Announcement and Reflections
July 27, 2020
First, to the announcement... I have decided I won't be shipping any orders in late summer/fall of 2020. I have suspected this would be necessary since last fall, but I was not certain. By now, I am certain. I haven't taken any orders for fall 2020 as yet, so none will have to be delayed, which I am very happy about. I have a ton of work in all the gardens that I have been putting off, or only partially doing, for several years now, and it has to get caught up this summer/fall. This will allow me to be more organized, have less busy-work and be able to focus more on my breeding program and shipping orders in the years to come. I will again be shipping in spring 2021, and will return to regular summer/fall shipping in 2021. I appreciate your understanding, and I apologize for anyone who had their heart set on getting plants this fall.
If you have looked over my availability list, you will see that many of my own introductions are sold out, and that is one part of the work I will be getting caught up on this fall - lining out my sold out introductions so they can be available again in the future. Luckily, I have focused my work in the fall for the last couple of years on getting line outs done for upcoming introductions and so I will have a very exciting group of new introductions for spring 2021, all highly rust resistant with good thrips resistance, with some amazing plant traits and flowers too! There will be both tetraploids and diploids introduced for 2021.
A 2021 future introduction Vorlon Oddity x Phoenician Royalty - Highly rust resistant and showing strong resistance to thrips is both an excellent plant for a rust resistance breeding program, and just and exceptional garden plant with a lovely, clear colored flower for any garden.
Now, for some looking back. The year 2020 has been an interesting and beautiful year. Following a mild winter with lots of rain, we only had a few late, hard freezes, and though I expected there to be some problems from those, they were not followed by a spring drought, and so even without any addition of fertilize, the constant rain saw the plants (mostly) recover quickly and give a wonderful display through the early and mid parts of the season.
The early flowering plants started about a week or two later than usual, but because of the warmth and rain, the season sped up and the mid season started a couple of weeks early. All of June was just gorgeous, and the seedling beds were simply a revelation this year! What was revealed? Well, first and foremost, I now know beyond any doubt that I have laid down the program I want. I am now in the ninth full year of my program and I have seen a few generations, and I now know that the first generation base plants that I bred back in 2011 and 2012 have shown longterm consistency and have breeding value for the types of traits that I want to focus on over the next decade of my program, both in terms of plant traits and flower traits.
One of my favorite base plant seedlings from the 2011 breeding season, Ancient Elf x Solaris Symmetry. A+ rust resistance in all five years of screening, extremely high thrips resistance and a hard dormant that is extremely pod fertile and produces an amazing range of seedlings in a wide array of clear colors, some with patterns, others with eye/edge. I have crossed the plant in every direction imaginable over the years with very good results and many retained offspring. The four pictures below are all seedlings of this plant, and show some of the exciting flowers it can produce, in addition to passing its amazing plant traits. Click any image for a larger version.
By the beginning of July, we began to move into a drought, and so by the second week of July, even though the mid-late and late were just beginning to flower, the season was basically grinding to a halt (though there are still things flowering as of writing, and Sandra Elizabeth isn't close to starting yet...) I have spent the entire month of July in heavy-duty culling mode. I have two massive seedling beds, both jammed full of seedlings, many of them from the last three years of my rust resistance screening program. Because I consider the highly rust resistant seedlings to be very valuable, I wanted to spend several years observing them to select as many as possible for future breeding and potentially for introduction, but, you can't keep'em all. Granted, if I were in a purely academic setting, or I wanted to move forward with more rust resistance screening, making that the sole aspect of my program, I would have kept many, many more than I have ended up retaining.
However, my goal at the start was two-fold: 1.) First and foremost, to create a base stock of highly resistant plants with exceptional plant traits, high breeding value for rust resistance, thrips resistance and (at least carrying) many modern, fancy flower traits to use in the establishment of my own flower breeding program, and 2.) To offer tested, field-screened plants, some of which have also been tested for breeding value for rust resistance, to those who want to grow rust resistant plants in their garden (where rust is endemic), and for those who wish to pursue a breeding program for rust resistance. I have achieved both of those objectives and I have found myself at the point where I needed to finish up the culling of the seedlings from the last years of screening. So that has been the big push for this year, and will be work that will probably continue on through till cold weather shuts down garden work for this year.
Many of you will have seen pictures of my seedling beds here on this blog. Some few of you who have visited have walked through them. Those beds were dense with seedlings. My method has been to plant them thick, planting the seeds directly in the ground, and letting the competition eliminate the weak plants. Even when I had heavily culled a row in rust resistance screening, over time, the select, highly-resistant have formed clumps and were again in thick rows. In culling this year, after many years of observing these seedlings, the goal was total elimination of all but the very best. Just the rust resistance, in-and-of-itself, is not enough to retain any of these. How many yellow, trumpet-formed rust resistant siblings do I really need?
