Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Daylilies: The Viette Family Business

There used to be many more Daylily breeders in our area.  But over the years, suburban development and age have reduced their numbers significantly.  Luckily, Viette Nurseries, one of the best breeders in the East is still within the “neighborhood”.  Walter and I had a chance to visit them a couple weeks ago.

Viette’s is a third generation family business, first established by Martin Viette in 1929.  Martin emigrated from Switzerland in 1920 when he was just a teenager.  He settled in New York and apprenticed at the Cedar Hill estate, under the tutelage of owner, amateur horticulturist and writer, Theodore Havemeyer, who is perhaps best known for his cultivation of Lilacs.  In less than ten years, Martin was able to start his own company to service Long Island and areas around New York City.  Martin’s nursery was extremely successful, and he developed and introduced a wide range of perennials.

Martin’s son Andre continued the tradition of hybridization, especially focusing on Daylilies.  In the 1970s, he sold Martin Viette Nurseries to the Ireland family and moved his work and family to Fishersville, Virginia, where they remain today.  Andre’s children always helped out on the “family farm” and now his son Mark runs operations.  Viette Nurseries specializes in growing and breeding Oriental Poppies, Bearded Iris, Hosta and, of course, hundreds of cultivars of Daylily.

You can find a lovely selection of perennials at Andre Viette's,
in addition to Daylilies, including the sweet Coreopsis, stunning Sedum
and seemingly-painted Hosta 'Paradise Joyce' seen above.
They are perhaps most famous for Hemerocallis ‘Bountiful Valley’ with large lemon-lime blossoms; ‘Corduroy Peach’ with creamy-peachy, ribbed flowers; ‘Exceptional Display’ with small, true orange flowers and ‘Glowing Cantaloupe’ for that light cantaloupe color and pink ribs; ‘French Lavender’; ‘Midnight Orange’; ‘Fragrant Light’, very much like ‘Hyperion’ but with paler yellow and greater fragrance; the almost-white ‘Ice Cap’; tiny ‘Little Cobbler’ that re-blooms in salmon pink; ‘Remarkable Show’ and one of my favorites ‘Raspberry Sundae’.

Our visit was a little early in the Daylily season,
and only a few cultivars were in full bloom, including
Kate's Pink in the field and Lemon Lollipop in pots, ready for purchase.
Daylily is an easy plant to like.  The bright orange Hemerocallis fulva, or what we always called Tigerlily growing up, is native to Asia, not North America.  It was probably introduced by European colonists as early as the 18th century and tends to naturalize in… some would say overrun… marginal land, like the edges of roadways and old crop fields.  Our modern Daylily hybrids, which have been developed from various species and varieties, share this original import’s adaptability -- they can handle a wide range of temperatures and climates, seldom notice less-than-perfect soil conditions and have few pests or problems -- without any of its invasiveness.  Plus they bloom during the hottest part of the year and are fairly drought-tolerant, once established.

The Viette family concentrates on creating new Daylilies whose trumpets can withstand a lot of heat and humidity, often in darker, bolder colors like true red and variations of plum and bright yellow, and growing healthy specimens of hundreds of other choices.  They encourage us to mix Daylily cultivars with one another, and other perennials, to extend bloom time, much as I have done in my “bulb bed” where Hemerocallis, Echinacea and Rudbeckia follow Peonies and Daffodils and minor bulbs, so there is color and foliage from February to almost November.  Viette’s even offers some evergreen Daylilies.

I’ve been shopping at Viette Nurseries for almost twenty years, and my garden is filled with examples from their fields, including the now ubiquitous 'Stella d’Oro'; 'Hyperion';
'Hyperion' is a little old-fashioned...
tall and slender and just about pure lemon yellow...
I planted a few in my front planters and passersby can enjoy their perfume,
even from thirty feet away.
'Joan Senior';
'Joan Senior' used to be the standard for white Daylilies.
(Pure white is very hard to achieve).
But they are much closer to ivory with bright lime throats.
The blossoms fade to a translucent soft blush.
'Fairy Tale Pink' or is it actually 'Rare Love'?;
I can never remember if this is one or the other.
Ballet pink with a slightly green-yellow throat and little ruffles and ribs.
'Mae Graham';
I almost didn't purchase 'Mae Graham' but am so glad I did.
Flowers are a little paler in person.
Definitely what I consider cerise with that almost broad, white stripe.
and 'Rosewood Glaze'.
'Rosewood Glaze' keeps my border from getting too precious and coordinated.
Plus it can hold its own with Coneflowers and Poppies.
The Viettes live at the Nurseries and their display gardens surrounding the family home are open to the public.  Don’t be shy.  Take a stroll.  It’s a great way to collect ideas and see plants in action.

Family gardens to the left, fields of Daylilies and Peonies to the right
and a gorgeous view beyond.
The display gardens include a conifer and hosta garden.
They also regularly host lectures and special events.  Their annual Daylily, Food and Wine Festival is just about a month away.  And you may have heard their weekly call-in radio shows: “In the Garden with Andre Viette” on Saturday mornings and Mark Viette’s “Easy Gardening” on Sunday mornings.  Even if you don’t live in the area, you can stream these shows live.
The Hostas were beautiful the afternoon we visited.
'Wide Brim' is edged in primrose yellow.

'Stiletto' has incredibly slender leaves.

'Halcyon' is almost Robin's egg blue.
Viette Nurseries is located in the Shenandoah Valley about 3.5 miles off of U.S. Route 250 between Waynesboro and Staunton.  It is easily accessible from Interstates 64 and 81.  The display gardens are open every day of the year, and the plant center is open every day from April until the end of October.  You can also order perennials to be shipped bareroot to you.  But it’s always wonderful to spend a day walking through the Viettes’ personal gardens and fields and fields of Daylilies, Iris, Poppies and Peonies.

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