Gardens, House and Home

Heirloom Garden Flowers: the Ditch Lily

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Driving down the road last week, I spotted the first blooms of roadside lilies popping up out of a ditch. Just about everyone is familiar with this tawny orange summer bloom. It grows everywhere in Ohio. Probably everywhere else too. Because it’s so prolific I used to assume it was one of our native wildflowers. But I was wrong,

“Hemerocallis Fulva” is the most common of the heirloom daylilies. Many people call it a “Tiger Lily” but that isn’t accurate. A Tiger Lily is a true lily that grows from a bulb. Hemerocallis Fulva and other daylilies are a different genus and grows from fleshy tuberous roots. Other names for it are the Roadside Lily, Railroad Lily, Tawny Lily, Wash House Lily, or Ditch Lily to name just a few. It’s many names is an indication of how widespread this flower has become and how many places it can be found growing.

Tiger Lily

Only recently did I discover that the Ditch Lily is not an American native. It was introduced to early America from Asia in 1793 when someone thought it would be a good idea to plant it in their yard. Carefree and quick to multiply, it was likely a flower that people divided and shared with friends and neighbors. Eventually it escaped cultivation and began its rampant run across the countryside. It’s now considered an invasive species. For me though, these orange beauties are a dependable and welcome sign of summer. Driving along country roads and city streets alike, I am intrigued to see the many different ways gardeners and home owners have used them. I’ve seen Ditch lilies planted along sidewalks, in front of porches, and at the base of roadside mailboxes. They engulf my great great great great grandfather’s  tombstone in a local cemetery making the stone difficult to find. I’ve seen them growing through garden gates, next to sandy beaches,  in the manicured beds of town halls and city office buildings, and sprouting freely beside rusty tractors long ago abandoned in the field. In my own yard I am happy to let them fill in a hilly spot that is difficult to mow.

Hemerocallis Fulva “Kwanzo”

A double form of this roadside favorite is the one I am growing in my yard. Hemerocallis Fulva ‘Kwanzo’ was brought to the United States after 1860. The double bloom tends to look a bit ragged up close, but from a distance you can hardly tell the difference between it and the simpler single bloom. I dug my plant starts from my mother’s garden. She got hers from the roadside next to a nearby cemetery where these double flowers grow in abundance. Someone at the end of the 19th century must had planted the new variety on one of the graves.

Invasive? Okay. Yeah. My few garden starts grew into a long thick row in no time. But how dull the roadsides must have been 300 years ago before we had the tawny orange lily to bloom and brighten our July roadsides and backyard gardens.



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