Passion for daylilies blooms in Hookstown

HOOKSTOWN, Pa.-Susan Verzella is in search of the perfect flower, but, living the quiet life as she does in Hookstown, where a rooster crows next door, she’s in no hurry.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years, and that’s not a very long time,” she said. “I’m just starting.”

Verzella’s enthusiasm for the daylilies she cultivates in her backyard can be seen in the size of her garden. Currently at their peak bloom, the bright, colorful daylilies take up most of the backyard in an 80-by-30-foot plot, not including the bed she uses for seedlings.

As she walks among them, Verzella admires the various colors-the oranges and yellows that daylilies are known for, plus the pinks, purples and reds-and ticks off the named varieties-“Lightning in a Bottle,” “Monday Morning Blues,” “Black Ice,” “Orchid Elegance,” “Big Apple,” “Storm Prince” and “William Austin Norris.”

The latter recently won Verzella the Best in Class prize for pink flowers in the 45th annual Daylily Show of the Pittsburgh Iris and Daylily Society. The show, held Saturday at Trax Farms in Finleyville, Pa., boasted 263 entries.

“The first time I entered (in 2012), I won a place at the Queen’s Table,” she said. That was for a “Black Ice” daylily, known for its dark maroon hues and spider form.

Verzella, 60, not only grows the daylilies from seedlings; she cross-pollinates them to achieve the various colors and traits that are so prized by hybridizers. Although she has not registered a new cultivar herself, she hopes to some day.

“It’s a long process,” she said.

Verzella starts with a seed, which she plants in January. By springtime, the seedling is large enough to plant outside. She raises the seedlings in their own bed and monitors them until they are ready for the main garden.

She evaluates the perennial’s “eye,” its color, its edges and other qualities before making a decision about its future.

“I grow 200 to 400 seeds each year. They’re not all keepers,” she said, noting that an individual pod can produce anywhere from two to 20 seeds.

This is Verzella’s favorite time of year because this is when the daylilies bloom. They’re at their peak for about four weeks, each blooming lasting only one day.

“I enjoy growing the new flowers. Each day you can go out and see something new,” she said.