In this article I would like to lay out what I see as an effective approach to hybridization in the north. The “north” can be defined in many ways. The way in which we choose to define the north is colored by our own locations. There are many perspectives on what constitutes northern hybridization. But for the sake of this article let us agree that the entirety of Region 2 lies in the north.

  I do not see myself as trying to outdo the hybridizers in Florida . Their goals are to get the prettiest faces on plants that are healthy and vigorous in their climates. I have heard too often from the southern hybridizers that they are not worried about bud counts. They rely on rebloom to make the season longer. In areas north of the Ohio River most people don't get enough rebloom at this point to matter. That is a very large portion of the membership of AHS and daylily lovers in general. How a cultivar reblooms in the south has very little to do with its value to us in the north, neither as a garden plant nor as a plant to use in hybridization. We must seek out and emphasize the exceptional cultivar which performs as we desire in our climate.

  In order to get good bud branching and bud counts one must choose parents which are well budded and branched. I disagree with the people who will select a parent on the budding and branching listed in the introductory material from a hybridizer growing it much farther south. You must chose on the basis of what it is doing for you in your garden. The seedlings you will be growing from that parent are going to be under the same conditions as the parent when they bloom. If the parent plants are performing poorly in the environment of your garden the seedlings are likely to be just as reduced as the parent was in buds and branching. This is not the path to rebloom

It is likewise with other faults, poor foliage, susceptibility to leaf streak, thrips damage. etc. If you use parents with those problems you will find that too many of their babies will show up with the same limitations. We have known that for a long time but we have continued in the delusion that rebloom is something of an exception. The path to northern rebloom is to use only the parent plants that rebloom in our gardens. In many of the gardens of Region 2 that rebloom is rare indeed. But if a few plants can perform in that way I must believe that many can. The key to achieving that is a new emphasis on the trait of rebloom in our hybridization. It should also be a part of what the buyer of daylilies expects from new introductions.

There was great discussion on the AHS email robin this past winter as to what constitutes cutting edge. I would like to suggest that plant performance is a major portion of that cutting edge. Specifically buds and rebloom and branching should be in the center of our focus.

It has been observed many times in gatherings of hybridizers in which I have participated that it is so easy to get a pretty face. That is absolutely true. It is doubly true when you follow the old guideline of hybridizing "pretty to pretty." I gave up that formula years ago. I ended up with fields of pretty seedlings that did not have enough quality otherwise to deserve introduction. There have been thousands of seedlings here at Ashwood Garden over the years which had a pretty enough face for me to have introduced. I have resisted the temptation to do so as I feel that an introduction that does not add something new to what is available is not worthy. A seedling with a really pretty face but only a dozen buds does not impress me.

I like to call my method of parent selection "quality to quality."  That assures that many if not most of the babies will have at least a shot at being good enough to be introduced. I no longer have any interest in raising gorgeous seedlings with bud counts of 10 to 15. At the very minimum I want to use parents that have 25 to 30 buds themselves. It is best if both parents are up to that standard. 

   Our bloom season begins here about the 20th of June. By the end of July most any bloom in the gardens here is rebloom. Over ten years ago I began to concentrate on breeding during the time after the main season when so many of the blooms present were rebloom. I began to see more and more of that rebloom as each year went by. At the same time I began to go away from using purchased cultivars and toward using my own seedlings for hybridization. It was clear by that time that there was much more rebloom in my own stock than there was in the display beds which featured the hybridization efforts from other gardens. The results just got better each year. Now if a plant does not rebloom I am very hesitant to introduce it or even use it in my hybridization program.

This contrasts with the experiences of my friends in the Metropolitan Columbus Daylily Society who barely get rebloom at all. The Columbus area is at a latitude which is only 30 miles north of me. That 30 mile difference has allowed me to work with rebloom at close to the farthest north (at least here in Ohio ) that much of it can be seen.

As you move farther south the rebloom becomes more and more common. And breeding for rebloom in those areas may not produce cultivars that are capable of doing it even as far north as I am.  I feel I am very fortunate to live in a location which lends itself to breeding for such a wonderful characteristic. I now hope that there are a number of people who take my reblooming introductions and the introductions of others and use them to push the area of decent rebloom farther north.

