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Garden Variety: Maryland Line yard blooms with 420 kinds of daylilies

American painter Elizabeth Murray once said, "Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas."

And, although Joan Miller doesn't consider herself an artist, the daylily gardens behind the Maryland Line home where she has lived for 44 years are indeed, true works of art.

The three terraced gardens with 420 varieties of daylilies have the essentials found in any good painting:

Color — Maroon daylilies so dark they look black. Pale pink daylilies with serrated edges of light yellow. Tall bursts of fiery orange blooms.

Shape — Daylilies of varying heights with different petals and constantly changing number of blossoms share the gardens with other flowering plants such as hostas, phlox, bee balm, dianthus and coneflower.

Texture — Some daylilies have long, spiky petals that resemble spider legs, while others are called "bagels" because of their round, fat petals that form a circle.

Movement — The informal style of Miller's gardens has a flowing irregularity that draws attention to individual plants as well as the whole panorama.

And since individual daylily blossoms only last one day — hence the name — the art in Miller's garden changes daily.

"There are 22 blooms on this plant today," she said, pointing to a vivid yellow daylily called Mary's Gold. "All of these blooms will be dead tomorrow."

Miller said she removes dead flowers about three times a week, a chore that takes her several hours each time. Most of her daylilies will display 10 to 25 blooms a day for several weeks.

She said she spends four to five hours a day in the spring and summer in her garden. She normally goes out first thing in the morning and works before it gets too hot.

Besides cleaning up old blooms, she separates plants that have become too crowded and plants new varieties. She is constantly pulling weeds.

This year her garden bloomed much earlier because of earlier warm weather. Miller said she normally has something flowering in her garden through October.

"I've always loved flowers. Years ago, I was in a basement apartment in Silver Spring and I spent all my time reading flower catalogs," she said. "These gardens evolved over the years to where they are now."

Miller, who taught biology, environmental science and chemistry at Hereford High School from 1972 to 1995, when she retired, used to grow annuals from seed but became intrigued with daylilies after she had time on her hands in retirement.

She said she visited Karen Collins' daylily garden in White Hall in the late 1990s. Collins, a member of the Free State Daylily Society and the American Hemerocallis Society, had a display garden that was open to the public. Miller said she was amazed at what she saw.

"I saw flowers with wonderful shades of color. They are so different from daylilies of the 60s and 70s. Everything now is much, much more vibrant. Most people think of daylilies as being the orange roadside ones, but there are 60,000 varieties now, and more coming."

Bloom where planted

It wasn't long before Collins conviced Miller to join both the local Free State Daylily Society and the national American Hemerocallis Society, or AHS. The more Miller learned about the varities of daylilies, the more she bought and planted.

She and April Snyder, another Free State Daylily Society member, still visit other members' gardens to see firsthand what some of the thousands of daylilies look like.

"My garden has only 150 types of daylilies, so I deadhead every single day," said Snyder, who lives in Freeland. "But Joan would have to spend all day, every day doing it since her gardens are so big. I love her gardens because she has a lot more in there than just daylilies."

Miller is also former secretary of American Iris Society's region four, which includes Maryland. She has 400 iris plants, but they finish blooming by the time her daylilies start to flower.

Miller, the mother of three and grandmother of seven, said her husband, Bob, helps out with the heavy work, like tilling the soil for new plants. But when it comes to day-to-day care, the garden is all hers.

Miller's garden was accepted as an official American Hemerocallis Society display garden in 2008. According to the Society's website, there are 330 display gardens in the U.S. and Canada. There are 41 gardens in in Region 3, which includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia andWashington, D.C.Miller's is one of 9 in Maryland and the only one in North County.

As part of her application, Miller took photos and recorded what was in her garden. She was required to place a marker at the base of each plant with its name, the date it was created, or hybridized, and the person who came up with the new variety. She also is required to open the garden to visitors. After making an apointment, visitors may stroll through her garden and ask questions.

She tells visitors that daylilies need one inch of water a week, but she tries to rely on rain, since her house is on a well. The plants like at least six hours of sun a day.

And deer love to eat daylily leaves.

Miller keeps a radio in the garden, which she turns on each night to keep the four-footed feasters away. She also sprays deer deterrent and hangs plastic bags filled with bars of Irish Spring soap that are supposed to repel deer with their scent.

Miller's daylilies have names like Custard Candy, Fairy Tale Pink, Always Afternoon, Wedding Band, Primal Scream and Ava Gardner.

Each year, AHS awards one variety the Stout Medal, named after Arlow Stout, an American botanist who bred the modern hybrid daylily between 1911 and 1948. Miller's garden includes all the Stout award-winning varieties from the past 25 years. She said her favorite daylily is whatever is blooming on a particular day.

Miller is constantly on the hunt for new daylilies. Daylilies are sold in "fans," which consist of leaves with attached roots or tubers.

So, far, her most expensive purchase was a blue-and-mauve daylily that cost $75. She said she buys some flowers online, some through catalogs, but finds the best bargains at an annual sale and auction put on by the Free State Daylily Society.

"When I sit in my kitchen or family room and look out, I try to appreciate what's out there, but like most gardeners, I always see something that needs to be done, a plant that needs to be moved or replaced," she said. "And that's why it grows every year. There's always something I want to add."

Miller said about 10 people have visited her garden this year. To make an appointment, call her at 410-357-8244.

Daylily annual sale

Free State Daylily Society will sponsor an annual sale Aug. 4 at McLean's Nursery, 9000 Satyr Hill Road, Parkville, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Club members sell hundreds of varieties of daylilies, each in a bag that contains the name, description, bloom size and height.

To see photographs of the daylilies for sale, or for more information about the club, go to http://www.freestatedaylilysociety.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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