Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Daylily as Art - Part 8

The Daylily as Art
A Discussion of Balance

Part 8: Walking the Fine Line between Art and Practicality:
Aesthetic, Adrenaline and the Difference Between Art and Craftsmanship

(Or, How To Not Let Your Aesthetic Sense Ruin Your Breeding Program)

"The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail to the ruin of all." - Galadriel, Lord of the Rings - J.R.R Tolkien

"In their handling of affairs, people often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure." - Lao Tzu

"Humans are born with a susceptibility to that most persistent and debilitating disease of intellect: self-deception. The best of all possible worlds and the worst get their dramatic coloration from it. As nearly as we can determine, there is no natural immunity. Constant alertness is required."
The Bene Gesserit Coda
Chapterhouse: Dune - Frank Herbert

“If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.” 
Masanobu Fukuoka

This article is the final installment of this series. It has been over two years since I wrote the last installment (part seven). It has been difficult to bring myself back to this series because the fun part is done and this part will require me to say things that might be perceived as critical of some practices in the daylily world. I want to stress that I do not write this to criticize anyone’s approach, but to add to the body of practices that are available to daylily breeders. My hope is to encourage daylily breeders to think outside the box of peer-pressure and trends-and-fads, the tyranny of the new, as one grower I know refers to this vein of thought. If everyone is trying to do the same thing, we run the risk of drastically reducing the overall diversity within the daylily. I don’t want people to change their programs. I want them to expand them, perhaps doing one more little thing, making one more little line, even if only a few seedlings each year, to increase the genetic diversity, hardiness and vigor of the daylily and their own program. I don’t want to take anything away, I want to add to.

The most important things I can stress are as follows:

* New isn’t always better, while old isn’t always lesser.

* Beauty is as beauty does.

* Great expense does not equal high quality, nor does low price equal low quality. 

* Popularity is no indicator of quality, nor is the number of registered offspring. 

* Obscurity is no indicator of quality, nor is a lack of registered offspring. 

* Some older species and cultivars were not well-used in breeding when they were new or first imported. 

* Some of these older plants can make amazing combinations with our newer, advanced types, even though in some instances those older cultivars have no registered offspring. 

* Trends and fads come and go, but a good daylily will always be a good daylily, while the latest-and-greatest, highly-touted-because-of-a-fad, may vanish in a few years.

* You are actually growing a plant. You are not growing a flower. 

* The flower is not the plant, but is only part of its reproductive apparatus, designed to attract pollinators.

* Without a good plant, even the best flower is unlikely to stand the test of time.

* When you are moved by the beauty or uniqueness of a flower, you may have the tendency to ignore a great deal about the plant underneath that flower. 

* Never forget that there is a plant under that flower and it is the real life form. The flower is merely a means to an end.

* Aesthetic is wonderful. Art is invigorating and feeds the soul. That which gives joy and wonder creates enthusiasm and a desire to action. Your artistic sense, and the joy it gives you, can carry you through many hardships, but never forget, that rush of joy and excitement is a chemical reaction in your body, often mediated by novelty (the excitement of the new), and is actually the release of adrenalin, endorphins and other chemicals within your body.

* Craftsmanship is the ability to create things of high quality. It is a part of artistry, but it isn’t the rushing, soaring, adrenaline-soaked high we associate with aesthetic pleasure. Craftsmanship is the disciplined, patient, skill and knowledge-based creation of an item, be it a practical item, a tool or a work of art. 

* A great example is that the canvas upon which the masterpiece is painted probably was not the result of some great, exciting, transcendental moment of creation, but rather was the work of someone skilled and capable, who made a creation of quality upon which the great master could then create their magic. 

* Some great masters created their own canvases, while others purchased them from master-craftsmen, but none of them painted great masterworks on paper towels, rotted boards or scraps of old, tattered cloth. While that might be novel for a moment, such work would not last, and why would any great artist seek to create work with no chance of lasting through time? 

* Great art also requires great craftsmanship. Art requires inspiration and excitement, while craftsmanship requires skill and patience. Without the balance of both art and craftsmanship, the art is merely ephemera (illusion that doesn’t last) and the craftsmanship is merely rote production (like an assembly line). Great daylily breeders are both artist and skilled craftsmen (or craftswomen, as the case frequently may be).

