Some people have pets. Danielle Cotton has flowers. She even aspires to create and name a day lily of her own.
“I love all kinds — roses, blanket flowers, peonies, poppies — but I have a thing for day lilies,” says Cotton, a speech language pathologist at Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District (GIRESD).
Gardening for Cotton is not about fresh produce and growing her own food; it is all about the color and her blossoms. When she and her husband, Corui, built their first house, she had her flower beds down before the house was completed. They have moved since then, but her flower obsession has only grown.
“I have flower beds all around the house and I make a new one each year,” Cotton says. “My husband asks, ‘Will it ever end?’ No. It will not.”
Day-zed by Lilies
Cotton has been collecting day lilies for 15 years. She explains that the roadside orange version most people see are the classic “ditch lilies.” Horticulturalists have taken those, modified them, and spliced the gene to develop hundreds of variations.
Hybridizing day lilies is a big thing. Cotton has been a member of the Central Michigan Day Lily Society for about 10 years. Several club members are hybridizers. This means they take two day lilies and cross them with hopes of capturing certain qualities. Each seed pod contains hundreds of seeds, which the gardener uses to grow the new plant. The offspring are then studied for about five to seven years and assessed for characteristics like a sturdy stalk and regular, timely blooms.
If the new variety performs consistently, the new day lily can be registered. That registration comes with naming rights for the one-of-a-kind flower. That is Cotton’s ultimate gardening goal.
“I want to hybridize and name a day lily so I can look at it and say, ‘That’s my day lily!’ That’s when I know I’ve made it to the top!”
When Buds Bloom
There are more than 100 different types of day lilies in Cotton’s garden. They come with a summer ritual. Each morning she makes her chai tea and pads around the garden in her slippers to see what’s blooming. Even her children, Madison, 3, and Grayson, 5, know her routine and call it “mom’s flower walk.”
“It’s like greeting old friends,” Cotton says.
True to its name, a day lily flower blooms for only one day, but each stalk has many flower buds. The grand bloom is in July, and she plans her family vacations around it. Day lilies may reign supreme in her garden, but she enjoys every hour spent with her flowers.
“There is nothing better than getting lost in the dirt,” Cotton says. “I feel closer to my spirituality when I’m in the garden. That’s where I find peace.”