Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Fragrant Daylilies

Posted in Gardening Tips on July 19 2011, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education.

Daylily WalkDaylilies start appearing in the garden in June, but the heyday for these flowers is in July. Starting from the beginning of July until the third or fourth week our Daylily Walk is awash with color. This is happening right now at the Garden!

Daylilies are generally grown for their large, trumpet shaped blossoms that jump out at you in a mixed planting, shouting ‘look at me’. And you should; they come in a vast array of shapes, colors and sizes and there are over 52,000 cultivars to choose from–many of them garden worthy companions.

When you are navigating catalogs and descriptions to find a daylily that suits your gardening style there is a basic terminology that is helpful to know. The throat is the interior of the flower, the eye zone lies just above it forming a band of color on the petals, and a halo is a faint band of color.

Some daylilies are bi-colored, some are doubles and some have a graceful recurved (curling backwards) shapes. While size, color and form are generally the attributes that gardeners assess when buying a daylily, fragrance is another factor to consider.

Daylilies as a whole are not a particularly fragrant perennial. The majority of the cultivars on the market possess no fragrance. When I find cultivars that are listed as fragrant, I approach them with suspicion. The fragrance is often so subtle that I need an active imagination or an appreciation of subliminal advertisement in order to detect even the faintest whiff of an aroma.

There are some daylilies, however, that are intensely or noticeably fragrant and worth getting to know. The scented ones that I encountered on a walk through our collection last week all had pale to bright lemony yellow flowers. My favorite is one that I have grown for years called ‘Hyperion’. It has an intense fragrance. I can’t decide if it is reminiscent of jasmine or lily of the valley but it is truly floral and not too overpowering.

A new discovery this year for me was ‘Northbrook Star’. It has a slightly paler yellow color–very pretty–and a sweet fragrance that is similar to ‘Hyperion’ but perhaps a bit more lemony. This daylily is grown in our garden in part shade, so it is possible that in full sun the fragrance would be more intense.

We grow a species daylily named Hemerocallis citrina in the garden that has pale lemon yellow flowers and a lemony floral fragrance. This daylily and another species Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (syn. flava) are presumably the parents for many of the fragrant yellow cultivars. The former is known as the citron daylily and the latter as the lemon daylily. They are worth searching out and are ideal, low-maintenance additions to a fragrance garden.

More Gardening Tips from Sonia:

Summer Snapdragons for Summer Heat

Contain Yourself: Choosing the Perfect Container

Unusual Alternatives For the Shade Garden

Navigating Hostas


Joyce said:

Thanks for this helpful post! When my mom told me she had a scented daylily in her garden, I didn’t quite believe her: “You’re sure you don’t mean an oriental lily? Daylilies don’t have a scent.” A quick google search produced this post and an apologetic daughter. Another case of never say never in gardening!