One of the worst things about summer, at least in New York City, is that by the time the Fourth of July rolls around, you’re pretty much ready for it to be over. It’s beyond hot, everyone has stains down the middle of their backs and under their armpits, you can’t afford a beach vacation, you’re crushed into subway cars touching other people’s sweaty arms and legs in ways that would fall under a definition of intimate relations in almost any other scenario. For these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to stop and pay tribute to the daylily.
It’s not exactly a rare plant, and some of the 60,000 varieties are considered invasive. (Whatever, let’s not argue.) You see the daylily in gardens everywhere, from the trashiest to the most deluxe. You can find them at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights (pictured above). If you take the Hudson River Bridge from the Bronx and drive south on the West Side Highway, you can see the orange blossoms splashing pools of color down the hillsides of Inwood Hill Park, which is otherwise an old-growth forest filled with the spirits of the dead. (If you’ve spent any time lost on the constantly mutating paths of Inwood Hill Park, you know that I’m hardly exaggerating.)
Anyway, daylilies. We planted ours a few years ago in pots and spent much time fretting that they might not flower as a result. I mean, pots are great, but generally speaking plants like to be in the ground. It’s sort of like how most people don’t like to sleep on waterbeds, if you’re looking for a bad analogy.
This year, however, two of the four we planted sent up stalks (or “scapes”) and started blooming last week, not long after the official beginning of summer. The orange one is a double blossom called “Awesome Luck,” which okay is a pretty “awesome name,” amirite lol?
The red one is much smaller and is cutely/tragically called “Itty Bitty Gal.” For laughs I like to imagine this flower holding forth on deep philosophical issues, in Latin. “Corpora lente augescent cito extinguuntur.” — Itty Bitty Gal.
Which all joking aside means “bodies grow slowly and die quickly,” and is a very apt description of the daylily itself, whose blossoms generally last no more than a day, so that what at noon is a luxuriant flower is by nightfall a shriveled ______. (Sorry.)
The daylily is perfect for July, when summer is still young but death is already hanging in the air like the amber glow of a setting sun, an approaching comfort for those of us who plan to welcome it with arms open.
Matthew Gallaway lives in Washington Heights and is the author of The Metropolis Case. He will be reading in Washington Heights at Word Up (4157 Broadway @176 Street; take the A-train, obv) on July 13 at 7:30, then heading across the street for drinks at No Parking, which should require no explanation.