* The concept of a ‘point of reference’ can’t be stressed enough. If you have never grown an exceptional plant, you have nothing to compare any other plant with to determine where it falls on the scale of plant qualities. 

* Find some extremely tough, high quality plants (regardless of the flower - species are a good place to start, and some old cultivars like Frans Hals are also excellent comparison points) that you can grow in your garden, even if you don’t breed from them, so you have a living point of reference from which to gain understanding and with which to compare the other plants you grow and (most especially) your own seedlings.


Aesthetic is what you find visually attractive. It is what ‘turns you on’. It is that which ‘gives you all the feels’. It is the visual trigger, that for whatever reason, triggers your body to release adrenalin and other hormones.

You should pursue your personal aesthetic. Do you love round and ruffled, or spider types? Is it unusual forms that turn you on, or is it species-like trumpet forms? Is it yellow or pink or lavender, red or purple, orange or brown? Whatever color does it for you, pursue it to the hilt. Is it teeth or ruffles or pie-crust, or do you prefer tailored edges? You need to decide and not let fads and trends tell you what you “should like”. Do you love eyes, edges, patterns? Go for it! But if you love self colored flowers, don’t let trends and fads tell you that is “wrong”! You decide what you love and what you will pursue in YOUR program. It is all about you! And it should be!

However, the focus on your aesthetic sense can narrow your senses and make you miss out on things that could greatly help you. Just because you like one trait or the other doesn’t mean that you can (or should) only breed from those. If you love teeth, breed for teeth, but don’t think you should never use something that doesn’t show teeth. The tooth trait descends from a very narrow group of sources and constantly inbreeding those lines is going to bottleneck what is already a very narrow gene pool. That is a recipe for eventual disaster. You also don't know what daylilies without teeth might be carrying some genes for the trait. 

Beyond that, every tooth breeder needs to find some exceptional plants without teeth, and unrelated to toothy lines, to outcross to. Yes, you might not see teeth in the F1 seedlings. Yes, it may take you a generation or two to get the teeth back, but in the end, you are ensuring that you may have some way of countering the bottleneck your line will inevitably experience over time as you keep breeding teeth x teeth. 

Keep the very best, strongest F1 seedlings. They are invaluable. They are 50% ‘not-your-line’, and 50% genetics from your tooth lines. You can go back to these in the future. When you are four or five generations away from the original outcross, you can loop back to the best F1 to bring in alternate genetics and tooth genetics as well.

I use teeth in that example, but it applies to any and every focus, no matter what. Breeding spiders? Use some exceptional non-spiders here and there. Breeding patterns? Use some exceptional non-patterns here and there. Breeding pink? Use some exceptional plants of other colors occasionally. 

One of the greatest mistakes you can make in the long run is to only work with plants that are of the phenotype you want to focus on, or that ’give you all the feels’. The ‘feels’ is the effect of your aesthetic thrill triggering your body to release ‘feel good’ chemistry. Your ‘feels’ can deceive you, hypnotizing you into ignoring problems and weaknesses. Craftsmanship is the patient use of quality materials to create the result of a quality product that also has the artistry to give you ‘all the feels’.

You can always use a flawed plant with a very advanced combination of flower traits, but don’t mate it to something nearly as problematic and think you are getting anywhere. Find something extraordinary in terms of plant traits to cross that beautiful-but-flawed plant, which has a flower that gives you all the ‘feels’, with so that you can create a similar flower on a superior plant, even if you have to go two or three generations to combine all the desirable traits (patience - craftsmanship in action). A breeder is not just an artist (thought the best ones certainly are), a great breeder must also be a craftsman. 

If you are only able to focus on your aesthetic sense, and can’t patiently apply the craftsmanship, then find a partner that can. Work with people different from yourself, and create a wider base of understanding and cooperation where everyone benefits. One thing I notice is that often people with a similar aesthetic flock together, and ignore people working in other areas, and while I understand the tendency, I think it is a mistake to avoid people doing somewhat different things. The differences can be very beneficial to both parties. Perhaps one gets a flower breakthrough in their single-minded pursuit of their aesthetic, while the other gets a major break in the plant from their single-minded pursuit of craftsmanship. If those two people can work together, they can greatly enhance each other. The differences do not need to detract, they can enhance.


