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Jay Turman on daylilies: ‘They are very forgiving’

Jay and Peggy Turman's garden contains 400 different species of daylilies.

Jay and Peggy Turman’s garden contains 400 different species of daylilies.

June is the big month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee, and Jay and Peggy Turman are in a good place to enjoy it. They are daylily collectors, and in the relatively small space of their Nashville front yard they grow 400 different cultivars of daylilies, which begin opening in late May each year and continue into July.

Today, they’re enjoying the view of a garden full of daylilies blooming in a range of colors and sizes, and looking forward to the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society’s annual show and sale, which takes place next Saturday (June 18, 2016) at Crievewood United Methodist Church.

The Turmans started MTDS in their living room 27 years ago: “In November, we had 11 for that first meeting. The very next June, we had our first show,” Jay said. “Two years ago, Middle Tenn. Daylily Society had the second largest daylily show in the country, with about 350 entries.”

They’ve become experts over the years, and patiently describe to a visitor the path of development of the 80,000 registered Hemerocallis cultivars that have been hybridized from species daylilies since the 1930s, explaining the genetics of diploids and the importance of tetraploids in the creation of this vast array.

Their mentor, who was at that first meeting, was the late Virginia Peck, a noted English professor at Middle Tennessee State University. She was also an internationally acclaimed daylily hybridizer, and had suggested starting a local organization for daylily enthusiasts. “She hybridized the first ruffled tetraploid in 1976, ‘Dance Ballerina Dance,’ Jay said. “It’s still used in hybridizing.”

Jay Turman shows Hemerocallis 'Jay Turman.'

Jay Turman shows Hemerocallis ‘Jay Turman.’

The Turmans’ daylily garden is laid out in winding paths, with tags marking each of the different species. At the front edge of one of beds is a collection of Hemerocallis that have been named in their honor: Hemerocallis ‘Jay Turman; (a red daylily); H. ‘Peggy Turman,’ (double pink); H. ‘Siloam Peggy Turman’ (a copper shade hybridized by Pauline Henry of Siloam Springs, Ark.); H. ‘Siloam Jay Turman’ (cream with a pink eye zone); and H. ‘Peggy & Jay’ (an almost-white daylily).

Like the rest, they are reliable, low-maintenance perennials that sound a graceful note in a summer garden every year. “That’s the beauty of daylilies – they are very forgiving,” Jay says. “You can’t kill them!”

Here are Jay’s tips for growing daylilies:

Sun: “They prefer full sun, but they will grow in any condition; full sun produces maximum bloom.”

Soil: “They appreciate any amendment you give them. We don’t add much, except every few years we use soil conditioner as mulch.”

Fertilize: “We don’t fertilize; a lot of people who do use Osmocote (a slow-release fertilizer). …Virginia Peck used what she called “cow tea” (cow manure steeped in water and used to water the plants).

Water: “We water sometimes. If God provides extra water, we appreciate it.”

After they’re established, daylilies grow year after year with very little attention needed. “That’s the beauty of daylilies – they are very forgiving,” Jay says. “Virginia Peck would say, ‘It’s the survival of the fittest, honey’.”

Read more of what Jay says about daylilies and about the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society’s show and sale in Saturday’s (June 11) Tennessean. Details about the June 18 Middle Tennessee Daylily Society sale are at the group’s web site, www.middletndaylilysociety.org.


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