About the year 2000 I began to see more and more of a phenomenon that I like to call instant rebloom. This occurs when the first scape comes up, begins to bloom and at that time a second scape appears. The timing of the blossoms of the first scape and the second scape overlap for a period. During that time the bloom is simply spectacular. After the first scape is done the second one gives more of a typical level of flowering to the clump. The grower gets two major benefits from instant rebloom, a greatly extended bloom season and a much enhanced mid season of bloom which can bring tears to your eyes with its beauty. 

In a more northern setting the instant rebloom brings another advantage. The second round, "instant rebloom", comes earlier in the season. Normal rebloom is different. That type of rebloom occurs when there has been a delay of a few days to a number of weeks after a scape has finished blooming. When you move to northern Ohio any normal rebloom that you happen to get is likely to have serious problems opening or may even present a blossom that is unattractive. So what is the point of rebloom if that is the result? Because of that problem rebloom has been something that has not been very attractive to many hybridizers in the past.

Instant rebloom avoids the problem of fighting the colder nights of later summer. It is a wonderful solution for extending the season in the north. Right now there are so few cultivars that are able to do it. I hope that more and more hybridizers will concentrate on it. Instant rebloom is not an uncommon characteristic of plants in Florida . What is rare is the cultivar bred in Florida that will still do it in Ohio . I am not aware of one that will give instant rebloom here with any regularity. 

I am heartened to be hearing feedback from more and more people about their interest in instant rebloom. It is a quality that is an easy sell once a daylily lover sees what it can do.

In the course of thinking about how to advise hybridizers that are still looking for a direction for their efforts, I came up with the phrase, the “climate driven niche”. I would advise every hybridizer looking for a direction who would like to make a contribution to the world of daylilies to take stock of their own local special conditions. I can not assess what they may be for you. You need to observe, compare and listen. Find out what that peculiar challenge is that your climate gives you. Does your climate perhaps limit the rate of increase of fans and thus make putting newer cultivars on the market a slow and frustrating experience? Breed for increase. Do cold nights cause opening problems? Put special emphasis on cold morning openers. Observe what would improve daylilies in your area and go for it!

When I saw that I had a little rebloom while most to my north did not see it, I looked to rebloom as the area of my concentration. Much farther south and I would have been unable to make as much progress in northern rebloom because it comes too easily. Much farther north and the rebloom is so seldom that breeding for is more of a challenge. 

When you make the trip to Southern Mecca don't come away with the frustration I have heard so many times from the returnees. "I came home and felt like throwing out my whole program." I would suggest that you instead come home and decide what it is that you can breed for that they can't breed for. Those wonderfully talented and ambitious Florida hybridizers can't select for instant rebloom under Ohio conditions. They don’t have the conditions in general that will enable them to breed for plants that are going to excel in the snowy north. No northern hybridizer has the conditions of climate that will guide him to consistently select introductions that are going to shine in the far south. If we try to put our efforts in that direction we are setting ourselves up for frustration.

Everyone who has a program going for an extended period begins to develop a stock which performs best under their own local conditions. Start breeding from your own best seedlings as soon as you can. You will soon see more fine qualities in your own stock than you see in the plants you paid so much for. You are well on your way to becoming a hybridizer who can contribute to the progress of the northern daylily. Real hybridization comes when a person develops his/her own line, breeds from that line, (with judicious inputs from the work of others) and puts a special mark on the daylily. That is the way to make a real impact in the daylily world.

I think that anybody who has been involved in daylilies for even a short period of time begins to realize there are too many daylilies that are introduced that lack much distinction. The majority of daylilies require signs to identify them. This is often true even for the person who has grown the cultivar for a few years. It is so bad sometimes that the hybridizer fails to identify their own introduction. This is more understandable if the qualities which make a daylily distinct are more subtle. In an ideal world a daylily would not require a sign to identify it.

But in the real world signs will always be needed. Several of the types of distinction which are of value may not be readily apparent. Performance characteristics such as rebloom and foliage types are not usually seen at a glance. I do wonder though how many times a clump of daylilies has been discarded because over a few years nobody was able to identify it.

I hope we all can agree that breeding plants and introducing plants that are truly distinctive is what we want. I once read a comment on my program that it was remarkable that "lightning had struck more than once at Ashwood." Lightning striking becomes more likely if one raises 10,000 to 25,000 seedlings per year. It becomes a little like standing out in the rain with a copper rod in your hand. Sooner or later lightning is going to strike. There is a lot of work and discomfort while you are waiting but I guarantee lightning will eventually come to you.

