Daylilies for any time of day or night

NORWALK Fran Houghtlen's backyard is a kaleidoscope of colors. The retired Norwalk wo
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

Fran Houghtlen's backyard is a kaleidoscope of colors.

The retired Norwalk woman cultivates more than 800 varieties of daylilies.

Some are the delicate trumpets of yellow and white -- the image that most commonly identifies this flower -- but many more are explosions of fuschia, coral, deep purple and pink with a splash of sunset colors emanating from their centers.

They range in size from a mere 5 inches to several towering feet.

"There's something to fit every landscape," Houghtlen said Tuesday, looking every bit the gardener with her wide-brimmed straw hat as she strolled through her backyard paradise at 32 Homewood Ave.

Her love affair with lilies began in 1991 after she bought her first batch from a company-sponsored sale at the NASA Plum Brook Station -- and her collection has been sprouting ever since.

Though their beauty is undeniable, it was the flower's durability and versatility that really caught her eye.

"They're easy to care for, they'll grow in almost any condition and they can survive with very little water or lots of water, like we had this year with all the rain," Houghtlen said.

With this winter's frosts and heavy rains, the perennial flowers bloomed a little later than their usual awakening in May. Daylilies are named for the fact that their blossoms last only one day, but there are many buds on each stalk to extend the flowering period to several weeks, according to the National Hemerocallis Society. Hemerocallis is the Latin name for the genus, or type, of flower to which daylilies belong.

Daylilies are not native to the United States, though records show they were used as Chinese herbal remedies as early as 551-479 B.C. Every part of the daylily is edible, Houghtlen said.

The lemon and tawny varieties were the first lilies to arrive in the states through trade. Some say the early farmers planted them for erosion control -- but they got more than they bargained for, because the lilies were soon growing rampant through the land.

During the past 50 years, daylilies have grown in popularity, with growers using cross-pollination to develop new varieties.

New advancements even changed their shape, said Charles Applegate, a member of the Ohio Daylily Society in Mansfield, which has about 200 members.

"By breeding and selecting, they kept getting the petals wider, and now the ruffles are popular -- but the old-fashioned pointed petals are back in style now," Applegate said.

Growers today produce nearly every shade imaginable except for blue -- though some have come close with pale purple, and others are working diligently to develop the coveted color.

Houghtlen said she prefers the more unusual, "spider" varieties, with wide, flat petals splayed outward and ruffles along the edges.

She enters her lilies in several area societies, including the Ohio Daylily Society, Northern Ohio Daylily Society and the American Hemerocallis Society, which lists her serene backyard as an official display garden.

Houghtlen also found a way to make her passion profitable.

Most of her plants sell for between $5 to $15, but the rarest lilies -- such as the Neon Flamingo and Heavenly Angel Ice -- can fetch more than $200 apiece.

After the newly-pollinated pods become flowers in about five weeks, she gives each a name to reflect its appearance or to honor a loved one. One is named "Rodeo Dan" in memory of her late brother.

"Everybody has their favorite," she said.

Houghtlen plans to host an open house from 1-5 p.m. July 19.

More daylily growers will also be featured in this year's Ohio Daylily Society annual show from 2-5 p.m. July 20 at the Kingwood Center in Mansfield.