In such an instance, if I had already selected one or two such siblings that have consistently shown the best thrips resistance, branching, bud count and/or flower substance, then that will have to do. When you have thousands of these, you just can't keep them all and have any hope of making a serious effort at continued breeding. Or at least you can't with a workforce of one... If I had unlimited resources and a workforce of a few dozen, then I would keep absolutely every rust resistant seedling, cross them several ways, raise all those seedlings and screen them again for rust resistance for another five years, but none of that is possible, and I am tired of spinning my wheels on something that most daylily growers simply don't care about one whit. For anyone who is interested in rust resistance (and I value each and every one of you and greatly appreciate hearing from you!), I have laid down a base you can continue to work with, both in terms of plant introductions and available information about how to do the work, and will continue to introduce rust resistant plants for some few years to come. For myself, I have achieved the goal of creating base plants to now begin building my flower breeding program.
This work has been hard, but gratifying. I have culled diploids much more harshly than tetraploids. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that there are many more diploids with rust resistance than there are tetraploid cultivars. The second is that I am not very focused on diploids, and the third is that I have an exponentially larger number of rust resistant diploid seedlings than tetraploid seedlings. Because there are a good number of diploid cultivars out there with rust resistance, anyone can start a program at the dip level easily, so I have felt it important to only retain (and potentially introduce) rust resistant diploid seedlings that are also exceptional in many other aspects.
A lovely toothy seedling showing A+ rust resistance through the last two years of rust resistance screening. While it does not have the level of thrips resistance I would like, rust resistance of this level is extremely rare in the toothy types, and so this seedling has earned the right to move forward for further testing and possible breeding use.
With the rust resistant tetraploid seedlings, I still have more than I could possibly work with, and so with them I also have set high criteria for what I will keep. I had rows of seedlings with high rust resistance that had, say, poor foliage, poor branching and flowers with poor substance and poor sun/rain resistance. I culled all of those, only keeping plants with high rust resistance combined with multiple other exceptional traits. Because I have a number of traits that are important to me, just rust resistance alone is not enough. The other traits have to be there too for a plant to be selected to move forward in my program or to be introduced. The real achievement, and the jewels in the crown of my program, in terms of establishing my base plants, have been those where a large number of my criteria have been realized in individual plants.
An amazing diploid seedling showing the color changing effect, with major bronze and army green tones throughout much of the day - colors that are very rare and exotic in the daylily. A+ rust resistance and good vigor, this plant represents a big step forward in terms of both plant traits and flower traits.
The actual logistics of the culling work has been, of necessity, circuitous. Because I am not as young or capable as I once was, I couldn't just go in and dig out all the deselected plants. The very good year gave me the ability to observe all these seedlings at their best. I have previously observed them all at their worst in bad years. One thing I could be sure of this year was that anything that looked bad this year wasn't going to look better in a bad year. So I tagged the selected with marking tape, both on the scape and with a tag tied around the base of the fans of the selected plant. Then, once a row had all bloomed, I simply went in with a sharp long-handled shovel and cut all the deselected off at the ground, dropping their tops down to make mulch. I am still working on this process as of this writing, and it is likely to continue on for a month or more.
The large seedling bed in mid-July, after a couple of weeks of heavy culling. The culling is even more extensive now. You can see here that multiple rows have been taken down to one, two or three select seedlings, and you can see the deselected seedling tops drying on the ground as a new layer of mulch, keeping down new weeds and giving the nutrients they have absorbed back to the soil.
As the tops of the deselected and cut-off regrow, I can knock them back with a weed-eater easily. The selected plants are obvious, with fully grown tops and spent scapes, plus the scape tag at the fan base and on the scape. The deselected growing close to the selected have (mostly) been dug and composted at this point. If I am able I will dig the selected and line them out this fall. If not, they can grow where they are for another year or so and be mowed around so that only they are allowed to grow, and without any competition. For those that have to be left in place this year, I will put in stakes to mark them because next year, the deselected that have not been dug will be mowed until they can be dug out or plowed under. I just don't even want to see them again. I am done with those which have been deselected, at this point. They have been given many years to impress, up to seven years in some instances, and that is five or six years more than they would have gotten in many programs.