There may be some shortcuts to attracting the daylily "lightning strike." One involves becoming very sensitive to what constitutes distinction. You can only do that by observing many thousands of daylilies. One must first be aware of what is out there before one recognizes a truly distinct seedling. Garden visits are excellent for this. For me a hybridizer's seedling fields are the most interesting places in the garden. One of the finest ways to develop an eye for distinction and quality is to take the workshops that lead to becoming a garden judge. These workshops will enable you to begin to develop the ability to recognize when you are looking at a daylily that has that something special that makes the daylily world sit up and take notice. It would be a shame if someone had that “lightning strike” hit and never realize it.

You can also learn a great deal from those who come to your garden. They do not even have to be experienced in daylilies. After all we are working to produce flowers that should ultimately delight the home gardener who is far from an expert in the genus Hemerocallis. I always welcome visitors in my seedling fields. They may see some things that my blinders prevent me from seeing. Don't fool yourself! You are wearing blinders too! We all are.

Once you have a clearer picture of what exists in the world of daylilies, you have come to what may be harder. You have determined what is not now available. Now you need to figure out a path to the possible creation of that cultivar. But you do need to decide on a goal and form an idea of how you might be able to achieve it.

On the pathway to that goal you are going to run across some results that are completely a surprise. If your blinders are still firmly in place, you will not see the value of what you have created. You may turn your back on a direction that could bring you some real success and satisfaction.  In the drive to achieve your original goal you might just reject some things that are simply wonderful. If you are set to only recognize success when you have reached the original goal you may end up getting nowhere.

Quite a number of years ago I brought up the idea of breeding for polytepals with a very well established hybridizer. This was before anybody was working in that direction. The individual practically spit out an answer. He said, "daylilies were not meant to have four petals”. His disgust with the idea filled the air. Others will be able to see the blinders we are wearing long before we detect their presence.

I think in recent years we have all become more flexible in our concepts of what a daylily can look like. With bagels, spiders, unusual forms, polytepals, etc., daylilies have become so many things to so many people. . I recently saw a wonderful movie, Pursuit of Happyness, in which Will Smith tells his son something to the effect of, "Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't do something. Not even me." I was fortunate to not have been told that people tried all throughout the 80's to reproduce the no-trumpet look of Judith Weston’s unique LIGHTS OF DETROIT and found that it could not be done. No one told me that it could not be done so I went ahead and did it. In 1993 I might not have tried that cross if I had been told that many people had tried that path and gotten nowhere. I was lucky and made the right cross that opened up the possibility of reproducing that form.  

Creating distinction may mean following a direction that many very smart, experienced and talented people will think is unwise or a dead end. I recall someone referring to a cross they had made writing, “I hope that cross wasn’t a big mistake.” I would like to urge you to think of every cross as a way to learn. There are no mistaken crosses. Sooner or later a really weird cross will give you some exciting, even world class results. Don’t ask me which weird cross that will be. Neither I nor any other hybridizer knows. That’s why we label the cross as “weird”

Broaden your idea of what distinction is too. Earlier I wrote about my desire to create daylilies with high bud counts and great branching. Realize that if you have a seedling with a face that looks like an established cultivar it may still have a reason to live. If your seedling has a lot more buds and the branching is superior it may need to be made available. The ability to rebloom under northern conditions opens up a vast field of possibilities for the northern hybridizer. How many highly touted southern introductions languish under northern conditions? My list would be long indeed. That is not the fault of the southern hybridizer. It is the fault of those of us who just shrug our shoulders and keep trying to grow the plants better thinking it is our fault that they don’t look like the picture in the catalog.

If we want to have great plants for our gardens in the north we have to do it ourselves. They are simply not going to come with any regularity from areas very far from where we live here in Region 2.

At this point I would like to say that I breed daylilies for myself, not the market. If I were breeding for the market I might also be breeding unusual forms and/or spiders. They are hot on the market right now. They are not what give me the satisfaction. I fully respect those who are fascinated by the narrow and twisted cultivars. I like to have a few in the garden for variation in the look of the gardens. But a garden of those forms is not what I want. I think it very important that we all are first true to ourselves.

