Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Daylily as Art - Part 1 Color

The Daylily as Art:

Influences on Flower and Plant Aesthetics from the Arts and the Natural World

Part 1 - Color

It is easy to assume that my only interests with the Hemerocallis are scientific, but that isn't the case. I am deeply influenced by my love of and practice of art. I have painted for many years, since early childhood, and the study of color and structure have also been very prominent in all my work. I see there being an art to science and a science to art. Thus I work from both angles in my pursuits with daylilies.

My view of the science of art is having the tools and the knowledge of mediums and applications that allows the expression one sees in the mind's eye to be executed in practice. This is a skill derived through practice and based upon a body of knowledge. For me it is the same with breeding plants or animals. One sees the same set of aesthetic themes, both in terms of structures and forms, as well as colors and patterns, over and over and over in the natural world. Art is based in the observation of the natural world - the rules of mathematics that govern form and proportions, for instance, or the play of light and shadow, etc.

For me, when I begin with a project, I look at the closely related species and genus within the family to which the plant or animal belongs. That gives me some ideas of what might be lurking in the genes, tucked away and waiting to emerge or reemerge, as the case may be. Then I look at the range of phenotypes that currently exist - especially the most extreme phenotypes that represent the furthest departure from the species-base types. I find every shred of published material on the genus and make an effort to review and consider it. Then I begin a long period of dreaming about what could be combined or enhanced, where things could go or how new looks or types might be achieved, and during that time, I make lots of test-crosses to determine what will actually work for me and where I can potentially go with the plants, genetically speaking, by trialing for breeding value for targeted traits. The most important traits are plant traits: vigor, hardiness, cold-tolerance, fertility, disease and pest resistance, beautiful foliage and strong scapes, etc. I focus there first, in spite of my love and excitement for various visual flower traits, because I feel that to focus on the flower traits first, when other traits may be less-than-adequate or totally lacking, is to build a house with no foundation on a layer of sand - an exercise in futility. No wise person hangs curtains in a house before the foundations are laid, and no wise person paints the walls before the house is framed and dried-in.

Once I have the base plants selected to work from, I will continue to monitor plant traits, pest and disease resistance, drought-tolerance, and desired plant traits, but I can then also start to bring the phenotypes I like together more directly and see if I can make headway in that way, concentrating type. This is the point when I can look at the gene pool that I have found worthy of working with, that has the important traits to build a sound house upon, and begin to analyze what flower phenotype traits are actually found within those plants. Many may assume that all I am left with at that point are primitive, old or outdated flower phenotypes, but that actually isn't always the case. I am happy to report that if you are willing to test a range of plants for a few years, you will find a tiny handful of exceptional plants in almost every fancy style and from almost every decade that daylilies have been introduced right up to the current day. The problem is that where the good plants are found is rarely a premeditated affair by a breeder who has focused first and foremost on excellent plants, and more of a random, happy accident. There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part, it is very hit-or-miss across the board. Once you have found those good plants though and have proven they have breeding value for those traits, the art can begin...

So, I want to look at forms and colors while we consider some of the aesthetic origins of my favorite looks and styles in daylilies. In this first part we will look at color and the patterns and combinations of colors that occurs in the daylilies and the many influences I draw from in what I love in this regard.

In colors, there are two main groups - cool tones and hot tones. The cool tones include the near white range, palest yellows, pink, through lavender and purple, as well as the "blacks and "browns" based on these cool tones. The hot tones are the medium to dark yellows, gold, coral, peach, orange and red, as well as the "blacks" and "browns" based on those warm tones. Now, with eye/edge types, teeth, piecrust edging, etc., we have some flowers which combine both warm and hot tones in the same flower (white edged reds, for example). I love both the hot tones and the cool tones.

To me, the cool tones carry me into the realm of the impressionist painters (especially Monet), Van Gogh, and the moody, misty paintings of the pre-Raphaelite painters (especially John William Waterhouse), Botticelli's Venus or the modern work of painter and former daylily breeder, Brian Mahieu. They also remind me of winter, the sky, clouds, the moon and stars, water and misty mornings and silver. They are reminiscent of swans, white stags, pink dolphins and cockatoos. They are especially welcome in a garden in hot summer when their tones cool the garden and make it more relaxing. They have a sedative effect on the senses. On top of that, my experience is that in very hot conditions, it is the near white and palest yellow flowers that still look the best at the end of the day and aren't completely melted into a dripping, limp mess. In advising people on the backbone of of their daylily garden. I always recommend near white and pale yellow for that very reason.

