By Renate Tilson

Nationally-renowned hybridizer of daylilies works right here in nearby Springfield! Richard Akers, the only such expert to be found in the Willamette Valley, is fascinated with producing new and different Hemerocallis blooms—an interest that sprung naturally from his work as a nursery owner. The results of his thoughtful breeding are nothing like the common orange daylilies found along the roadsides in mid-summer, or in your grandmother’s garden. Through careful hand-cross-pollination and fertilization he produces up to 2,000 seedlings yearly. However, he will approve only 20 or so as his final choices for the marketplace. Those potted, blooming daylilies will represent a full year’s work. Although the average sales price is around $20, he has sold unusual specimens for up to $700.

Innovative and exciting, Akers’ daylilies will have spiky or ruffled edges. His breeding results in wonderful petal patterns and remarkable and surprising color combinations. Some have broad petals, making for almost round blooms. Others are spidery. Many have multi-colored edges. Richard pushes the envelope with each crossbreed, saying the more outrageous the bloom produced, the better. An ongoing criterion is to produce clear colors, and, of course, to continue on the quest for the elusive completely blue daylily.

Daylilies are just “one-day beauties”—their Latin name tells us that each of the buds will bloom for a single day. Originating in Asia, they are actually eaten in Korea, stuffed or steamed. Their tuberous, somewhat fleshy roots give rise to large clumps of arching sword-shaped leaves, evergreen or deciduous. Going dormant in the winter, they are tough, persistent, and virtually trouble-free. Clusters of 12-40 flowers appear at the end of stems that stand well above the foliage. The older orange, yellow, and red varieties have been replaced by newer ones with an expanded range of colors, patterns, and edges.

Richard has been hybridizing Hemerocallis for 15 years, and he’s had numerous daylilies patented by the professionals at the American Hemerocallis Society. For him it is an artistic pursuit, which he considers fun, almost play. Nevertheless, it is a lot of work. Fundamental to the artistic aspect of daylily breeding is the need to be sure the new offspring have long stems and will produce at least 15 buds per stem. Bonuses include fragrance and the ability to repeat-bloom during a given season.

During the months of June and July, the peak of the daylily blooming season, Richard can be found among his lilies about mid-morning, when the pollen is fluffy and the bloom’s stigma is stickiest. He will painstakingly transfer some pollen from one chosen bloom to the stigmas of the next. In 6-8 weeks, seeds, about the size of peppercorns, will be harvested and then refrigerated for 3-5 weeks. After being planted, seeds will sprout in 10 days. Then comes a two-year waiting period before the individual plant produces blooms, which will show the result of that pollination effort. With up to 2,000 seedlings per year, only a small fraction—anywhere from one seedling to 200—get potted. Once the plants are blooming in the second year, there will be more culling and thinning out, ending with a selection of desirable, innovative, and interesting blooms that represents an aesthetic plan, and an ongoing love.   

To be sure you get the lily you would want for your garden, it is a good idea to purchase them in bloom. Alternatively, a reliable breeder will be able to show you photos of his offerings.