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Family of Mel Wallace takes gardening to heart

Talk about a family affair!

Few families have made their horticultural interests as much of a family affair as the Wallace family. Their passion for daylilies is almost legendary. Talk at the family reunion is one way or another going to get to these magnificent flowers.

Hemerocallis, the Latin name for daylily, means "beauty for a day." That is because an individual blossom lasts only a single day. Individual plants may produce dozens of blooms, so they are showy for several weeks. Their sheer beauty can be addictive.

The family affair with daylilies starts with Mel Wallace. His illustrious career includes notable achievements as the head of the horticulture department at Brigham Young University, horticultural consultant to Geneva Steel, director of the Birmingham Botanical gardens and head of the Birmingham City Gardens in Birmingham, Ala.

While in Utah, he bred iris and developed new varieties. The South had many horticultural challenges, including diseases and other problems. In looking for alternative plants to grow there, he started growing daylilies. He bred some varieties and collected others. He returned to Utah about eight years ago and re-established his daylily garden in Orem.

Two of his children caught the bug. Daughter Marilyn Kofford, who lives in Alpine, established Utah's first American Hemerocallis Society Garden. She also helped found the Utah chapter of this organization. She started with plants from her dad's garden in Alabama and pulled out sagebrush to plant them.

Mel's son, Dale, and his wife, Carol, likewise started bringing back Dad's plants from Alabama. Their garden spot was Pleasant Grove. Dale grew up with his dad in the nursery and landscape business in Birmingham. He came to BYU to pursue a degree in botany and zoology. Although this never became his vocation, he never lost his love for plants.

"I have had a lifelong love of plants, including daylilies," he said. "Dad would bring me plants when he came to visit, and we would get more when we went there. We kept redoing the landscape to accommodate more and more so we now have more than 150 varieties in our garden."

Dale currently serves as the president of the state association and has a nursery at his home where he grows selected varieties. He also grows many different seedlings as he breeds and develops new varieties.

Carol's story is slghtly different. "Dale and his dad really got me involved with these plants," she recalls. "I have always loved gardening, but they got me hooked on the daylilies."

When asked why she fell in love with the flowers, she gushes. "I love the vibrant colors and what they add to a garden. I love the fragrance and the many different colors we have. They are easy to care for. It is fun to walk the garden and look at the blossoms." Because each bloom lasts only one day, the flowers look different every day, she adds.

Dale is so enthusiastic that he sometimes wants to stop the cars going by and say "Hey, come back and look at what is in the garden."

As much as he likes daylilies, he acknowledges their drawbacks.

To look their best they need to be deadheaded. (Deadhead means you pull off the dead blossoms.)

They are reasonably resistant to pests, but spider mites can be a problem during hot, dry, dusty days. Overhead sprinkling usually keeps them from becoming serious. Aphids, too, are occasionally troublesome. Control them with insecticidal soaps or other sprays. Thrips are a real problem and will severely damage the blossoms. Spraying with a systemic insecticide is usually the only answer.

Slugs and snails also cause serious damage. "I try to keep them under control by getting on them as soon as I see any damage," said Carol.

Handpicking, baits and traps are all effective if you get on the problems before they get out of control.

The hardest part of growing daylilies? Choosing which ones to grow and which ones to discard.

There are tens of thousands of varieties, and new ones come out every year.

A few of Carol's favorites: Fellow, Spider, Seminole Wind and Golden Prize.

Dale, who is partial to cream colors, chips in with his favorites: Splendid Touch, Western Style, Good Morning America, Ed Brown and Easter Sunday.

Their biggest problem is keeping all the plants straight. Labeling is a headache.

Both have favorite plants they like to use with their daylilies.

"We use lots of the Asiatic lilies and spring blooming flowers that give color early before the daylilies show color," said Dale.

These include aubrietia, mountain phlox, basket of gold and even the Helleborus that bloom very early.

Carol still puts in a few annuals for color such as cosmos and the pelargoniums. "I really like delphiniums, coreopsis daisies, chrysanthemums and daisies. We grow a shorter Shasta daisy, and I also like dianthus very well."

These delightful plants are sometimes addictive so be careful before you plant. Their beauty may be ethereal and fleeting, but their appeal is not.

These wonderful plants are exciting additions to any Utah garden.