Different people mark the beginning of summer in a variety of different ways. Joe The Cop, fellow CN blogger, may note it by the increase of arrests he makes. I mark the beginning of summer by the arrival of the common orange daylily. I don’t care what the calendars say, I don’t care how many street and neighborhood festivals have passed, I don’t care when the E.coli levels drop enough to make going into the lake safe or when the Taste of Chicago begins. Summer doesn’t arrive in Chicago until the orange daylily says so.
Earlier this week the orange daylilies started blooming in my garden. They actually isn’t mine–I never planted them. These daylilies once grew along the fence of the property next door, they were forgotten when the gardener moved away and eventually paved over by the next owner. Every once in a while I’d notice a few of the strappy leaves growing in the gap of the paved garden next door and the gangway along the side of the house. A couple of years after I started my outdoor garden they started to grow, encouraged by the water and fertilizer I wasn’t too careful about applying. Now there’s a little row of them growing and blooming like mad fifteen years since they last bloomed when I was a kid. I love the way the flowers glow a fiery orange as the sun sets and the light bathes them, the contrast of the orange against the weathered cedar fence makes me stop every time and admire them.
As daylilies go; the orange daylily doesn’t get much respect because they are so hardy that it has become common, a pest–a weed if you will. They survive throughout Chicagoland in empty lots, abandoned gardens, in alleys, cemeteries, along roads and train tracks.
Their ability to continue long after they have fallen out of horticultural favor and long after a gardener is around to tend to them has earned them the “ditch lilies” common name. You can tell a true garden snob by the dismissive wave of the hand they employ when talking about Orange daylilies or so-called ditch lilies.
While common, nothing seems to give a garden age like a stand or two of orange daylilies. It is difficult to find this perennial in garden centers in Chicago but you can dig them out of abandoned areas or ask a gardener for some when they divide plants. I’ve even seen people in the Farm & Garden section of Craigslist beg others to come and dig them out. If you count garden snobs among your friends you can always explain the presence of orange daylilies in your garden by saying they were planted by the previous owner to save face.
Daylilies belong to the genus Hemerocallis and are not true lilies. The word Hemerocallis is Greek and made up of two parts: hemera meaning day and kallos meaning beauty. You may remember from studying Greek mythologoy that Hemera was the goddess of the daytime. A very apropos name since each flower lasts only for one day. All parts of the daylily are edible, the roots are said to be used in Asian cooking and the buds and blooms can be added to soups, stews and salads. They also make good cut flowers and whenever I see them growing in the alley or empty lot I clip a few and take them home to enjoy indoors.
As you’re out and about this summer enjoying the lake front, barbecues, outdoors events and cold beer, take a few moments to admire the orange daylily. It just wouldn’t be summer without it.