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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.