Humans are easily bored. If you don’t believe me, just look around you. The pursuit of relieving boredom can take many forms, some negative and some positive. But what is boredom, and what relieves boredom? What is it that people are really seeking? Research has shown how our bodies release chemicals to mediate moods and responses. Adrenaline is the major chemical, and research has shown that adrenaline is highly addictive. We get addicted to the feeling adrenaline gives us, and we want to have that high all the time. The most famous association with adrenaline is in the famous ‘flight-or-fight’ response, and while this is one of the most extreme examples of adrenal-mediated states, it is by far not the only one. Almost everything we consider ‘exciting’ is in reality the release of adrenaline (and through the adrenaline release, other chemicals, such a endorphins, oxytocin, etc. Read more about this subject here.)

So what is boredom, then? Boredom seems to often be the absence of stimuli that cause the release of adrenaline. Of course, there are other, rarer, pathological reasons that a human might experience the feeling we call ‘boredom’, but in general, the thing we call boredom is lack of adrenal-inducing stimuli. One thing that can cause excitement and adrenaline release is  the concept we call ‘newness’. If we see something we perceive as ‘new’, ‘unique’ or previously unimagined, we can become excited and get a shot of chemicals. 

Specific aesthetic stimuli can also cause adrenaline release. In common parlance, we might call this ‘having a type’. Our type can ‘turn us on’. Being ‘turned on’ is when we are getting a chemical reward. Whether through food, or sex, or drugs, or artistic aesthetic, spiritual experience or sports, movement, dance or social interaction, whatever gives us ‘all the feels’ is what releases the chemicals within our bodies. Obviously, not everyone gets the same feels from the same activities or aesthetic. I won’t even attempt to discuss where our various aesthetics come from. What I will say is that we each have a fairly unique makeup, combination, of different triggers, though we all share many basic adrenaline-release triggers.

So we can see that these high chemical states are at the basis of our perceptions, and they vary from person to person. What is ‘sexy’ to one is not ‘sexy’ to another. What stimulates is not always the same. However, these chemical states can become so addictive that our focus becomes mediating the chemical release, as in any addiction. If the release in one person is triggered by novelty, they may spend all their time seeking something new and being ‘bored’ when they are confronted with things that are familiar (and cannot longer create the chemical high). I remember hearing a daylily collector complaining vociferously that breeders weren’t making new flower types quick enough. He was bored. Maybe he was going to have to give up daylilies all together because what was being introduced wasn’t exciting enough. I though to myself, “Try breeding and see!”

Fads and trends in any area often catch on, burn bright and the fade out. Why? Well, initially they offer many triggers to chemical states - newness, uniqueness, excitement, recognition, attention, money, acclaim. These are all experiences that can easily trigger chemical release. Why do fads and trends often then burn out? Once the new wears off, the high can no longer be reached so easily. Immunity to the buzz is reached, and so greater quantity, weirder and newer - novelty - is required to achieve the desired chemical state. 

What is the great danger of this cycle? A lot of flaws can be ignored in the race to the buzz. I mean, how many addicts do you know of who are longterm, exceptional craftsmen? The few great artists who were also addicts had been taught the discipline to be great craftsmen, often well before their addictions became acute. Quite often, as well, their addictions ate away at their skill and talent and ability to execute their visions with their previous level of skill.

However, when we understand what these states are, what their triggers are, what actually triggers each of us, we can begin to work with that process, rather than letting it rule us. It is totally natural and wonderful that we can ‘feel all the feels’. I don’t want your (or certainly, my) ability to ‘feel all the feels’ removed or restrained. But when we learn what the process is, we can also learn to see through it and use it, rather than be used by it. Great craftsmen, anyone who exercises great discipline, has learned how to deal with their physical, natural, very human chemical system in a way that allows for great achievements, and not just the pursuit of the next quick buzz.

