It's a passion

People are happiest when they are dedicated to a goal greater than themselves.

For some, the goal may ministering to the poor, or inventing a cure for heart disease. Though I am no less passionate than the minister or the inventor, my goal is simpler: to leave the world more beautiful than I found it.

More precisely, I strive to create daylilies that will be enjoyed for a lifetime in good gardens. This may not be such a great goal as curing heart disease, but I am just as intense in pursuit of this goal as any scientist. What good is it to live longer if there is no beauty to discover?

I have put all of my powers of imagination, science, knowledge and sheer energy into this one goal since 1968. I have, of course, pursued other courses as well in order to make a living. And at times, issues of health have slowed me somewhat.

I continue to give all I have to the development of more beautiful, persistent, tough daylilies that succeed in a wide range of gardens. And I will do so until there is no longer any energy, intellect or breath left in me.

Mercer daylilies are primarily bred to persist and flower with great color and profusion for decades with minimal care or complete neglect. Each introduction also must be distinctive in plant or flower.

While they may not be as aggressive as fulva, our introductions should be close to it in permanence. A few of our introductions are not extraordinary growers. Most are. We make exceptions for reasonably good growers with great, breakthrough flowers or scapes.We note such exceptions in our descriptions.

Extreme hardiness is also an important goal. Though a few of our introductions grow better in the South than in the North, many of our daylilies have proven very successful in New England, Wisconsin, Canada and North Dakota.

Here's how we pursue our goals:

Make long crosses. We grow up to 90,000 seedlings a year.

We flower about 60,000 of those crosses.

Cull the weaklings: We grow our seedlings through two cold winters in shallow containers with about 2 inches of potting mix on the roots. This allows the plants to freeze through the root zone and thaw repeatedly through two winters.

The first few years we did this, more than 70 percent of our seedlings died. After more than 20 years of this practice more than 80 percent of the seedlings survive. We have successfully created a gene pool of very hardy daylilies. A surprisingly large percentage of these are evergreen, and some are proving to grow just as well in Florida as in Canada.

Weed competition: Next, we put the plants in weedy, sandy, desert-like fields where cacti grow native. We select fewer than 10,000 seedlings to keep the first year. We move the 10,000 to fields where they are allowed to be covered in weeds for a full season. We select again from among the survivors. In three more years of flagging we narrow down our selections to fewer than 100. From those, we choose the 15 to 36 a year that will be inroduced.

Testing: After selecting the final 15 to 36, we send out about a dozen plants to friends in several types of climates. Too many reports of poor growth usually result in composting the selection. Sometimes we introduce with notation that the plant will not grow well in a certain type of climate. For example, 'Red Crispies' does not grow well from central Florida south.

Roger, as a garden columnist, writes about many flowers. He enjoys daffodils in early spring. But the daylily, he says, is his first love.