The smaller seedling bed showing select seedlings standing with a new layer of daylily mulched formed by the chopped-and-dropped deselected seedlings
The whole point with all my work now is that I have to make allowance for times when I can't get my work done in a timely fashion. I have learned from experience that if I push myself too hard and end up injured, nothing gets done for four to eight weeks. Making all plans fluid so that I can adjust timelines is essential, and allows me to pace myself as I get each part done. I may get all this work finished this fall, or it might take me a year or more to completely finish it, but I have designed every aspect so that it can be done incrementally, and it can all sit in place without my effort going to waste. That is important, because the most important digging/dividing/moving and lining-out that I have to do this fall is my 'sold-out' introductions, as they are in high demand and I hate to turn away people who want to grow them. If you have had to wait, trust that getting those line outs done is a priority. And so, if something has to be delayed, it will be the digging of the last of the selects from the final years of rust screening.
Another view of the smaller seedling bed showing the extensive culling, with very select seedlings in an ocean of new "daylily mulch" formed from the deselected seedlings
In addition to the seedlings from the last three years of the rust screening, which I have been doing final selections on this summer (from breeding years 2013, 2014, 2015), I have also been doing selection/culling on seedlings from the two years following the last year of rust screening (from breeding years 2016 and 2017). Even though I have culled out thousands of seedlings, I still have a few hundred select seedlings from the years 2013-2017 that will now, eventually, need to be dug and moved for further evaluation and final selection - moving into the breeding program or not, being selected for introduction or not - in the next few years. However, due to the way I am doing the culling, I can leave them in place and mark them with a stake, allowing them to grow and continue being tested where they are, should that need to be the case. I will have cleared out deselected seedlings immediately around the select seedlings by the beginning of winter, and that means that next year, I can simply mow around the tagged/staked, individual select seedlings to keep down weeds and deselected seedlings, for any/all I don't get moved.
A lovely red tetraploid seedling with a large, flat, unusual form flower. This plant, bred in 2012, showed A+ rust resistance through the last four years of my screening program and shows moderate thrips resistance with a vigorous plant, tall, well-branched scapes and excellent fertility. It also has high breeding value for its many good traits and has produced some lovely spider and UF seedlings, which have also made it be select status.
But beyond getting all this culling done (the biggest job and the prime objective!), there are other objectives in this work. One is to open up some new space in order to plant new seeds next year. I have made very few crosses this year, just needing a break, and having so much to do that I felt a year-long pause was appropriate. Further, the mass of seedlings have really made everything so overwhelming that it has not been clear exactly how to move forward. So this year, I have made only a few crosses, most involving one of the select base plant seedlings bred in 2011 or 2012 that have gone been through all five years of rust resistance screening and have also been screened for thrips resistance since 2013. These were crossed with select seedlings with rust and thrips resistance with specific, special flower traits to begin to create a small pool of advanced seedlings in terms of both flower and plant traits, and lay the groundwork for the future of my program. In order to plant those seeds, a dozen or so rows have to be opened, and there are at least that many rows in parts of the seedling beds I will be retaining as growing space for some years to come, and have no or very few select seedlings within them. Those rows will be very easy to clear the deselected seedlings from and that can easily be achieved by next spring when I will need to plant the seeds made this summer.
An amazing seedling from the 2011 breeding season that showed A+ rust resistance through all five years of screening with high breeding value for rust resistance, it also shows very high resistance to thrips with a beautiful plant, amazing scapes, branching and bud count and a clear, bright flower. A likely 2021 introduction.
Another reason for the work I have done this year is simply to clear out the overwhelming noise, getting the signal clearer and more obvious. In the early years of my program, huge numbers were essential to find the few plants that had the base traits I needed to build a program. But I have now reached the point where that whole group have to be culled down to the selected plants in order to build that program. Too many things hanging around taking up space because, "well, maybe it will be of some use", is just clogging the channel and muddying the water. To know where I am going, much has to go, in order to have a clear vision and to not be distracted by dozens or hundreds of "well, maybes".
In addition of this need to focus and fine tune is the need to simply reduce the physical space my program takes up. My seedling beds have been large to accommodate the large number of seedlings I needed to raise to find enough rust resistant tetraploid seedlings to build a proper program with the flower traits I want to work with. However, those large seedling beds take a great deal of work to maintain and keep weeded, and as my program focuses and is refined, they will not need to be so large. To this end, much of the elimination I am doing this year will allow me to decrease the size of the seedling beds. The largest seedling bed is already being invaded by bamboo in the western and southern edges, so those two sides are having heavy elimination just so I can reduce the field to start mowing the areas where bamboo now is found (as that is the most effective way to keep it under control). Over the next few years, I plan to reduce that seedling bed by two-thirds, only keeping the northern and eastern 1/3rd of the bed into the future. At some point, that bed will be completely discontinued, returning to a mowed field, perhaps being turned into an orchard space.