I have observed that many other people approach daylily hybridization as if it were science. I like to approach it in a more intuitive manner. I asked Jeff Salter about what kind of planning he like to do before he makes his crosses. He answered that he likes to have the blossom which is providing the pollen in his hand as he goes from flower to flower. I was quite gratified because I do not plan crosses either. I use the blossom as my inspiration. I don't carry one around but I have a mental image of the blossom as I travel around the seedling beds looking for the "match made in heaven."

A mistake some people make at is to see the daylilies that they grow in their own garden as unworthy. Then they go out and buy a bunch of fancy faces, usually from a very different area and cross these to each other. They don't pay that much attention to the fact that these expensive plants often are not performing as well as their own "rejects" They are caught up in the mystique of the famous or of the very expensive daylily. The result of crossing the pretty, but poor performers, is a seedling patch filled with pretty but poor performing plants. The frustration leads the aspiring hybridizer to purchase more of the newest and fanciest and repeat the process until they come to the conclusion they aren't any good at the hybridizing game. As I said before choose some plants from someone in area compatible with your own and go to town. I can practically guarantee you will see some results that will please, even astound you.

I hope we all can agree that breeding plants and introducing plants that are truly distinct is what we want. In my observations from attending the Myrtle Beach Hybridizer's meeting and from presentations to daylily clubs is that true distinction brings a meeting to a halt. I have seen that a few times at the Myrtle Beach meeting. An image comes on the screen and suddenly a whole new world of possibilities opens up in the minds of the viewers. Most of the time we mere mortals have to settle for lesser degrees of distinction than that. How do we get that distinction into our programs? The way that involves that greatest amount of labor is the numbers game. It helps to raise a lot of seedlings. If you are unable or unwilling to play the numbers game you can simply step off of the beaten path and make crosses that others are not making. I have seen too many programs that employ the same parent plants as so many other programs.

One needs to develop an eye for all kinds of distinction. The development of H. Memorial To Steve is a good illustration of how distinction comes in many forms. What this cultivar brings to the table is a bud count unlike anything I have ever seen before. In addition, the buds are held on branches that are long and as well positioned as one could desire, allowing a full display of the blossoms. The magic that came together in creating this one comes from both parents. The pod parent was a seedling of mine, T99-15, a cross of ELIZABETH 'S DREAM and ENCHANTED APRIL. The bloom on T99-15 was a fairly ordinary blossom, pink with a little bit of an edge but nothing that should ever have been introduced on the basis how the blossom looks in a mug shot. However when Marge Soules came to visit here in 1999 it was the seedling that I dragged her over to see. I proudly showed Marge the plant because of the perfection that I saw in the plant habit. There was perfect deep green foliage and a tall, erect scape, well branched with an excellent bud count. With the exception of a rather nondescript blossom, this plant was the representative of everything I wanted to put into my plants. When Marge saw the plant there was a little gasp and she said with some conviction, "Richard, I think you are really on to something there."

I pollinated T99-15 with GREAT WHITE. There were only about four seeds that came from that cross and I numbered two of them. In 2003 I numbered one of the seedlings T03-34. The flower was nice but it wasn't until the following year that the real character of the plant came out. I was simply blown away by the extreme buddedness. However I thought that the performance that year was a fluke. I lined out the seedling and after it settled into its new spot I saw performance that was even better than what I had seen in the seedling field. The ironic thing is that the bed into which MEMORIAL TO STEVE was lined out has such poor soil that I have decided to never again plant a daylily in it. Despite the soil this one thrived.

There is a growing trend around the country to grow and select seedlings in very pampered environments, highly amended "soils", constant, monitored feedings based on testing of nutrients in the foliage, seedlings made, raised and selected in greenhouses, etc. We are taking giants steps away from the greatest treasure we have in the genus HEMEROCALLIS, its toughness and ability to thrive under adversity.

The initial results from raising and selecting in pampered environments are not all that bad. But as the results of this phenomenon kicks in we will be looking at a set of plants that require the care of tea roses to do what we want them to do. The first few generations are going to be traps because they still carry the tendencies of all the previous generations that were selected for some degree of toughness at least. We are going to let down our guard and then we will be wondering what hit us. We will have these gorgeous but pampered diva plants and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

 I have seen to my own satisfaction that the same level of beauty can be achieved without pampering the plants. These methods which I have written of before allow a dedicated hybridizer to create tough plants with great performance and hardiness. We will always be a couple of years behind in the north in some of the extreme looks possible elsewhere. But there is nobody that can consistently produce the super performers for our environment except for us in the north.