Bringing Light Into the Garden
Seeing Sky Phenomena of Light and Color Reflected in the Garden
A Guide to Observation and Planting
The winter edition of The Daylily Journal (Vol. 73 No. 4 | Winter 2018 | beginning on page 44 ) contains an article I wrote titled Sky Inspired: The Imitation of Light in the Garden with Flowers. In this article I discuss how I view flower colors, and I make recommendations for viewing your garden in terms of sky effects. These sky effects are made by the combined atmospheric influences of water and light. It is an interesting way to view plantings and is a tool I have used in viewing many different styles of gardens. It is a viewpoint heavily influenced by Asian gardens, especially Zen gardens, Taoist gardens and any and all water features from all cultures that use them. To plant a daylily garden in this manner, for me, is to simply extend my interest of viewing gardens in this way into the arrangement of my breeding program. In this way, I can have a productive and relaxing environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and conducive to the kind of long, slow, patient work that is required for the type of program I am working on. I hope you enjoy the view.
Hemerocallis 'So Lovely' in front of variegated reed grass. A tall, pale yellow that approaches near-white by the afternoon.
While I offered observations on how to use the viewpoint of seeing lighting and water effects in flower colors and planting arrangements, I didn't offer much advice on how to plant such a garden. I want to do that herein. Now, if you have an established garden and like it, I would never encourage to move so much as one fan in that garden to make it match what I am describing. This is how I plant gardens. You need to decide how to plant your own gardens. If you want to take something from what I am presenting, I wish you well with it, but I would never expect someone with an established garden to make any changes whatsoever. Perish the thought! If you have an established garden, I would recommend that you simply try using this garden aesthetic when viewing gardens. See if you can see instances where this effect is in play. You might enjoy the view, or not, and you might even find your gardens already have some of this effect at work. I enjoy viewing gardens that were not designed in this way using this viewing technique as much as I like viewing a garden that has been intentionally designed to encapsulate light and reflect the sky. Just try looking at gardens in this way sometime and see if you don't find it relaxing and enjoyable.
Hemerocallis 'Solaris Symmetry'
However, for beginners or people looking to make changes in their gardens, this might be just the viewpoint that makes their design come together. If that is you, you may need some instructions for planting such a garden. Herein I hope to offer some guidelines for planting.
Daylilies seem to me to be especially useful in making a garden that reflects the sky. The fact that no individual flower lasts more than a day means that there is daily change in the sky effects in the garden, just as there so often is in the sky. The range of seasons that can be covered with daylilies can create a range of changing sky effects throughout the entire season. There are many readily available daylilies in a wide range of colors, but there are a great number of wonderful cultivars in a range of yellow and cream tones that are bright and mimic sunlight very well. In mass plantings they can brighten and lighten any dull area. As background plantings, they present the perfect bright background to highlight any accent planting. Further, the pale colored flowers (near-white, cream, pale yellow) tend to hold up better in heat and sun than any of the darker colors, even the darker tones of their own color. To me, these colors are the most important for landscaping purposes, garden use and background planting.
Hemerocallis 'Solaris Symmetry'
In selecting any plant for a background planting, try to make a good selection, as you will have this cultivar in abundance. It can be miserable to be stuck with a lot of something that doesn't perform well in your garden!
Note how the layers of near-white flowers mimic the sky peaking from behind the trees in the background.
As I describe in the original AHS Journal article, there are many sky effects that can be mimicked, from cool, cloudy effects to morning sunrise, morning full sun, afternoon sun, evening sun and clouds, sunset, even night effects, as well as plantings to be seen at night. No matter what sky-inspired effect you might choose for your planting, you will want to consider the use of a main cultivar, or set of cultivars, to become the background. For instance, you might want "summer sunrise" and pick "pink" to be your background. Then you could use a range if different pink cultivars or select one main cultivar for a mass planting with accent plants spread through them. Accents could be drastically different shades of pink (lighter or darker), dark flowers, special shapes, etc. In a regular garden, you can do this same thing with mixed perennials (and annuals if you want). This isn't a technique exclusively for daylily gardens, but a general technique being used to describe potential daylily plantings. So know you can substitute "daylily" for whatever genus you want to use, and produce these same effects.
The most successful background plantings in my experience are not always technically 'in the background'. Above, the mass planting of shorter, pink Hemerocallis 'Hush Little Baby' provides a base or background for the lighter and darker tall cultivars behind it. Height variations work really well to create three-dimensional effects with light and color.
To me, the key to landscape plantings to create such effects is to use mass plantings of climatic-appropriate cultivars. Cultivars must be applicable to your environment for good results. Then use a handful of accent plants, again climate-appropriate, and intersperse these so that they are surrounded by the background plants. Let the background plants carry throughout the planting, using either one cultivar, perhaps a rebloomer that performs well, or using several cultivars mixed for the background to cover a wider season. Depending no your planting, my might choose the background plants to be shorter than the accent plants, to be taller than the accent plants (for a literal background row) or be a mixture of similarly colored cultivars in varying heights for a more loose, roaming effect in the planting.