Waterlilies by Monet

Blue Corn Moon by Robert Selman

Frieda Allen Jerrell by Victor Santa Lucia

Solaris Symmetry by Nate Bremer

Hush Little Baby Seedling

Look Here Mary F2 Seedling

Endless Heart x Purple Termite Seedling

The hot tones on the other hand are enlivening. They are bursting with excitement and exuberance. There is absolutely nothing like the sight of miles of ditches filled with the tropical color of orange fulvas. These hot tones match summer, though for me, they can be a bit much in late summer, in very hot weather, when I just want to cool and take it down a notch, but their tropical, joyous splendor is essential in the late spring and early summer garden and bring excitement and catch the eye like nothing else throughout the entire blooming season into fall. For the latest blooming cultivars, the bright tropical colors are cheery as the season begins to wane and if they extend long enough, will match the changing foliage (H. sempervirens, for instance, does that here very nicely right up the the very first hard frost of fall). The hot tones remind me of the tropics and such painters as Gauguin, Cezanne and Salvador Dali. They remind me of bright cattleya orchids and tropical hibiscus, exotic birds such as the bird of paradise and macaws and exotic tropical fish. They remind me of the sun, sunrise, eclipses, rich wood and fine, rich leather, fire, and gold. They are like the brightest goldfish and the colors of the red jungle fowl. Some people find some of these tones, especially orange, to be off-putting in daylilies, perhaps equating it to H. fulva, which are an embarrassment to some in spite of all that species gave us in the modern daylilies. Hot tones can be difficult to work into some garden plans, but a garden built around hot colors can grab the eye and excite the senses like nothing else.

Tahitian Landscape Gauguin

Frans Hals by Flory

Drums Along the Mohawk by Moldovan

Insider Trading by Buntyn

Chicago Apache seedling

Texas Feathered Fancy F2 Seedling

H. fulva 'Korean' Apps 


The use of a cool background with highlights of hot tones can be very nice and make a pleasing compromise, so that the garden becomes neither too sedate nor too garish. Whichever tonal family you prefer, or just a random assortment of both, I think few of us could deny that it is color that first drew us to the daylily. Using the complementary colors is an important and useful way to make your most special plants stand out. Purple daylilies look more purple when they are against a background of yellows of an equal tonal value. Red is wonderfully set off by green backgrounds. Orange would require a true blue for the absolute best complimentary background, but since we have no true blue in daylilies, bluish-purples and lavenders can make orange pop even more than it already does in the garden. Of course, everything works and stands out with a white background, which is why it is my favorite background - a neutral that can allow an ever-changing array of tones to be equally pleasing and well set.

A very pleasing combination of warm and cool tones


The red Nona's Garnet Spider makes a hot accent against a backdrop of cool yellow, purple lavender and pink.

Here cool yellow daylilies and purple Monarda make a lovely cool background for the hot tones of the orange and red Stout cultivar Rajah (1935)

Another way to look at and deal with color is to use contrast and tonality. So for instance, one might have a near white background with a near black cultivar as an accent specimen planting, or if you have some midday and afternoon shade, a near black background with some well-placed near white plants as a specimen accent can be quite striking. This use of strongest and most extreme light and dark contrast puts me in mind of my favorite painter, Caravaggio, who made remarkable use of light coming forth from dark backgrounds in much of his work, or Rembrandt, who made a career of beautifully emulating Caravaggio's style. Dark flowers with white edges of teeth or piecrust also remind me of this style of painting.

Saint Catherine by Caravaggio


Men in Black by Petit

Then there are the many plants showing flowers in non-pigment tones such as brown, tan or sand tones, silvered or grayed lavender, or antiqued tones of pink such as dusty rose, old rose or mauve. These non-pigment tones are often called "muddy" by many in the daylily world who fetishize only the pigment tones. I understand why the pigment tones would be popular. They are easy to understand, bright and eye catching and are easy to combine in the average garden. The non-pigment tones are less obvious, subtle and do not have the strong draw-from-across-the-garden of the pigment tones, but they are often interesting and have a place in the garden also. When I look at the color of a daylily flower, what I recognize as "muddy" is when there are three or more pigments at work. Any two pigments can produce an interesting effect that doesn't offend my sense of color theory.

What does offend my sense of color theory is when a dust mauve flower is called "pink", or when a fulvous orange is called "brown", or a silvered, gray lavender is called "purple". They aren't. Call them what they are and own their special uniqueness. To me, it is not something to complain about that we have such an amazing array of tones in daylilies. It is only lamentable when tones consisting of the blending of pigment tones are called a pigment tone. For instance, any orange flower with a slight purple overlay is going to appear to be a "rusty orange" or fulvous. That is not a "muddy orange", because it isn't just orange. It is orange and purple and the combination creates the fulvous effect. We should be thankful to those fulvous precursors in the species fulva, as they likely gave us the purple we have today. I am amazed by the array of colors and color combinations we have in daylilies when I consider that it all arose in just over one hundred years from the fulva complex and the gold to yellow species.

Brown to me is especially special, because it is a difficult color to get right and there are very few so-called brown daylily flowers that are actually brown. Matthew Martin, a reddish brown, and Brown Exotica, a chocolate brown, are two of the best examples of true brown flowers that I have seen besides a few of my own seedlings. They remind me of brown orchids such as some Oncidium and Cymbidium orchids (orchids are related to Hemerocallis, both being in order Asparagales), some irises (also an Asparagales member), leaves in fall, the rich forest floor, good fertile earth, fine wood and leather, and the bark of redwood trees. They are especially nice in subtle garden settings such as sunny edges of a shade garden or in Japanese styled gardens where bright garish colors are not the focus. Against the green backdrop of bamboo, brown flowered daylilies can be very striking.

