Bill Hurt and Marshall Morrow’s homegrown passion for daylilies

By Ross Howell Jr.

Retired school administrator Bill Hurt of Browns Summit has a Tennessee lilt in his voice and a bright, wide smile. If you want to see that smile really light up, just ask him a question about daylilies.

“Oh, I love them,” Hurt says. He explains his attitude about the flower is anything but rational, and he’s been growing them seriously since 2006.

“The moment you see a favorite plant bloom,” he continues, “it’s a feeling of overwhelming joy, seeing something so beautiful.”

These days there’s plenty of joy in Hurt’s home and garden, which he owns with his husband, Marshall Morrow. Their garden is a National Display Garden, authorized by the American Daylily Society (also known as the American Hemerocallis Society), and features more than 300 hybrid varieties. It is one of only 250 or so authorized display gardens in all of the United States, Canada and Europe.

How about another number?

The humble Hemerocallis, wearing hues of orange and yellow, made its way from Asia to the New World by way of Europe and the British Isles. In colonial North Carolina, there were two types: Hemerocallis fulva and Hemerocallis kwanso, a double-blossom variety. Often called “road lily,” or worse, “ditch lily,” over the last century the daylily has been developed by “hybridizers” into more than 90,000 registered varieties!

Hurt nods at me. “Old as I am, I may run out of time,” he says. “I may run out of money, I may run out of land, but I’ll never run out of daylilies.”

And these many varieties are cloaked in the colors of the rainbow. Well, except for true blue and true white, though the hybridizers are far from giving up on breeding those colors, along with other characteristics, too.

“You know, I was talking with a hybridizer up in Kentucky who’s a friend of mine,” Hurt says, “because deer really like to eat daylilies.” Such damage can be a big problem. While Hurt and Morrow are careful to keep their plants treated with repellant, deer sometimes destroy so many plants set out by neophyte growers that they get discouraged and give up the endeavor altogether.
According to the American Daylily Society, a new grower can spend from as little as $3 to as much as $500 for a small hybrid starter plant. Since Hurt and Morrow like to add a new variety or two each garden year, he figures they’ve spent an average of $175 for each hybrid in their collection.

That’s expensive, especially to a newcomer who sees his garden wiped out in a night.   

“Anyway, I said to the hybridizer,” Hurt says, “‘you want to get really creative You ought to figure out a way to make your hybrids deer-repellent.’

My friend doesn’t miss a beat,” Hurt smiles. “‘It’s not impossible!’ he says. ‘Right now it’s just not feasible economically.’”

Hurt explains that the hybridizer has been experimenting with injecting the tastes of garlic, rosemary and thyme — flavors abhorrent to the deer palate — into his varieties.

Hurt grew up in Tennessee in a family of flower-growers. His grandfather, grandmother and mother all grew flowers.

“I still grow feather hyacinths and peonies my grandmother gave me that date back to the ’50s,” he says. “They’re in a bed at the front of the house,” he continues. “Every spring when they bloom, I think of Momma Hurt.”

After his education, Hurt taught school for many years and served as a school administrator in Franklin, Tennessee. Later he moved to Greensboro, where he served Guilford County Schools for seven years.

In Franklin he left behind a substantial garden.

“Back then I was really interested in Japanese iris,” Hurt says. “I had quite a few varieties. And I’d gotten interested in daylilies, too, which are a great companion flower to the iris.”

When he sold his home in Franklin, the new owners assured him they would take good care of the flowers in his garden. So he left them.

“You know how that goes,” Hurt says. “Their intentions were good, but they really let the plants go.”

Hurt’s first home in Greensboro was at Lake Jeanette. The lot was small, and in no time Hurt and Morrow had it filled with daylily varieties.

“We just ran out of space,” Hurt says. “But during the winter two years ago we found this house with this big lot in Summit Lakes and bought it, so here we are.”

Hurt and Morrow moved the entire Lake Jeanette garden inventory in February. “Fortunately that year we had a dry January,” Hurt says. “So it wasn’t too muddy and we were able to till new beds. We dug the plants, loaded them in garbage bags and drove them out here to get them in the ground.”

Morrow came up with the design of the garden. It’s laid out in curved beds, with ample grassy lanes between, so the gardeners can tend to their daylilies easily, and visitors can roam the beds, savoring the beauty close at hand, without trampling any plants.

“Marshall’s idea was to create something like an orchestra pit,” Hurt says. The effect is both attractive and functional.

