.
Vision can never be explained to anyone but yourself but it can be proven --
with plants that are the products of a quality hybridizing program that
without saying anything, show that vision in the plants that are produced
over time.

Now a question for you advocates of oldies but goodies. I registered a
plant in 2009 that is the product of a (tet converted) parent registered by
Childs with AHS in 1967 crossed with a somewhat more modern daylily
hybridized in 1984 by Brooks. I could not resist because the resultant
plant looks like an up-faced pink waterlily in the wonderful water garden of
Monet's fabulous chateau in France, Is there anyone out there as silly or
sentimental as me who has recently taken two such oldies but goodies, and
turned them into AHS registered soon to be released futures?
I look out the window and the torrential rains have returned. So much for
getting back into the garden to photograph once again four of the most
sensational John Benz blooms we have ever had the pleasure of seeing in the
garden (to say nothing of the Stamile, Petit and Smith plants.... for those
of you who have limited fortune with Fame because it is a dormant, lordy
lordy what an astonishing bloom season it has had here in Canada this
year... every single flower stunning, and perfect, and every single bloom
setting a pod, no exceptions. Now that is my kind of daylily!)

Ms. Lanny
in AHS region 4, zone 4b, Manotick, Ont. Canada

Lanny Morry
Avalonia Whippets and Daylilies