Day lily designer

Julia Semon has spent time with Clark Gable and Cary Grant. She cultivates them in her garden.
Friday, July 6, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Julia Semon picks off old blossoms from a flower bed at her home in Fayette. Semon won a regional award last year for her hybrid flower, Julia’s Double Dream.

Julia Semon’s garden is home to a number of famous personalities.

“Oh, I have Clark Gable,” she said. “No, this is Cary Grant. Clark Gable’s down there. I don’t think Clark Gable’s in bloom.”

Clark Gable, it turned out, was residing in a different bed, near Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Semon is a day lily enthusiast and one of the more than 140 people who belong to the Central Missouri Hemerocallis Society, which is holding its annual day lily show Saturday in the Friends Room at Columbia Public Library.

The organization has been in existence for more than 50 years. Members have been holding the show since Semon, who has been a member for almost 25 years, can remember, but this is the first year the show will be held at the library.

In addition to between 200 and 300 single blossoms on display, there will also be designs inspired by the show’s theme of “Summer Symphony.” Both are competitions and will be judged.

Day lilies bloom each morning and a bloom only lasts for one day before it wilts. Each plant has several buds on it that will bloom on different days throughout the six-week blooming period.

Semon said she had no idea how many varieties of day lilies she has in her extensive garden. According to the American Hemerocallis Society’s Web site, there are 58,469 different registered varieties. And each variety of day lily has to be registered with a unique name, so many are named in honor of famous people and familiar characters.

In Semon’s garden, one of five that will be open for free tours from 9 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, each plant’s name is written neatly in permanent marker on a metal stake near the plant’s foliage.

There’s Clark Gable and Cary Grant, and then there’s Julia’s Double Dream, a peach-colored day lily that Semon hybridized herself. A hybrid is a new flower that has been selectively bred from two existing plants by brushing the pistil of one flower with pollen from another. This process will form a seed if it works.

Semon plants the seed in the fall and grows the seedling indoors during the winter. It will be planted outside in the spring and will probably bloom the next year.

Even though she was already hooked on day lilies, Semon was initially hesitant about hybridizing.

“I really didn’t think I wanted to get into it because it takes up so much time and then the first one that I did turned out so pretty I got so excited about them,” she said.

Last year, Julia’s Double Dream won the hybridizer’s award for this region, which consists of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“It’s just such advancement, and every year they come up with something different,” she said.

Some of the traits a hybridizer can tinker with are whether or not a day lily’s edges are smooth or crinkled, its eye (the center of the bloom), and whether or not it blooms as a single or a double.

Julia’s Double Dream is a double, which means it has six main petals instead of three. This is a desirable trait because plants that consistently produce double blooms are hard to come by.

“I’ve never seen it bloom single,” Semon said.

Despite her work with hybrids, Semon said she is not artistic enough to want to enter the design competition. But Alice Havard, the chairwoman of the show, has been doing designs for eight years. Havard said that she “semi-accidentally” discovered day lilies when she stumbled upon a sale at a farmers market. Before that, she had planned on growing flowering shrubs.

The design competition has its own set of rules and challenges. There are four different classes with different variations on the main theme and inspiration can be tough.

“You hope to be inspired by the title,” Havard said.

What you can do also depends on what you have blooming. For Havard, the technical aspects of making an arrangement work are the hardest.

“I think the mechanics are the worst part,” she said. “They’re the most difficult because you don’t want them to show.”

Havard said that winners of three design classes will have an opportunity to compete nationally. She anticipates entrants from as far away as Kansas City.

“I’m always amazed by what people do,” she said.

There are some difficulties that are shared by all. Transporting day lilies isn’t easy.

“The petals crunch off real easily,” Havard said.

Even transporting the single blooms is difficult, Semon said.

“You can’t shake any of your pollen off or anything,” she said.

And because day lily blooms only last one day, they can’t be cut until the day of the show.

For this reason, day lilies, perhaps more than other flowers, incorporate the element of surprise.

Cathy Turner has been growing day lilies for four years and has been a member of the Central Missouri Hemerocallis Society for just as long.

“It’s still a thrill to get up and see them in the morning,” she said. “It’s always an adventure.”

Semon shares this sentiment.

“When you have something to bloom in your yard for the first time and you’re the only one out there, you know that this is something that nobody else in the world has ever seen,” she said. “And it’s quite a thrill. It just gets to be sort of addictive.”


The Central Missouri Hemerocallis Society is sponsoring free tours of area day lily gardens from 9 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Maps with directions to the following locations are available at McConnell’s Plantland and at the society’s show on Saturday at Columbia Public Library:

• Ken and Jane Sadler, 3900 S. Country Woods, Columbia

• McConnell’s Plantland, 1601 Earthland Drive, near Midway Expo Center

• Julia Semon, 300 Alternate 240, New Franklin

• Karl and Cecy Rice, 1112 Timberline, Moberly

• Lilywood Farms, 100 County Road 263, Armstrong

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