Artistry and Craftsmanship

These go hand-in-hand. Artistry and craftsmanship are two sides of the same coin. All great artists master both. Many artists and creative types call craftsmanship ‘technique’, but it is just another word for the same thing. Art without technique is just inspiration, while craftsmanship without art is just manufacture. These two things must walk hand-in-hand to create great art. One without the other is imbalanced, lacking the wholeness that is possible for those who can ‘feel all the feels’ and yet have the patience to pursue the vision with skill and determination, taking the time necessary to execute the vision with both aesthetic and technique.

Now, let’s focus for a moment on craftsmanship. Craftsmanship isn’t always ‘sexy’, and it probably won’t give you ‘all the feels’. For instance, in terms of painters, it may be the creation of a high quality canvas, or even having the knowledge of what a high-quality canvas is, so as to know one when you see it and/or to know who makes the finest canvases. It may also be the careful mixing of pigments from which to paint, or knowing what makes fine pigments so you can purchase the best for your work. For a wood carver, it is the ability to know the right wood to work with. For an architect it is the ability to know the proper materials and location to build a masterful construction. For any creator, it is the ability to patiently and skillfully execute the vision. In the end, when the slow, patient, often unexciting work of craftsmanship is finished, you have a product that gives you all the feels AND lasts, showing high quality craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship is achieved through not just seeking wild excitement and the next high. Craftsmanship is achieved through patience and repetition. A few people can sit down at the piano and play a concerto perfectly from ear the first time. Most of us spend years practicing scales, then we practice the concerto. We have studied music theory and the works of the greats. Discipline and practice rarely gives anyone ‘all the feels’, but the product of those things can. You might feel all the feels from a great concerto, but without a background in music theory, you likely can’t explain it or reproduce it. 

Craftsmanship, skill, is achieved from gaining a point of comparison, understanding the subject and what makes it what it is. Is modern art just paint thrown on canvas? Sometimes, but the greats have vast technique (usually in very traditional methods) and understand color theory. Without a point of comparison, it may be hard to understand why you are feeling what you feel and it may be even harder to execute it. A great sculptor may have a love affair with marble or wood that informs every aspect of their sculpture.

So how do we apply this to our daylily breeding? Well, just as with any other creative endeavor, we need an aesthetic vision AND the skill to execute that vision on a sound base. A point of comparison is an essential tool. Have you grown daylilies for a while? Have you grown other plants? Do you have any practical background in what makes a good plant? Have you ever so much as grown a houseplant or a shrub in the yard? You don’t have to be a botanist or a PhD in horticulture, but knowing a bit about plants and what makes a good plant in the garden can go a long way to breeding good plants. Growing a few classic, well-know exceptional daylily plants (regardless of the flower) is the best method to gain a point if reference in daylilies.

Know what you want your program to look like. Know what you would like to achieve, but be prepared to not have everything match that final vision, and be prepared to take a minute or two to get there. Sometimes, feels delayed are feels enhanced.

How To Not Let Your Aesthetic Sense Ruin Your Breeding Program

Ok, so how do you not let your aesthetic sense ruin your breeding program? What does that even mean? Maybe it sounds offensive to you. Maybe you think it is just me being mean and trying to make you do what I am doing. I can assure you, that is not the case. All I want to do is to enhance your understanding so that you can achieve your aims on the most solid footing you can possibly achieve, allowing all your hard work to last and have real, longterm impact.

The aesthetic instinct and drive toward excitement is based in a drive toward achieving the release of certain chemicals in our bodies. Once we know that, we can learn to mediate that desire. Mediating our physiological-chemical pursuits can lead to the discipline to achieve great works of art through skill. Skill is gained through knowledge, practice and having a point of comparison.

The first step in our breeding program is to not get carried away by all the novelty, thrills and feels. Yes, I feel the feels too. I am not saying you shouldn’t, but be aware that the feels are not the end -all-and-be-all of existence. They are useful, wonderful, feel great and color our lives with meaning and enthusiasm, but the feels alone will not get you across the finish line.