A Brown Orchid


Brown Exotica by Jamie Gossard


A Brown Exotica Seedling

Another very interesting color found in daylilies is the silvered lavender of such cultivars as Asterisk. These tones - rare, rarely done really well, and rarely the focus of anyone's programs - remind me of smoke, mist, clouds, the moon, an overcast day, the soft gray of pigeons and the subtle colors of some moths. These can make a striking accent to brighter purple cultivars, as well as mixed with near white or near black flowered cultivars. These also have subtle uses, such as in the Japanese garden, and there are many landscape plants that this tone can look very lovely with.

Asterisk by Lambert

An Asterisk Seedling

An amazing array of color possibilities exist in daylilies, and with the introduction of Pigment of Imagination, an even greater range may be at hand, including a range of green, blue and turquoise tones. In addition to individual colors or blends, flowers which change color throughout the day have very interesting applications in the garden and if carefully placed with complimentary companion plants can be a show throughout the day.

Pigment of Imagination by Richard Norris

The 'cleanest' colors are generally a pure pigment tone on a near white or very pale yellow background. "Muddy" colors usually show a layering of colors that produce another color to the human eye, such as an orange layered with purple, which may appear rusty or brownish, yellow layered with pink, which can appear peach, or yellow layered in lavender or purple which can create a grayed effect that some call "dusty". Sometimes these layerings blend well and make a nice tone, even if not a pure pigment tone, other times, they combine in ways that are less than attractive. For my part, any well combined flower color is acceptable and desirable, so long as it is described as something like the visually apparent tone. All well done tones and colors will have an application in some garden design or the other and there is always something out there to make a complimentary companion to that flower. However, I do have my own particular favorite colors and combinations.

Rosy Complexion by John and Annette Rice is a very near white background with bright pigment pinks makes for a very clean, bright pure colored flower.

Here we see pink/lavender over a yellow background in this seedling. The pink/lavender combine with the yellow background to show a overall peach effect with a violet tinge.

The tones that I find difficult are those where a combination such as layerings of yellow, lavender and pink or orange appear, so that there is no actual tone there, but rather just a mashup of tones resulting in an undefinable in-between that is not quite within any color range. You could have all three colors on one flower separately as individually defined colors and that I would find attractive, but when they are all layered together into one dusty ecru/peach/rose/tan/gray toneless mess, I don't care for that. We see these from time to time and they are unattractive. Many of the patterned flowers are particularly prone to this effect, with multiple colors blending and layering into something quite undefinable, with the term 'mud' perhaps being appropriate. One of the most attractive patterns I grow is Four Beasts in One from Di DeCaire, as it is a lovely yellow background with a burgundy and palest yellow patterned eye with hints of near blue especially in the sepals. It is striking from a distance and up close, and the colors do not bleed into each other in such a way as to muddy and blend. It is a happy flower and one I enjoy looking at. It also works well with a wide variety of other flowers because it is made up of distinct colors.

Four Beasts in One by Di DeCaire

It also must be remembered that a given daylily can vary from garden to garden, depending on the soil and micro-climate variations between gardens, while variations in the weather can also cause variation. As one very good example, I will show some observed variations in a seedling. This seedlings is Aztec Headdress x Larry Allen Miller.

First grown in my mother's garden, it flowered like this for the first time in its second year, 2012. It continues to have this look in her garden.

2012 - Mother's Garden

I moved a piece to my garden for hybridizing that fall, after the above picture was taken. It bloomed like this the next year in my garden.

2013 - Hybridizing Garden

In my garden, which is significantly different than my mother's garden, the flower went from the bright, clean pink reverse bicolor we see in the first picture from 2012 to this less clear, much more carotenoid background with a peach/lavender reverse bitone effect in 2013. 

Since then it has tended to show some variation depending on weather conditions, but still stays less clear in my garden and more clear in my mother's garden.
2014 - Hybridizing Garden

2014 - Mother's Garden

2014 - Hybridizing Garden

2015 - Hybridizing Garden

And one random example so far from 2016 in the Hybridizing Garden

So what color do I call such a seedling? And is it a "clean" pink reverse bitone or a "muddy" lavender/peach reverse bitone? Is it both? Is it neither? Which picture would be its registry picture? Which face is its "typical" face? Why do the two garden locations make so much difference in appearance, when they are only a few hundred feet apart? As I said, the soil is very different in both gardens, but why does it cause such a variation in flower color? I don't know.

I have to admit that I like all of its many faces, and while this kind of variability can make trying new daylilies frustrating (because they might not look in one garden as they do in another), I still enjoy seeing each offering this daylily has each day and I enjoy both looks, though I think the look at my mother's house is nicer and more the goal I would want to work toward. I have also seen the first seedling from this seedling this year crossed to Curt Hanson's Slipped My Disco as pollen parent. I hope to see many more seedlings from this clone in time. Who knows what variations it might show in time?




In the next post in this series, we will look at patterns and the influences on the combinations I love and what I think works best in pattern combinations from a color theory perspective.