FARGO — The NDSU Horticulture Research & Demonstration Gardens, located at 12th Ave. N and 18th St. N in Fargo, are a collection of different gardens. It showcases bedding plant trials, perennial gardens and a collection of modern and historic daylilies.

The daylily display garden at NDSU became the first public American Hemerocallis Society Historic Daylily Display Garden. It is the largest public daylily collection in the nation and is the official display garden of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS). It features around 1,800 separate cultivars. The oldest, Hemerocallis Apricot, dates back to 1893. According to the AHS, as of May 2018, there are 89,000 registered cultivars.

The genus name for a daylily is Hemerocallis. It comes from the Greek word, hemera, meaning day, and kalos, meaning beautiful. The flowers open for one day. Blooms may last for weeks for each plant, but each individual flower only lasts a day — “Beauty for a day.”

Peak bloom for daylilies is typically mid-to-late July, but there will continue to be blooms into September.

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Pixie Parasol ( Hudson 1975 ) Chris Flynn / The Forum
Pixie Parasol ( Hudson 1975 ) Chris Flynn / The Forum

Esther McGinnis is the NDSU extension horticulturist and director of the Extension Master Gardener program. Barb Laschkewitsch is a research specialist in the plant sciences department at NDSU and the horticulture department gardens manager. In addition to the garden being used for demonstrations, McGinnis and Laschkewitsch also conduct research. Laschkewitsch conducts research on annual bedding plants, and McGinnis conducts research on perennials and pollinator plants.

How did you get involved with horticulture?

Esther McGinnis My path to horticulture was not straight. I was a practicing attorney in St. Paul (MN) and suffering from burnout, and at that point and time I got totally obsessed with horticulture...with ornamentals, edibles... and I found myself spending a lot of time researching, and then I went back to school for my masters and PhD.

Esther McGinnis, left, is an extension horticulturist at NDSU and Barb Laschkewitsch, is a research specialist at NDSU. Chris Flynn / The Forum
Esther McGinnis, left, is an extension horticulturist at NDSU and Barb Laschkewitsch, is a research specialist at NDSU. Chris Flynn / The Forum

Barb Laschkewitsch I grew up, not on a farm, but on a piece of land my parents landscaped, and I grew up having an interest in growing flowers, and had an interest in it, so I came to NDSU. I got a horticulture degree and became a research technician for the department chair. At the time, he was doing tomato and squash breeding, which was a bigger part of my job, and after he retired my job just kind of morphed. I don’t do any more tomato and squash breeding, it’s all horticulture garden.

How did the daylily garden get started and how did it become such a large collection?

Barb Laschkewitsch The reason we have this huge garden is because of Bryce Farnsworth. He was a research technician in the potato breeding program at NDSU, but he was a daylily fanatic. (Farnsworth passed away in 2018) I’ve been here 30 years, and he was involved before that even. We had a very small collection, and he got the ball rolling. In 1998, the daylily collection became an official display garden of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS), thanks to Farnsworth filling out the paperwork. In March 2000, Bryce attended the Central Iowa Daylily Society Symposium where Geraldine Couturier of Knoxville, TN was speaking about the importance of history, including historical, daylily cultivars. She also announced that she and her husband wanted to downsize their large collection and were willing to sell many of their historic cultivars. Bryce was inspired and spoke with then Plant Sciences Department Chair Al Schneiter about the importance of this collection and adding it to the horticulture gardens. Dr. Schneiter felt it would be a good addition, secured funding, and we got over 900 cultivars of daylilies in June of 2000, which were planted in the old horticulture garden area.

Esther McGinnis This is like a history of daylily breeding in this country. So we have straight species in there. We have some of the earliest hybrids, but it shows you the development of daylilies from its very beginnings. The other thing that is interesting is, say for example we end up with a devastating daylily disease. We may have germ plasm here that might be resistant to the disease because we’ve got all this diversity here. So this is a very important collection from our standpoint because of the historic nature, but also from the diversity.

Fargo Golden Glitter (Farnsworth-Zettel 2019) Chris Flynn/The Forum
Fargo Golden Glitter (Farnsworth-Zettel 2019) Chris Flynn/The Forum

What are cultivars?

Esther McGinnis Cultivars signify that there’s been some sort of human intervention. There could have been plant breeding or crossing between plants or it could have been the selection of a plant that had stellar characteristics, and they have preserved that for us through propagation.

What colors do daylilies come in?

Esther McGinnis You’ll find your yellows, oranges, apricot, reds, even to the point of lavender, and you’ve got everything in between, but not true blue yet.

Why are there so many culitvars?

Barb Laschkewitsch It’s like with any other group. You have people fanatical about daylilies, petunias and monarda. And you just get a group that says, ‘Ok there are no blue daylilies. I’m going to get the first blue daylily.’ Then you have this passion to try to put these different flower combinations together to see what they can get. There’s the frilly petal ones, and they just want to keep improving this plant that they love. It’s not just with daylilies, but with a lot of other plant groups.

Esther McGinnis Some of these plants are very, very expensive. The new ones that are in demand can be hundreds of dollars.

Are daylilies easy to grow and care for?

Barb Laschkewitsch Daylilies are incredibly easy to grow. Some of the older cultivars and species are almost too easy to grow, and they become invasive. One of the species is referred to as a ditch lily, because you do see it a lot in abandoned areas or ditches that are quite tall. When people hear daylily they think of something like that, rather than the newer, rather interesting cultivars. They have few disease problems

How long do the flowers bloom?

Barb Laschkewitsch Each individual flower of a daylily only lasts for the day, but on a scape, it’s the stalk that holds the flower, there’s more than one bud. The ones you see today will not be the ones you see tomorrow. With the different breeding work and the different petal edges, the petal counts, they are really, beautiful and just because it lasts just for a day, doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it.

The gardens are located at the corner of 12th Avenue and 18th Street North in Fargo.