The second step is to learn that when you are ‘feeling all the feels’, you probably are not seeing all the details. I call this ‘flower-hypnosis’ in daylilies. The feels often cause tunnel vision. To see what is there, we must learn to take a deep breath, step back for the moment and look at the entire object, rather than just the one thing or other that is triggering the feels. For instance, I often see people feeling all the feels about teeth or patterns, but are completely overlooking the terrible, crinkled, curled in, folded, deformed, stiff, green sepals right beside those huge teeth or patterned eyes (that also give me the feels, by the way, but I actually stop the feels and then look a the rest of the flower, and even the plant under it). Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a great work, but it is the whole painting that makes that sly smile work as a  sublime piece of great art. If Leonardo had only painted the smile and left the rest of the painting as a blank canvas, would it be the masterpiece we know?

As an extension to the second point, learn how to constantly pull your view back to take in a larger amount of detail. Learn to look at the plant. This is an area where a point of comparison is so important. It is easy to think something has ‘vigor’, or shows ‘clean foliage’ or is ‘hardy’, if you don’t have a point of comparison with things that really excel in these areas. You don’t need to grow every daylily species and every cultivar ever introduced. Just spend some time asking people about the best plants (regardless of flower type) and sample a few of those. Grow them in your conditions and actively compare them with other things. It is important to grow these things in your own environment. You can’t just rely on seeing it in other gardens (though that is nice) or other people’s reports of its traits (thought that is helpful also). I know from personal experience that most everything (that doesn’t die in the winter) looks gorgeous in my mother’s garden where the soil is rich and the plants are sprayed for insect pests, but in my test garden/hybridizing garden, many of those same plants look terrible and show poor performance traits. That is the effect of environmental differences. 

While something may look good in someone else’s garden, even if their garden is ‘in your area’ that might not really mean a great deal. My mother’s garden is only two or three acres away from my test garden. It is not the ‘area’, but the conditions in the given garden that create the greatest influence. When you are in a garden, ask about the care regimen. Ask if they spray, do they amend the soil, do they fertilize, if so what do they spray and fertilize with, and how rich is the soil and how deep is that rich soil? What is the pH, and are the plants mulched? Is there some condition creating a microclimate? All of these things will influence performance and appearance. What you want to know as a real point of reference is how the plant performs in average conditions without inputs (this is a true baseline). Or if you can’t do that, at least how they do in your personal garden. 

Once you have some well-know, exceptional plant-performance cultivars growing in your garden (regardless of their flower phenotypes or what you are interested in, in terms of aesthetics), really compare them with the plants you have of the type you want to focus on. If the variation between the two groups is huge, take a deep breath, step back and ask yourself how to apply craftsmanship to improve the plant so you can make the phenotype you want on good plants.

The third point is to remember that there are no perfect daylilies and very, very few will be equally good in all climates. I have never seen one without some flaw (no matter how minor) or without some point that I wouldn’t change if I could. To date, I have never found a single daylily that meets every criteria I would want in the ‘perfect’ daylily. However, I have some that are close. It has taken me years of test-growing and comparing to other cultivars to find those plants, and by breeding them I might get even closer to my perfect ideal, in time, but I do not expect perfection. You should not expect perfection either, but you do need to figure out what you can tolerate and what you can’t. These decisions are always arbitrary and personal, though it is helpful to base them in reality and comparison with the best you can find or have personal experience of. 

However, I would strongly suggest that no matter what flower phenotype you are after, have a few plants that you consider near-perfect in terms of the plant (and preferably cultivar(s) that will achieve the near-perfection in no-input or low-input conditions) to constantly remind yourself what a good plant is (point of reference) and to outcross to so that you can be working on lines of your preferred type with great plants while you are also working on lines of your type with great flower phenotype traits, so eventually down the line you can blend the two and get great plants with great flower phenotype traits (yes, it is possible!). This requires the patient application of technique and skill. This is the craftsmanship of breeding daylilies. 

Anyone can buy two latest-and-greatest expensive cultivars and cross them, raise a few seedling by any means necessary and get something equal to, or slightly fancier than, the two parents, but it is patient skill that can combine widely disparate traits to make exceptional plants with those exceptional flowers. Always remember that something that is truly exceptional in an extreme environment (warm-winter climates, for instance) may not be truly exceptional in a different extreme environment (extreme cold-winter climate, for instance) and vice-versa. In such an instance, the person in one extreme climate may have to work to bring the exceptional traits of such a cultivar onto lines where those exceptional traits can express in the opposite extreme climate. It is very rare in a continent as large as North America to find any single cultivar that will be equally exceptional in all climates. 