The following series of images seek to illustrate some of the sky-influenced themes I have created, sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently. With even a little creativity, you can make landscapes that look even better than my seedling beds and breeding gardens. I am not even trying to have a wonderful garden anymore, just to breed daylilies, so with a little creativity, you can take these ideas and run with them.
(More text and planting suggestions below the series of images)
Hemerocallis 'Radiant Moonbeam' - a well-known, vigorous near white
The most classic example of gardens that utilize light, intentionally or not, are 'White gardens'. The famous white garden room of Sissinghurst Garden by Vita Sackville-West is an excellent example of such a garden. As with most white gardens, it must be lovely both under a full moon and in bright morning sunlight!
White gardens are one of my favorite themes, but technically speaking, they are hard to do with daylilies because there are few (if any) truly white daylilies. "White daylilies", more correctly 'near-white' are likely just yellow or melon based flowers that have genetic factors shutting off much of their pigment production, creating colors that are very pale versions of daylily flowers in pink, lavender, yellow or cream. I have never seen one that, side-by-side with a white piece of paper, are white.
Hemerocallis 'Heavenly Angel Ice'
One of the closet to true white that I have grown. In breeding, HAI has thrown lots of nice purple and lavender seedlings for me. I think that HAI is basically a diluted lavender. Brian Mahieu suggested years ago that the whitest whites would be on purple/lavender tones. This was Brian's view from an artist's understanding of the visual and psychological effects of color. As an artist I have the same view. The bluish nature of some purple tones are viewed by our eyes as cool and closer to white. I suspect there are a bunch of dilution factors combined to create flowers that are anthocyanic colors, but are diluted down to near white.
Hemerocallis 'Mini Pearl'
A nice small cultivar that shows large numbers of buds in the mid-season, is a lovely pale melon (dilution with melon pigment change from carotene). This color gives a gentle glow in mass plantings. This color looks good in the warmer, midday background. Mingled with yellow and orange accent flowers, the melon dilutes the effect and makes it more diffuse and less blazing hot.
The picture above feels like morning sunrise, softer than sunset with more pastel tones, there is the feeling of sunlight rising through a fringe of dark clouds, light in the distance, threatening to emerge, and rosy in the dark clouds.
Bright, early morning sun striking the tall plantings in the background, but leaving this little enclave of purple, lavender and near-white cultivars in reflected light, but shadowed, enhancing the bluish tones and pulling the brightness of the distant, approaching sun into this early morning display. The flowers are at their freshest, starting out the day in the misty light of a cool late spring morning. The colors evoke the mist and the light that makes it possible to see that mist.
Hemerocallis 'Substantial Substance'
As we progress to a warm, midday color scheme, brighter yellows can become an important backbone to the rest of the planting. These scream 'midday', to me! Combined with color colors, they will brighten, and with warmer colors, they will enhance the overall effect of warmth. Medium, bright yellow daylily flowers have many, many uses in the garden.
Hemerocallis 'Substantial Glow'
This bright, 'acid-orange' is a wonderful background fill to create a hot, tropical feeling. Combined with cooler accents, is can feel like soft afternoon light, or with hotter colors, the tropical warmth of Tahiti.
Hemerocallis 'Frans Hals'
Long used in landscaping and the second most popular daylily next to Stella DeOro in commercial daylily use, Frans Hals is far older, and in many ways, far superior to Stella. Everything about Frans Hals screams 'tropical', and it is an incredibly tough and adaptable daylily. For afternoon sky colors in the mid-late to late season, Frans Hals can't be beat.
This is a garden designed to mimic both the summer sunset and the paintings of the artist Paul Gauguin, from his Tahitian phase. The bright yellow central planting is the sun itself. The purple waves around it are clouds darkening as sunset approaches, while the bright orange is the heat and light of the sun as it burns into the atmosphere at an angle, creating the fiery glow. The mingling of pink with orange enhances the atmospheric effect, while the bits of yellow in the far distance simulate light hitting high clouds and reflecting brightly. On the mundane level, the banana trees in the background give one a sense of being in a tropical setting, which the bright colors enhance. In this way the planting is both cerebral and sensual in its impact and effect.
This combination of the red Hemerocallis 'Insider Trading' and variegated reed grass has a candy cane Christmas feel, but can also be seen as a bright red sunrise or sunset with clouds high in the sky.
Bright sunset tones, hot rich red and bright magenta purple, create the effect of a bright, hot sunset.
And here, a more pastel version of the above theme, gives a softer feel, more akin to a soft sunrise or sunset, with light filtering through clouds, creating an array of pastel tones.
Some daylilies come in an array of lovely gray/lavender tones that mimic cloudy days. In mass planting of these grayish tones, near-white and near-black flowers can make a striking and stormy accent! While subtle, the colors of cloudy days and storms make an interesting theme.
