Saturday, August 20, 2016

DAYLILIES and CONEFLOWERS by Margaret S. Hamilton

I’m saying goodbye to my perennial gardens before leaving Cincinnati for a month. When I return, the plants will have withered to handfuls of brown stalks, soon to disappear underground until next spring.

We’ve had brutally cold winters that produced magnificent daylily blooms, each lasting just one day. This year, our mild winter and late spring hard frost produced smaller daylily flowers, fewer in number. Daylilies bloom in June and July, starting with what Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post terms the delicate tawny ditch-weed daylily, growing wild after escaping from the original Asian imports.

The coneflowers have been magnificent, early to bloom, shunned by deer, lasting forever on sturdy stems, the workhorse plant of native prairie gardens. They are a butterfly magnet; goldfinches delight in picking seeds out of the cones in the center of the flower. I have two purple varieties, Magnus and Pica Bella. I found a white hybrid planted in front of the local police station. Coneflowers have been extensively hybridized, though the purple prairie descendants are the most reliable.

Coneflowers are the backbone of my perennial beds, just as compelling main characters are the mainstay of my stories and novels. Other flowers—daisies, brown-eyed Susans, raspberry monarda—bloom in conjunction with them, never lasting as long, or having the same visual impact.

Daylilies are more ephemeral, spectacular during their day of bloom, like a momentous event in a plot, a sparkling character or buxom diva, sitting on the sidelines until their day in the sun. I have reblooming varieties, including the reliable front-of-border Rosy Returns, equally at home with lavender in June and raspberry monarda in July. Nature creates its own harmonious perennial bouquets with never a clash of colors.

Each year, after the daffodils have finished blooming, perennials emerge in the same sequence: iris, daylilies, daisies, blue salvia, coneflowers, monarda, brown-eyed Susans, sedum, false sunflowers, asters, and finally, the mums. Flowering bushes—knockout roses, hydrangeas, and crepe myrtles—provide a continuous floral backdrop. But every year is different, some varieties outstanding rock stars and some barely making the effort.

My short stories are much the same. Though I use the same setting and cast of characters, different secondary characters assume a more important role in each story. Some earn a repeat performance, battling a different set of circumstances or solving a new problem. Six-foot-tall thistles are always the villains, coupled with an insidious twining vine that wraps itself around the dogwood trunks and climbs up the shutters, refusing to let go without a fight.

I’ll deadhead the daisies and clip the daylily stalks, but leave the coneflowers to wither on their stalks until late fall, a source of seeds for the birds and a final memory of a perennial bed bursting with colorful blooms, butterflies, and swarming bees.

Readers, what are your favorite perennials?

Margaret S. Hamilton has published cozy stories in Kings River Life and the Darkhouse Destination: Mystery! Anthology. She is completing her first crime novel, Curtains for the Corpse.


  1. The flowers are gorgeous. We had both growing wild on our property in Maine. I loved calendaring the year through their blooms. My favorites are the lupines. Something about them says home to me. I still have packets of their seeds that I would collect every year to help them expand their reach.

    Thank you for sharing the gorgeous pictures.

  2. When I lived in Cincinnati, I was particularly fond of the snowdrops that would rise next to an ancient ash tree just about the time I was ready for winter to be over. Winter wasn’t done with me yet, but the snowdrops promised spring would indeed arrive.

  3. Your photos are wonderful, Margaret. I can just imagine how lovely your garden is!
    My favorites perennials are probably daylillies, which I always think of as "tiger lilies", closely followed by lily of the valley and violets.

  4. Great photos. I'll have to mull over the choices for perennials for a while.

  5. Margaret, what lovely flowers. Most of my perennials bloomed a little earlier this year, something I think was caused by a mild winter. Daylilies are my favorite because there is such a variety of them and span in their blooming. I don't deadhead most perennials, either, leaving them for the birds.

  6. Beautiful flowers! My fav wildflower is the blanket flower, in all its red and orange glory. But purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans are gorgeous in our wild beds this year. Though the flowers have faded, brilliant little goldfinches are enjoying the seedheads.

  7. Kait: I tried growing lupines in Cleveland, but the summer nights were too hot and humid. They are beautiful!

    Jim: alas, very few ash trees left in Cincinnati. One of my neighbors has a stand of snowdrops and I look for them every January.

    Shari: I have violets that I brought up from Atlanta that are thriving to the point of becoming invasive. Their flowers are a pale purple because of the alkaline clay soil.

    Warren: What flowers do well in your new home city?

    Gloria: The goldfinches are all over my dead coneflowers.

    Julie: Yes! The blanket flowers are still in bloom here, as are the brown-eyed Susans.

  8. I've had a pretty good daylily year--for some reason, the deer have left them alone. My black (brown?) eye Susans are out and they are spectacular this year. My irises, never great flowerers, didn't produce a single blossom this year, although the tiny miniature ones that bloom early did.

  9. Kathleen, my brown-eyed Susans are also robust, healthy, and have been in bloom for a month.

  10. It is hard to find plants that the deer don't eat around our home. They cleared out our hosta. However, we've found that they don't eat the ferns. We planted some in an area that didn't grow much, and they have done remarkably well. I get such pleasure looking out and seeing them thriving.

  11. Grace, how delightful that ferns do well in your yard. I have some silvery ferns spreading in a shady area alongside giant hostas.