The fourth point to bear in mind is that the genes that make some traits are recessive. Yes, Virginia, there are obviously recessive genes involved in many of your favorite daylily flower and plant phenotypes. Some traits that appear to be recessive in my experience include teeth, patterned eyes, sculpting traits, foliage dormancy traits, melon base (carotene change to lycopene) and rebloom traits, just to name a few. Some of those may be single gene traits, while others may be multigenic, but in my experience, when the type is crossed to a plant that does not show the given trait, the trait is not visible in the seedlings from that cross (though remember that a plant not showing a trait can be carrying heterozygous, recessive, and thus hidden, genes for the trait, in which case you might see some showing the trait…). That is the hallmark of recessive traits. 

In such instances, the trait can reappear when siblings are crossed together, the siblings are crossed back to the parent that shows the trait or the carrier seedling(s) is crossed to another cultivar showing the trait that the seedling is assumed to be carrying. If you see any expression of the trait at all, from enough seedlings to see it, then you have the base to proceed with. You don’t have to see extreme expression to have material to move forward with. (I consider 100 seedlings minimum to look for trait reemergence from heterozygous carriers, but multigenic traits may require more to see the trait, especially with sibling crosses or where two carriers are crossed. Best results for a test cross for recessive traits are achieved by crossing the assumed-carrier with a plant expressing the trait in question.)

Outcrossing a phenotype trait to its opposite isn’t done to increase the expression of that trait. It is done to combine the trait with other traits lacking in your stock expressing that trait. Let’s look at a really simple example. You have a recessive flower trait (teeth or sculpting of some kind) that only occurs on yellow flowers and evergreen plants. You want it dormant and melon. You cross the yellow evergreen with the recessive flower trait to a melon dormant without the trait. All of your F1 seedlings are yellow evergreens lacking the recessive trait. You can cross the seedlings together, raise about 100+ and you may well get one or two (or a few more) with melon flowers, dormant plants and the flower trait in question. 

However, they might not be on the best plants, or they might have other flaws. So amongst their seedlings you probably also got a few melons with dormant foliage but no expression of the recessive flower trait, you have a few that show yellow flowers with dormant foliage and the recessive flower trait, you get a few with melon flowers, evergreen foliage and the flower trait, as well as a whole host of variations of the three trait sets. Pick the best plants, regardless of what they look like and use them for backcrossing. Pick some plants that show two of your target traits for backcrossing. Pick the few that show all the traits you want, even if they aren’t great, and then make crosses to combine the traits you want on the best plants. At this point, you aren’t looking for introductions. You are looking to get all your traits combined, and then you work on producing the introduction level version if it. (For a living example of this type of project, go to Richard Norris’ website - Ashwood Daylilies - and read about how he made the Substantial Evidence line.) 

In the beginning of a project, you take what you get, work with the best of those (not expecting to get one that is best in all those traits, and feeling very blessed if you do!) and pull it all together through backcrossing, sib-mating and outcrossing to other exceptional plants similar to where you want to go, and work through a couple of generations. One of the greatest stumbling blocks in the daylily world to the creation of really unique trait combinations is the notion that you have to have an introduction in every crop of seedlings, and if you don’t you can’t proceed with them. I can’t tell you how many times someone tells me about a really innovative cross they made, only to follow that up with, “But I didn’t get what I was expecting in the seedlings, so I threw them out.” One or two more generations and they would have probably seen a big leap forward. I also wonder in such instances if people have just never heard of a recessive gene, or if they have, that they just don’t know what that means.

Another instance is that some genes don’t blend well in the first generation. Yellow and purple color often make dull F1 seedling flowers, but that is because purple looks muddy on a yellow (carotene) background, especially the ‘gold’ version of yellow. Those good purples are almost always melon (lycopene) based, so the F1 seedlings from yellow x purple are carrying the recessive melon gene, but we should expect that the seedlings won’t show that in the F1. So by default the resulting F1 will be yellow-based and will be muddy, purplish-brown to dull orange-brown. One more generation will find seedlings emerge that have the recessive melon gene homozygous and the cleanliness of the purple color will start to return. It might not be perfect in the F2, but you can see some few seedlings take a big leap forward, all by getting one recessive gene that was heterozygous to the homozygous level, allowing the layered purple anthocyanin to appear cleaner and clearer. 