Near black flowers can be very striking in the landscape. They bring dark clouds and a reminder of night into gardens with any lighting theme. There can be drawbacks to dark flowers though. Flowers of such intense pigmentation draw solar radiation and the surfaces of the petals can be many degrees warmer than the general surrounding. For this reason, many of the darker daylily flowers, including dark red, purple and the super concentrated 'near-black' types can melt in the hot sun of summer. I have not seen many with very high resistance to this effect. Growing them in shade helps, but that tends to suppress flowering and increase. I love them, but grow them sparingly. I have been working on this problem of melting dark flowers in my own work with some success, but I do not know if they can ever show the kind of resistance a pale yellow or near white flower shows, merely due to the cooling and reflective effect of the palest flowers.
The combination of high contrast values can make for very interesting and stimulating combinations. Here, the dark colored Hemerocallis 'Vorlon Encounter Suit' and Hemerocallis 'Vorlon Revelation'. With careful selection, I think a garden of near-black and near-white flowers laid out as a chessboard could be quite interesting! However, by just using one as a background and the other as an accent, you can make very dramatic plantings. Be careful in selecting plantings to make sure both cultivars are appropriate to your climate and that both flower at the same time. You might want to stagger some plantings for seasonal variation, but if you need two cultivars in bloom at the same time to make a particular effect, then you need to be careful in selecting the cultivars for time of flower and suitability to your area. Black and white always reminds me of dark clouds with light shining through them. The combination of black and white flowers for nighttime viewing, where evening lighting is present or for use under the full moon, can be very striking, as the near-white flowers glow in the light, while the near-black flowers absorb the light and seem sort of predatory and a touch spooky, like bats perhaps. It is an interesting effect, and another use of light (or its absence).
One final lighting effect is darkness itself. Under lighting or the moon, yellow, near-white and cream tones glow. They should! Their yellow species ancestors evolved to be pollinated by moths. In gardens near patios or in special areas that can be lit, nighttime gardens can be extremely wonderful, as can gardens that are viewed by the moon. Nocturnal daylilies such as Hemerocallis 'Notify Ground Crew' begin opening in the late evening and stay open all night, often far into the next day. In my experience, near-white nocturnal daylilies are extremely pretty under either artificial lighting or under the moon.
Now lets consider planting strategies to create good daylily plantings.
An individual daylily can be attractive as an accent planting, if it has very good foliage characteristics. In group plantings, foliage should still be nice, but may in many instances be hidden by clumps in front of them or by other plants, and so foliage traits might be less of a focus for some (though not really for me - I mention it because I have seen plants with foliage I don't like used well in landscapes by judicious placement). I can't stress enough that selecting strong cultivars with foliage behavior suitable for your climate is imperative.
Once you have a color scheme, select one or more background cultivars and procure multiple divisions of each, either by purchasing or digging your own clumps and dividing them into multiple divisions. Mix other genera of flowering plants with your daylilies if you like. Take stock of all the materials you have for the area you will be planting.
Get the measurement of the area you have to plant and figure out how thick you want to plant the divisions you have to work with. I prefer to plant daylilies in alternating rows. If row one has plants at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc., then the next row has plants at 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. The third row then returns to the same pattern as the first. This creates an X-shaped grid planting and gives the daylilies better spacing. I prefer that no daylily is closer than 24" from any other daylily around it, but with smaller cultivars or in smaller spaces, you might squeeze them into as little as 12" apart in each direction. For very large daylily cultivars like Notify Ground Crew or Eos At Dawn, a larger spacing of 2 1/2' to 3' in each direction is best. Do your research to determine the spacing grid you will need, then proceed to plant in the X-grid formation. You can break up the outer edge of the grid so that it is not too symmetrical, if you want a more natural feeling or you can use the X-grid to do more symmetrical or formal arrangements.
Depending on your area, you may choose many different ways to form the garden. If on level ground from which you can approach the accent plants from any direction, use shorter background fill cultivars to allow the accent plants to be on display. If you are working with an incline, you can play with heights to get different effects. In situations where you are working from a viewing edge to a terminal endpoint such as a wall or other border, work from short to medium to tall, just as you would in a traditional walled perennial garden. In that setting, you can use accent and background in every layer and at every height. If you are working with containers on a patio or enclosed garden, use whatever strikes your fancy, keeping in mind that you might have a very good situation for using nocturnal flowers for night viewing and that both short and tall cultivars could have applications.
The background plants do not have to all be the same, but if they are close in color or tone or fit into a theme (say shades of a color that move from darker to lighter versions) they will tie the planting together into something that makes sense up close and at a distance. The accent plant can be one cultivar, or multiple cultivars. Do what you want with the accent plants, but some sense of theme amongst them will make the planting have more cohesion. Examples would be all light colored background and all dark colored accent, or all simple, short pale background plants with toothy edged, taller accent plants, as just two examples.
Regardless of what you decide to combine, remember that it is your garden. Do what makes you happy. If playing with light in the garden makes you happy, then by all means give it a try. If you have a planted garden and don't want to change your own wonderful themes, then just try viewing gardens as manifestations of lighting and atmospheric effects and enjoy the show.