. . .Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. – Matthew 6:28-29
I learned to garden at my father’s knee in the plot he had placed next to the path that led to our kitchen doorstep. Handed a Dixie cup with precious seeds, I was taught to poke my index finger in the dirt and draw a straight line in which to make a bed. Sometimes the Dixie cup would have a seedling, and he’d show me how to pinch the sides to release it.
Covering or protecting seeds and seedlings gently, we’d sprinkle the plot with a metal watering can. Then my father would say, “Now we wait to see what God gives us.”
Not particularly religious, my father nodded off in church on many a Sunday to Mother’s chagrin. As we all traipsed in, he would invariably and gallantly beckon, “After you.” In reality, he was choosing the aisle seat to prop himself in the most comfortable position. Unfortunately, this was also most visible to the rest of the congregation.
In the garden, though, Dad was sharing what he knew intimately from his days on the farm: The exquisite combination of preparation and faith that is required to coax a seed into breaking its shell.
Each little kernel or grain contains the promise of a yield. Once you’ve done all you can to the best of your ability, you must put the situation in God’s hands.
This year, Father’s Day morning finds Pete and me in a congregation of daylilies which are choking a property owner’s line in an undulating sea. I had responded the previous day to an online offer of freebies, thinking I would fill some gaps in my perennial beds. Instead, I drag my husband back a day later in the Jeep.
The wagon which we generally use to haul a cord of wood trails behind us, containing our wheelbarrow. Pete isn’t sure about this plan to better access the site until he sees it. “This is the mother lode of all daylilies,” we telegraph to each other, while politely responding to the gardening stories our benefactor needs to tell before leaving us to work.
There’s something about repeatedly pointing a shovel into the dirt and riding it with one foot down to its hilt that quiets the mouth. On this Sunday morning, we begin the process my father had introduced me to so many years ago by rescuing the plants from themselves and their chaos. There is plenty of time to think and remember. We don’t say much to each other while we work, and that is fine, as it usually is.
Dad, as still might be said, “had little truck with” flowers other than the marigolds he planted at the sidewalk’s edge. Organic in mid-century while it had fallen out of favor, this form of pest control for his vegetables worked well. The only other flowers I ever saw him grow in my lifetime were morning glories planted to disguise our play yard’s wire fence, and a line of zinnias at the next house from which I routinely cut to grace our modest table. Before what seems like not too long to me now, my father abandoned his garden there because, “All I can grow is tired.”
The Free Dictionary defines “having no truck with” as a rural way of saying “having nothing to do with something.” I like to think the phrase comes out of with what a truck farmer like my dad might concern himself. Lucky for me, my parents saw to it that I did have truck with 4-H farm ladies who shared their talent in things I have a revived interest in today: sewing, knitting, and flower gardening.
With daylilies, the pips from which the plant bursts lie clustered shallow in the ground. I use a dandelion spike, like a clawed screwdriver, to separate the heavy clumps of earth from each cluster that Pete digs. The soil is moist and loamy, with a decaying fragrance not unlike what my father used to call “the smell of money.” Out for a Sunday drive after church in those days, we’d catch a whiff of barnyard effluence. “Kids, that’s what money smells like,” he’d declare, twisting around in the driver’s seat, the road notwithstanding, making sure we understood.
The spiky green fronds of the plants Pete is digging are two or more feet in length, perfect for feints of swordplay or braiding. I methodically process the clods before placing them in the wheelbarrow. “They’re so crowded together, we haven’t had a bloom in several years,” says our benefactor. “But when they’ve bloomed in the past . . . well, you should just see it.”
We’re told how his remodeling contractor dumped all the excavated dirt and scrap concrete onto the formal bed of daylilies we now see in the middle of his lawn, ready to bloom prettily. We’re suitably horrified. Then he tells us how he saw little green spikes poking up through and around the concrete and other construction detritus, seeking to bloom. The daylily is one determined plant, we all agree.
Wheeling a load up the hill, I remember. None of the no-nonsense flower gardeners with whom I spent my elementary school summers had any truck with the common daylily. Instead, they grew gladioli, hollyhock, iris, and other varietals that would be termed “vintage” nowadays. It wasn’t as if they had any kind of overt scorn for daylilies. It was just more of an overlooking kind of thing, like you’d do with a wallflower at the school dance. Is that where “wallflower” comes from? I wonder.
Half a dozen heavy wheelbarrow loads and our trailer is full. We’ve not made a dent in our benefactor’s supply. We’ll be back later in the season when another of our never-ending projects begins. For now, we’ve got more than we know what to do with.