Too many people waste their time and effort and miss great opportunities to make unique and exceptional combinations because they are superstitiously scared of “muddy colors”, as if that is always a thing by itself, and not just the combination of layers that don’t mesh pleasingly to the eye, when they may carry the genes that would allow that effect to vanish, if they were carried forward. 

It is so important to not constantly concentrate poor traits. Let’s say you want to focus on a new, fancy trait, but all the plants showing that trait are at best only moderately good plants, and average closer to poor quality. If you are afraid to outcross those to better plants because you are afraid of ‘loosing the trait’ in question, and you only breed like-to-like, you run the risk of concentrating poor traits. Such a line needs an outcross to strong, vigorous lines, whether they show the desired trait or not. In situations with bottlenecked lines that have already been concentrated for generations, continual concentration, even with extreme selection pressure, will increase the appearance of deleterious traits. That is what inbreeding does in tight gene pools where deleterious genes are present. I need to remind you, you can’t loose a recessive trait in the first generation outcross. You won’t see those traits, but they are not ‘lost’. They are there, heterozygous, and not seen visually, but they are there! 

Breed the seedlings together or back to a plant showing vigor (as much as possible), but don’t take them back to the weak parent with deleterious traits, as well as the flower trait you desire to get back to. If you do sib-mating, then you need to cull them like crazy for plant traits, and keep the best plants regardless of whether they show the flower trait in question or not. Many of them will carry the trait and can still be of great use. Always keep your most vigorous, best plants from such crosses. You will probably need to use them in the mix. I call this kind of work a ‘salvage project’. I don’t do a lot of them. They require a great deal of work, a lot of evaluation and a large number of seedlings, unless you just happen to be really lucky (which can happen, but don’t expect it).

The fifth and final point I want to look at here is that over-focus on a specific aesthetic can limit you and hamper the potential of your breeding program. Let’s say you love purple and nothing but purple. Can you make a breeding program and have nothing but purple cultivars in your garden? You can, but maybe, just maybe, you would have a more successful program (and even a more attractive garden) by also keeping a few excellent, exceptional light yellows and pale melons. Maybe you don’t want to see anything but purple seedlings in your seedling beds (good luck!!), but maybe your program will benefit from having a muddy purple/orange from having crossed your best purple with a very exceptional yellow. The more you restrict yourself, the less room you have to move. 

And here is the thing. None of us know going in what is going to give the best results. You have to experiment and get a feel for breeding value and how the various traits work. Just because you want your program to revolve around one or two given traits doesn’t mean you will probably want a garden/program that includes nothing else. At the very least, you need to few plants known to be exceptional plants (regardless of flower type) just to have that point of reference. Focus can be very good. Unrealistic focus that can’t abide anything else and that can’t deal with bridge plants isn’t likely to make anything new. What it is most likely to do is to concentrate what is already there. At first, or if you can ignore a lot, this can be good, because a given trait can get more extreme, but such concentration also concentrates all the bad traits that are lurking there under the surface. In time, that can become a major problem. Making small corrections along the way can be done with little disturbance. Making huge corrections late in the game can cause oscillations that can tip your boat over.

In closing, I just want to stress that you should pursue what you love. Pursue it with abandon, feel all the feels and glory in the joy and wonder of what turns you on. But be prepared to apply discipline and patience. Allow space to work with things that don’t give you all the feels. Sometimes the mousy little flower contains magic hidden in the genes. Some extremely valuable traits are on plants that have flowers that may seem plain or unexciting, refusing to feed your need for an adrenaline buzz. Every moment can’t be rainbows and limousines. Important work happens in the dull, the boring, the plain, the mundane, and sometimes that is where the truly exciting emerges. So how do you not ruin your breeding program by over-focus on your aesthetic? You realize there is more to any subject than that little bit that thrills you personally, and you learn through comparison what the good and bad extremes are, in order to make use of and concentrate the former and to avoid concentration of the later by applying patient craftsmanship.

To read the other posts in the series, click here, or go to the link at the page header for 'The Daylily as Art'.