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Hemerocallis dumortieri

Every time I see this plant it takes my breath away. And that’s not something I say very often about daylilies.

Most hemerocallis are, let’s face it, a bit vulgar. A bit in-yer-face, look at me, let it all hang out and let’s see who can talk the loudest. If they were people they’d wear braces and you’d know within five minutes of meeting them how much they earned and that they had a Ferrari and/or 4×4 Landcruiser in the garage.

There seems to be a competition among breeders at the moment to see who can produce the biggest flowers, the largest petals, the brightest colours. More recently there’s been a fad for wierd petal shapes. They couldn’t stop at the quite-attractive spider types: oh, no. They had to have twisted petals or ones that droop like strips of wet newspaper or ones with frilly edges. Over 400 new varieties were added to the RHS Plantfinder last year alone, for heaven’s sake.

Well: we’ve all been here before. Petunias, double hollyhocks, those poor benighted begonias you see in the garden centres churned out by the gazillion with day-glo colours and choking on their own flowers. I don’t think the daylily hybridising factory has gone quite that far… yet. But they’re getting there.

Despite all the overbreeding I do have a soft spot for hemerocallis. They count as edibles in my garden: when I’m feeling exotic I snap off a flower bud as I wander by and munch it as I walk, or wow the local kids by inviting them to eat a petal or two.

If you’re very, very careful, and avoid the hoi polloi like the plague, there’s an elite class of daylily which is untouched by all the common-as-muck excess: a group which maintains its elegance, its poise and its exquisite beauty with a haughty froideur that elevates to a definite cut above.

Hemerocallis dumortieri is perhaps the most genuinely classy daylily of them all. Not for her the bigger-is-better brigade: she knows that all the best things come in small packages. Her flowers are just the right shade of buttery yellow and she knows she has no need for frills and flounces: like so many things in life, she’s all the more eloquent for her simplicity.

She doesn’t overdo the tastefulness though. Like most girls with instinctive style, she knows that if you’re going to carry off a look – if you’re going to tip the balance from pretty to drop-dead gorgeous – you need to give it one well-judged flash of brilliance. With H. dumortieri it’s her wine-dark buds, emerging in abundance from the foliage (also, in its slender strappiness – so fine in comparison to the thuggish clumps daylies usually form – sheer perfection).

An exquisite blend of Dubonnet and coke, the eruption of yellow from within is a real tour de force. For a final, definitive coup d’elegance the burgundy is retained as a brush stroke of contrast on the back of just the right number of yellow petals.

She doesn’t even do that mildly irritating thing other daylilies do, casting off their spent flowers in drooping rags which if left hanging about spoil the appearance of the plant within hours. The spent flowers here are discreetly borne: you have to seek them out among the profusion of new growth if you are to dead-head and keep the display at its full, dazzling splendour.

This is a daylily to covet, arriving fashionably early in the season, stealing the show long before the crowd turns up. I can’t even fault her for being high-maintenance: in fact my clump has been here since before I arrived, evidence that she can cope with many, many years of neglect and still come back to give of her best.

All in all, this daylily has a lesson for all those plant breeders out there. If you’re looking to create something that will really captivate hearts, just remember: less is more.

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