A seedling from Hemerocallis fulva 'Korean' x Women Seeking Men that shows a large flower, tall, well-branched scapes, high rust and thrip resistance and strong fertility. I am excited about the future breeding potential of this seedling.
The smaller seedling bed will have a different fate. While some areas will continue to have seeds planted in it for some years to come, much of that garden will be used to grow fulva clones and F1 fulva seedlings. I already grow fulva clones out in grassy areas, mowing around the clumps to contain them, and keeping each planting several feet apart so they don't spread into each other. As the F1 fulva x modern hybrid seedlings eventually also show some level of root spreading (nothing like their fulva parent, but still...), I do not wish to grow them in the regular line-out rows. I already grow some of these in large containers, and I will also be growing them in mowed grass, just as I do with their fulva-clone mothers. So the smaller seedling bed will gradually become such a planting area, containing fulva clones and F1 fulva hybrids that are each grown several feet apart with mowed grass in between them, mixed amongst plantings of small trees and bushes (Pawpaw, Magnolia, Arborvitaes, Holly, etc.) and other perennials such as Hellebore, Siberian Iris, Mallow Hibiscus, etc. I already have a few of my fulva clones and F1 hybrids planted in this area in such fashion, and so over the next few years, this will gradually become the main repository for all of this part of my program.
There will be no major changes in my hybridizing garden this year. I filled it up with select seedlings last year, after eliminating a great number of cultivars from other hybridizers. There will be a little more culling in this garden this year, a few seedlings that will be eliminated from consideration and a few cultivars from other hybridizers that will no longer be used, but for the most part, this bed is in a holding pattern for now. In time, it will gradually be emptied, with all my daylily work moving to my larger line out garden (which is chain-linked and in full sun). For one thing, the bamboo is invading the hybridizing garden from the east, south and west. For another, there is far less full sun in this garden than there used to be. There will only be even less full sun as the trees grow. There are already blueberry bushes in that garden that flourish, and seem to do even better each year, and in time, as I move out the daylilies, I will plant small fruit trees - apples in the sunniest places, pawpaw in the shadier places - and more blueberries, allowing the Hosta, Hellebore and Heuchera to become the major perennials in that garden, and adding herbs that can take partial shade. Like all orchards/shade gardens, this garden will then only get the weeds cut out a couple of times a year, and again, will drastically reduce the level of work I am doing.
A lovely clear, pastel colored seedling showing an eye pattern, from The Spice Must Flow x Solaris Symmetry
I hope to have all these changes done within about five more years, though the greater part of it should be finished up in two or three years. The goal is to have my whole daylily program confined to the two chain-linked garden (my mom's home garden and my line out bed), with the fulva clones and F1 hybrids in their own special area which is mowed to keep them from spreading into each other. The goal is informed by the certain knowledge that I won't be getting any younger as the years move on, and so I am likely to have less and less energy for my work as time moves by, and this all supports the underlying goal of narrowing and focusing my program as well. It is preparation for the future.
Ziggy Played Guitar, one of my 2018 introductions and a very popular cultivar from my program that has been sold out through 2020 and will amongst those being lined out for increase this summer.
One certainty that I have come to over the years is that at the beginning of a breeding program it is best to be sprawling, large and extensive. You do this to gain experience and to find complex and interesting genetic combinations that would be unlikely with small numbers, but as the program develops, as those genetic breaks occur, one must focus, narrow and reduce to make the best possible use of those exceptional individuals. Otherwise, it is my experience, one dilutes the potential of the exceptional with too many irons in the fire.
I would like to leave you with a little metaphor about my program to date. This metaphor will revolve around sculpture. The first years of my program was a time of bringing in powders of various stones, mixing them and casting blocks, finding a good mix and then casting a large block. This was probably the first five years. The second phase was chipping away at the blocks. The last year or two has seen the carving finished, but the raw sculptures aren't fully visible because they are partially hidden by massive piles of detritus and debris from the carving process. The work of this year (and likely part of next year too) is all about piling the debris into wheelbarrows and lugging it off to the dump to clear the raw sculptures so they can be viewed, corrected, fine tuned, polished and finished up.
I look forward to this next phase in my program. I am actually very excited about it. I saw some amazing things in the seedling bed this year. All the materials are present to make some major leaps in terms of flower phenotypes over the next few years. I am excited for the next few years of introductions too, as there will be some highly rust resistant plants, in combination with some very interesting flower phenotypes, which should be extremely useful for those interested in breeding for rust resistance, and for those just looking for interesting flowers on strong-growing plants. Thank you for being patient with me as I get things taken care of this fall, and I look forward to getting plants to you starting again in 2021.
July 27th, 2020