Hurt and Morrow have a special method for preparing their plants for spring.

“We’re older now, so we’ll just do a row at a time,” Hurt says. “We don’t want to wear out our knees, you know.”

First, Hurt and Morrow carefully pull back the pine straw mulch from the crowns of the plants.

“See?” Hurt asks. “Some daylilies are evergreen through the winter. Others are dormant. Those stand a better chance in colder winters.”

Then Hurt and Morrow groom each plant, pruning out dead leaves and other organic matter. Some plants are large enough to divide, others will need another growing season. Excess plant matter and mulch are saved for composting. Once plant grooming is complete, they prepare a special spring fertilizer cocktail for the daylilies.

It consists of blood meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa pellets, powdered molasses, Milorganite and 3 inches composted cow manure.

I ask Hurt if he minds me giving away the secret ingredients of his fertilizer mix.

“Oh, no,” he replies. “It’s all about spreading the love. We want to get as many people growing daylilies successfully as we can.”

After fertilizing, the plants are mulched with new pine straw, and are ready for spring.

“You know, there’s something people forget,” Hurt says. “A daylily bloom is just that. It lasts for a day.” In fact, the word Hemerocallis derives from the Greek words for “beauty” and “day.” The flowering period for an established plant is usually weeks long, however, because of the many buds developed on the “scape,” the leafless stem of a daylily.

During summer, Hurt and Morrow deadhead the spent blooms every evening, so the beds present a pure display the next morning.

“When the plants are really going,” Hurt says, “especially when we have the garden open for viewing, it might take us as much as three hours each night to groom them all.”

Hurt tells me when he was growing Japanese iris, he learned about a Zen practice of meditating on the unfolding of an individual flower.

“That would be a good thing to do with daylilies,” he says. “But you better have some time on your hands.” He reckons the opening of a daylily blossom takes a good hour or so.

Neat, legible labels are set by each hybrid. As required by the American Daylily Society for a display garden, the labels include the registered name of the hybrid, the year the hybrid was introduced and the name of the hybridizer.

Some of Hurt’s favorites include Tony the Tiger, “an exquisite pattern introduced in 2019, with that elusive blue color and blue/yellow contrast in blooms 7 to 8 inches across,” he says.

There’s Mayor of Munchkinland, “a miniature,” Hurt explains, “meaning the bloom measures under 3 inches across, and it always, always has multiples.”

Another is Rainbow Reef, a pattern designated “small,” meaning its blossoms are 3 to 4 inches across, “and the blue is there, contrasting with pink,” Hurt adds.

Irish Mayhem is a variety with remarkable green colors and big blossoms 9 inches across. “The texture of the blooms is amazing,” Hurt says. “They feel just like porcelain.”

Then there’s Dorothy and Toto. “This variety features beautiful double blooms,” Hurt says. “When it was introduced in 2003, it won the Stout Silver Medal, the highest award the American Daylily Society gives to a hybridizer.”

And last, categorized as an “unusual form daylily,” there’s Garden Fairy. “It has this wonderful, open form, ruffles, and grows to be 46 inches tall,” Hurt says.

Clever marketers, those hybridizers. They’re constantly coming up with tantalizing names for their creations. We didn’t mention Heavenly United We Stand, Fluttering Beauty, Boss Hogg, Bloody Marys at Windy Hill, Sips of Sin or Ice Cream Sundae.

And the hybridizers are located all over the country. Hurt likes to support regional hybridizers in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia. But he also has purchased cultivars from Minnesota and Kansas.

Want to learn more about daylilies?

There’s a fount of knowledge at the American Daylily Society website, The society also publishes the Daylily Journal, along with books and other resources and sponsors a national convention, which in 2020 will be held in Savannah, Georgia.

In addition to regular monthly meetings, a local peak season opportunity will be presented by Triad Daylily Fans on June 27, 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., at Fellowship Presbyterian Church, 2005 New Garden Road, Greensboro.

And whatever you do, don’t miss Bill Hurt and Marshall Morrow’s Open Garden at 3631 Summit Lakes Road, Browns Summit, on June 13, 9 a.m. to noon. The garden should be at its blooming peak then, and you’ll probably bump into a number of our area’s master gardeners.

“It’s all about spreading the love of daylilies,” Hurt concludes.  OH

Working on this article prompted farm boy Ross Howell Jr. to recall one of his mother’s favorite passages of scripture: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 6:28-29 (KJV)

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