Beautiful for a Day

 by Cara Williams | photography by Clay Dolan

Meet the dedicated horticulturists behind Artemesia Daylilies and their mission to bring these one-day wonders to every garden. 

There’s a ditch near my house where a cluster of lilies grows each summer—the tall, vivid orange variety with single blooms that are a common sight along Escarpment backroads. Years ago, I salvaged a similar bunch from a friend’s cottage property. I meticulously separated them and transplanted them into my back garden, where they proceeded to dominate and crowd out every other plant in the bed. 

I had just made a rookie mistake; it turns out that Hemerocallis fulva, also known as ditch lilies, railroad lilies, tiger lilies, and outhouse lilies, are listed as invasive by the Ontario Invasive Plant Council. As a beginner gardener, I wanted to find a better way to add colourful and beautiful lilies to my garden, but didn’t know where to start. Then, while on a writing assignment in the Beaver Valley a few summers ago, I discovered that the subjects of my assignment, the Buzzing Bush Apiary, are also horticulturists who specialize in daylilies. 

The story of Artemesia Daylilies began on July 24, 2003. The founders, Alain Johnson and Jocelyn Bertrand (Al and Joe), embarked on this floral journey after a fateful visit to a grower in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Inspired by the gorgeous clusters of colour and texture, Al proposed they venture into commercial daylily cultivation. With similar growing conditions at their property in Priceville and a greenhouse ready for seedlings, the idea quickly took root. Today, Al and Joe delight customers not only with their stunning daylilies but also with the whimsical and humorous names each variety carries. 

Often called the ideal perennials, daylilies adapt wonderfully to various climates, soils, and water levels. Most daylily cultivars are diploid or triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily variety. Their remarkable resilience against diseases and pests means less worry and more enjoyment. The botanical name Hemerocallis translates to “beautiful for a day,” aptly describing how each bloom on these prolific, multi-stemmed plants lasts just one day.

Jocelyn Bertrand and Alain Johnson at Artemesia Daylilies. 

Starting with a few hundred varieties, Al and Joe’s collection soon expanded into a vast and diverse array, featuring imaginatively named daylilies such as “Explosion in the Paint Factory,” “Electric Marmalade Magic,” and “Yoga Man.” This new venture wasn’t just about growing plants; it was about building a community. Their dedication to the craft and passion for sharing knowledge led them to numerous horticultural societies, where they shared their expertise in daylily cultivation and hybridization.

They soon outgrew their modest gardens which led them to the picturesque farm they now call home on Grey Road 13 near Kimberley. In May 2014, they began the laborious task of relocating thousands of seedlings and 1,400 varieties of daylilies to the Beaver Valley. The move was challenging, but their determination saw them through, even planting the last daylilies amidst the first snow of the season in late October. 

Around this time, Joe also began researching beekeeping, devouring every available resource on the topic, and laying the foundation for Buzzing Bush Apiary. Before long dozens of brightly painted, stacked boxes dotted the lush meadows just beyond the 19th-century barn near the gardens. The bees serve a dual purpose—they create delicious honey, and they pollinate plants, trees, fruit, and of course, daylilies. 

Before long, Artemesia Daylilies had firmly established itself as a premier hybridizer and grower. Renowned for cultivating a breathtaking array of unique and stunning daylilies that captivate and enchant, Al and Joe welcome customers to shop in the gardens surrounding their renovated house and barn. Visitors are treated to more than just a visual feast—they can tour the property, purchase a plant of their choice, and enjoy a day immersed in the beauty of daylilies. Each variety has a display plant, and behind the displays, divisions are available, ready to be dug up and taken home. This approach ensures that customers receive healthy plants with fully developed root systems, making the transition to their new homes seamless. The nursery also accommodates groups, offering educational tours and a space to relax and enjoy the surroundings. 

H. ‘Sherry Candy’ 

In addition to on-site sales, Artemesia Daylilies also caters to online customers across Canada and the United States. The necessary paperwork and certifications, such as the phytosanitary certificate, ensure that plants are disease-free and ready for international shipping. 

The warm reception from the community and the constant stream of visitors inspired the couple to continue expanding their collection. In the fall of 2023, they invested in the latest and most beautiful varieties, adding 272 new plants to their collection. This, in turn, brought a fresh sense of excitement to their daily routine. 

“By adding those 272 varieties, we almost found a second wind,” laughed Joe. “It became like a renewal of interest for us to wake up at seven and go and pollinate, because one of our focuses is to continue hybridizing, creating the most outstanding plants with the new collection that we have. And we’re now focusing more on northern hardy plants coming from northern hybridizers.” 

The peak blooming season, from the second week of July to early August, is a sight to behold. During this period, early, midseason, and late bloomers overlap, creating a stunning display of colours and forms. Some newer varieties even boast re-blooming capabilities, extending the floral display well into the late season. 

Joe and Al are passionate about sharing their knowledge with others. They offer hands-on sessions on plant division, hybridization, and general care, catering to the interests of their visitors. Their engaging presentations have made them popular speakers at horticultural societies across Ontario and Quebec. “One of the questions that we usually get is when do we divide?” explained Joe. “So, we have a hands-on division session here. And we discuss the pros and cons of dividing in the spring, summer, and fall. Al is a teacher, so we both become pretty lively when we give a presentation.” 

H. ‘Bayou Dancer’ 

H. ‘Chicago Knockout’ 

As they approach their 21st year in business, Al and Joe are more excited than ever about the future while in the midst of an exceptional blooming season, thanks to the abundant water and favourable weather conditions. They have also begun the careful selection of new varieties, ensuring that each season brings something new and breathtaking to the garden. “We have started to hybridize again,” Joe explained. “Out of all the seeds that we will be creating, some of them will be worthy of introduction as new varieties.” 

Joe outlined the registration process: “It involves several criteria. Once you meet all of those, we choose a name and send the information to the American Daylily Society, which is the registrar of Daylily names. As a grower, you get to pick which plants you want to register.” 

Daylily names can be anything under the sun, and are often inspired by rhymes, word plays or puns like “Blue Me Away.” But some have deeper meaning. Joe said one of their bestselling varieties is called “Cloudbusting Babushka” which was created in honour of someone who passed away. “Their siblings wanted to name a daylily in his memory and Cloudbusting Babushka by Kate Bush was his favourite song.” 

Adding a memory of his own, Joe said, “My dad was a really low-key guy, very quiet and nice. He never screamed, never yelled. When my mom would say things like, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ he would always say, ‘Oui chou.’ Which means, ‘Yes, dear, yes, my little cabbage’. So, I named a variety, ‘Oui Chou.’ I could hear him say it. Now every time I see one, I think of him.” 

It’s no wonder daylilies have captured the attention and passion of hybridizers, growers, and even novice gardeners like myself. These flowers are fade-resistant and come in almost every colour combination imaginable. They can be fragrant, repeat bloomers, continuous bloomers, ruffled, double, or various combinations thereof. What makes daylilies even more special is their ability to be personalized, allowing gardeners to name new varieties in honour of loved ones or special moments. This personal connection ignites a gardener’s imagination and enhances one’s enjoyment in the garden. E