There is unseasonable heat and humidity in the week that follows. It’s so hot I can barely stand to be outside more than a few minutes. The outcome is a half-hearted attempt at getting the load of daylilies into the ground. Instead, they’re left to bake in the trailer on the asphalt driveway. I wet them down with the hose, but still, the green spikes turn brown and brittle. I feel extremely guilty. Pete tells me a friend has dried her dug-up daylilies and wintered them over, replanted them, and they’ve grown again. I view this as a cop-out of last resort.
Finally at the end of the week, the heat breaks and I’m back out, plugging the clusters of pips into the ground wherever I have a bare spot. The pointed end of my shovel pierces the layers of mulch and topsoil over and over again and my thoughts wander.
I remember being older when I noticed the profusion of daylily bloom in the roadside ditches and fallow fields of West Michigan. I proclaimed the lowly, unassuming daylily my favorite flower, precisely because I’d never had or seen a garden in which it was grown.
Daylilies bloom in a wild and unconstrained show along with Queen Anne’s lace in a consortium of grasses during high summer: July, with background anthems sung by cicadas and mourning doves.
Each daylily bloom shoots up on a straight stem and lasts only for a shortening day. Contain them in a vase and you’ll be disappointed. Daylilies don’t last.
Hemerocallis is one of the few genus names that I can recall with regularity. I so admire gardeners, like Margaret Roach for instance, who can summon their Latin seemingly at will. Calling it just Hemerocallis is like referring to one’s beloved by her last name, as there are thousands of registered cultivars appreciated by enthusiasts who hold them in higher regard than I.
I now know that the common Hemerocallis fulva is the one I love – also called Ditch Lily, Roadside and Tiger Lily. I’ve been thoughtlessly disrespectful of my sprightly favorite for years. I look up fulva to find that it means copper or orange. Hemerocallis is a word hybrid arising out of “beauty” and “day.”
So it’s “orange beauty for a day.” Of course.
Placing the plant clusters on this overcast weekday, I don’t bury them too deep, as I’ve read they’d rather be shallow. I mulch them generously, though, in an effort to better prop them up. The plants are whitish at the stalk’s crown and the leaf spikes are seared, burned brown, and forlornly wilted. I mentally apologize as I water them all. They’re so sad, and I’m so sorry.
I fear I will have to do this all over again in reverse because I have baked the life out of these plants by neglecting them in favor of my comfort. Over the next few hours I revisit with more water, and the situation, while not improved, does not seem to worsen either. Finally, I hear my Dad’s voice as if he were right beside me, “We’ll just have to wait and see what God gives us.”
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? – Matthew 6:30
The story our daylily benefactor told of determination has allegory to several things I read during the week following. I read of heroics undertaken by those who are most unassuming. And I read of and see uncommon valor demonstrated by commoners.
I read of the Medal of Honor winner whose son said, “People could relate to him.” I read of and watch determined women gathering rocks in the streets of Tehran, handing them to others for throwing against advancing police. I arrive in sideways fashion via another link to the story of Rodger Young, who, though mortally wounded, kept going ahead of the rest until he rose up one last time and lobbed a game-changing grenade.
The weather breaks again with damp and coolness. The healthy daylilies we have had in our garden are fixing to bloom right on schedule with the changing of June to July and the shortening of days. As I walk past the places where I have taken a leap of faith by planting what I have burned up, dried out, and disrespected, I am amazed at what I see.
More than 11 of my worn-out clusters have budded stems that have shot up seemingly overnight. Grit, determination and promise are all on display amidst the other, more established residents of the garden.
The most common cultivar, Hemerocallis fulva, the lily of the roadside ditch, the wallflower overlooked in favor of a more showy and difficult denizen, has proven itself the most reliable and heroic despite the overwhelming odds I set.
The lesson is not lost. God has seen fit to give ten times what I expected. This moment contains the same sort of magic in which my father fervently believed, and which I never should have doubted.
Pete likes to say that he is a gardener like he is a fisherman: because you never know what you’re going to get and it’s a chance to put your head straight while you’re waiting.
It occurs to me only now after how many years that Biblical anecdotes invariably take the forms and references of these two pastimes. My dad was both gardener and fisherman, too.
Waiting faithfully and seeing what God gives us after we have done what we can, whether it’s with the seeds we cast or the lines we throw, is what it’s all about, don’t you think?
. . . Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. – Matthew 6:34.
Vintage Photos: From the collection of the late Jeanne Burton Meisenbach
Daylily Close-Up and Botanical Drawing: Wikipedia
Daylilies Rising: Peter Wuebker