Jack Roberson — A New Breed of Breeder
Creating even a single new variety of garden flower requires a herculean effort. Countless blooms must be cross-pollinated. Thousands upon thousands of hybrid seedlings must be raised and evaluated. Then come years of testing to determine which, if any, of the long-nurtured plants have that special something to succeed in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Yet all this is a labor of love for one of the world’s preeminent hybridizers of daylilies.
Jack Roberson hybridized his first garden plant, a gourd squash, as a seven-year-old growing up in rural Oklahoma. Throughout his youth radiant daylilies filled a 40-foot bed behind the family house. They made an impression that has colored his entire life. Indeed, as president of American Daylily & Perennials, a leading mail-order nursery based in Grain Valley, Missouri, with growing operations in Houston, Texas, Jack Roberson’s childhood interest has blossomed into a life’s work.
Although a practicing veterinarian, his professional passion has been for hybridizing daylilies ever since the early ’70s with his first cultivar introduced in 1978. Named ‘Mormon’, it created an instant sensation. The glittering near-white blossoms are not only exceptionally fragrant but open to a width of a full 12 inches. The American Hemerocallis Society cited ‘Mormon’ as being one of the outstanding daylilies offered in 1986.
Uncompromising quality remains the hallmark of what might be termed “the Roberson touch.” Out of approximately 150,000 daylily crosses he has made over the years, he has chosen to register and introduce but 52 cultivars. Among the most important is the Landscape Supreme series. “Each daylily in this series offers all the characteristics I believe are sought by the greatest number of people,” says Jack Roberson. “Vivid color, near continuous bloom, compact growth habit, rapid clumping and hardiness — a tall order but one that makes for plants as useful as they are beautiful.”
Landscape Supreme daylilies are about two feet tall and send up multiple new flower stalks as many as six times per bloom season, from mid-spring through late fall. The plants make colorful companions to other perennials in traditional borders or can serve as bright garden accents. Because they proliferate so quickly, the plants can be naturalized in a lawn or can be used in place of lawn grass as a dramatic ground cover. These strong-rooted daylilies even help prevent soil erosion on steep slopes. Along with the original ‘Yellow Landscape Supreme’, there is now ‘Apricot’, ‘Lilac’ and the immensely popular ‘Red Landscape Supreme’.
A special fascination Jack Roberson shares with the gardening public is for unusual blossom color and unique color combinations. “Everyone wants what’s most difficult to find, something that is not only lovely but precious due to its rarity,” he says. “When I walk through my hybrid seedling beds to see what’s new — I mean never seen before by human eyes — I feel like an explorer who has come upon an unknown wonder of the world.”
One of the most spectacular daylily introductions in recent history is Roberson’s 1986 ‘Clairvoyant Composer’. Its ruffled lavender petals are highlighted by distinct white midribs and edged in deep purple. The blossom’s chartreuse throat, which is surrounded by a faint watermark, emerges from a brilliant green heart. This fragrant tricolor is a far cry from the solid yellow or orange flowers still generally associated with daylilies. As its name suggests, ‘Clairvoyant Composer’ points toward the future.
Countless cultivars already exist in shades ranging from cream to pink to mahogany. “Thirty years ago, a hybridizer who wanted to create an exciting pink daylily, for example, only had about a half-dozen cultivars to work with as parents,” Jack Roberson explains. “Now there are several thousand.” But some colors remain elusive. “The dream of any daylily hybridizer would be to create the perfect blue, white or black,” he says. “I’ve come pretty close, especially to black with my ‘Ebony Lamamite’, but it would be a wonderful achievement to come up with pure blue.”
From the start, Jack Roberson has had a remarkable genetic pool of daylilies at his disposal. American Daylily & Perennials, which he owns and operates with his wife Jo, has evolved from Houston Daylily Gardens, the business the Robersons developed when they purchased and relocated the entire field stock previously used by Russell’s Gardens, Spring, Texas, once the world’s largest grower of daylilies. The Robersons now grow over one million daylilies per year at their 40-acre Houston, Texas, nursery and close to 1/2 million daylilies in the rapidly developing Grain Valley, Missouri, nursery.
American Daylily & Perennials is uniquely qualified to offer professional service to mail-order customers in all parts of the United States. Product freshness is guaranteed because the nursery grows all of the daylilies it ships, including its own hybrids plus top-quality cultivars from sources around the country. The American Daylily & Perennials catalog is the only mail-order source for the complete list of new Roberson Introductions.
Every order is shipped with complete cultural instructions based on the Robersons’ many years of experience with daylilies. And the Robersons take pleasure and pride in sharing their expertise with the hundreds of amateur and professional gardeners who write or phone each year. “The only reason for the existence of all this beauty so dear to my heart is for the enjoyment of mankind,” says Jack Roberson, “and if we can’t relate to that, even as business people, then it’s of very little value.”
To help spread the word about the beauty and versatility of daylilies, Jack Roberson has written a new booklet that will be of interest to beginning and experienced gardeners alike. The color-illustrated booklet contains all the information needed to grow the kind of vigorous, flower-filled daylily plants that reflect “the Roberson touch.” For a FREE copy, gardeners can write to: Daylily Booklet, American Daylily & Perennials, Dept. 100, Grain Valley, Missouri 64029.