Revenge of the Day Lilly’s

(Cedarburg, WI. 1997)I remember how excited my husband and I were when we finally found our new house, seeing it for the first time in September during the peak of fall colors. The beautiful maple trees had sported the brightest red leaves. The flower beds, their work done for the year, held the browned remnants of summer flowers and looked oh, so promising.

By the time we’d moved in it was November, so not much could be done with the wonderful yard I’d instantly fallen in love with. What especially interested me was a rock garden on one side of the yard. It was approximately four feet wide and covered about forty feet along the property line. The beautiful rock formations divided it into small beds. I began to dream about the lovely perennials and bulbs that would soon make their home there. I settled down as patiently as possible to wait for spring.

By the time the grass sprouted and buds began to appear, I’d had ample time to study the bulb and plant catalogs and get myself really excited. Trying to be sensible, I’d decided to sit back and see what came up before making any monumental changes. On the suggestion of a friend, I’d drawn a garden map and planned to enter the names of all the plants and flowers I could identify as they appeared. Such optimism!

I’d gotten into the habit of asking my next door neighbor, Mary all my questions about the town, the neighborhood, the house, and of course the garden. She told me the former owner had been, by her own admission, not a gardener, so planted things needing little care.

But as the growing season began, I sensed trouble. Clumps of green foliage that looked like overgrown weeds came up and kept coming up, then seemed to take over the whole garden. I hesitated to pull anything out before I knew for sure what it was. You guessed it, I turned to Mary.

She said those green weed-like plants were day lilies and according to her, they had been there as long as she could remember. I made a mental note that Mary had lived next door for over twenty years and the former owner had lived in our house for forty-five years. Could the day lilies have been there that long?      Mary explained that every year after they blossomed, the owner would cut the plants to the ground, then just let them come up the next year. I was beginning to grasp the implications of what was ahead.

By mid-summer, the day lilies blossomed and for a few weeks they did look nice. But the small number of flowers, considering the amount of foliage, said root-bound to me. The orange flowers were tall and regal as they blossomed and then there was nothing but green weeds growing everywhere! They must go, I decided, no matter what it takes.

I got out my spade and shovel and started digging. The clumps of dirt were huge, some made up of, what seemed like, hundreds of bulbs. The bulbs were tightly interwoven and hung together so stubbornly, it took hours just to loosen a clump and pull it out of the soil. For many weeks, each night after work I’d change into gardening clothes and spend an hour or so digging day lilies. On many week-ends, I devoted an entire day to digging day lilies. The men at the city compost knew me well as I pulled up almost every Saturday to drop off my “garden debris.” I dreamt about day lilies. I began to hate the sound of the words, “day lilies.”

What was worse, a week or two after they’d been dug out, the bulbs I’d missed sprouted new growth. They were rejuvenating themselves before my eyes. I began to think they were real, like something from a horror movie, determined to take over my life. Scenes from the latest Stephen King movie, Revenge of the Day Lilies, played out in my dreams.  The long slender green leaves and the bulbs, like slimy phantoms, would rise up from the day lily patch and terrorize the determined but uninformed gardener. She’d be obsessed, digging relentlessly, pulling bulbs and roots out as they seemed to fight her to the death.

I was told by the most pessimistic or maybe realistic gardeners, that they will come back, that I surely hadn’t gotten them all. One helpful neighbor gleefully told me, now that I’d dug out so many, the ones that were left would have the room to grow and blossom.

“Expect more than ever next year,” she informed me. “Maybe when they come up, they’ll be so pretty you will enjoy them.” That made my day!

By the end of September, I’d finished “the dig,” or at least finished as much as I could. I’d become more sensible, dividing the garden into work areas. This year I will tackle the middle area. The area farthest from the house will have to wait another year.

After three years of relentless digging, I’d decided this was the last year I’d plant marigolds from seed and watch them come up only to be crowded out by long, pointed leaves. Other gardeners assured me I needed to get tough. So, next fall I’d use weed killer on the entire area. Then the following spring, I could start from scratch and build my dream garden. I just hope I don’t appear in a Stephen King sequel: Revenge of the Day Lilies, Part II!

 

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