Saturday, February 20, 1999

Re: Bob Sobek and his Daylilies

From mhuben Wed Feb 24 11:46:52 1999
Subject: Re: Bob Sobek and his Daylilies
Well, Bobbie Brooks and Mary Collier Fisher have shamed me by their example into saying a bit about my mentor in daylily hybridizing. But first, I want to make it clear that Bob Sobek is not dead. :-) Many people aren't spoken of in such glowing terms until after their deaths: Bob just plain deserves it already.

There was an excellent article about Bob and his hybridizing program in a Region IV newsletter several years ago, for those who want to look it up. Unfortunately, I forget the issue number.

But basically, Bob does what we all should do. He exploits his natural advantages, which others might consider handicaps. Start with an unirrigated garden that has an exceptionally cold microclimate and a dry sandy soil that tests how daylilies perform under stressful conditions. Continue with a true plantsman's wide-ranging aesthetic sense that defies short-lived fashions that focus only on faces. And finish with great patience, keen planning, and discerning evaluation.

(A word on the side: Bob is just one of many here at the New England Daylily Society who have unbelievable discernment about what makes a daylily a good plant, besides just a pretty face or scape in a show. Other names that come immediately to mind are Phil Reilly, Susanne Mahler, Mary Collier Fisher. I'm trying hard to learn what I can from them.)

Bob also works on a three-year-to-bloom cycle: that's one of the "natural advantages" he exploits by working on goals that most people pass by in their quest to be fashionable.

Bob usually discusses his 5 breeding projects in a different way than I'm going to present his objectives. I think of his current breeding as attempting to bring the best modern and traditional daylily characteristics into important daylily niches: earlies, lates, northern rebloomers, species-like forms, unusual forms and colors, and talls.

When Bob introduces something, it has very few negatives and a long list of excellent qualities that can be taken for granted. Hardiness, sunfastness, floriferousness, thrip resistance, etc. While few of his introductions "smack you upside the head" with how novel they look, they are never "just another yellow" (even when they are yellow.) The advantage they have is simply summed up in a characteristic all too seldom considered: they have excellent or distinctive BEHAVIOR. Behaviors like high scape-count, good separation between buds, high bud counts, excellent increase, tolerance of environmental extremes like late frosts, opening well after cool nights, etc.

A few of Bob's intros that I grow are:

CITY OF SIN: a ***bright*** red self with terrific clarity of color and a great deal of sunfastness. I saw a block of it at Woodside in the afternoon that just stood out among the fields for its color and mass of bloom.

COOL SPICE: a light yellow-green unruffled self with a star-shaped bloom. Bud count is only in the teens. ***But*** the blooms last about 36 hours, have phenominal substance, will not melt or fade, it's very dormant, thrip resistant and hardy, increases rapidly, and essentially every fan makes a scape, even in clumps. Add to that a peculiar form of gracefulness which is hard to describe, except to compare it to true lilies. Every year I allow myself a cross or two outside of my main breeding program. The past two years, this is the parent I've used.

ECHO THE SUN: a tall miniature yellow self, but what a mass of bloom! This is another one I saw grown as a block at Woodside. It stood out as a great, tall chunk of yellow, composed of myriads of small, wide trumpets. In Bob's garden, it stands out among all the others at midseason. We counted 61 buds on one of the clump's scapes: I wonder what it would do in rich soil. It probably carries rebloom potential, since STELLA is one of its parents.

IN STRAWBERRY TIME: one of the earliest modern daylilies other than the yellow ones, a rose blend less than 2 weeks after its parent STELLA. A hybridizers' flower for two reasons. The color could be mroe clear, and it is strongly nocturnal: the flower begins to senesce (melt) around noon. While it does not rebloom up here, it is excellent for breeding rebloomers, and can throw near-whites as well as pinks.

PUMPKIN TIME: a pumpkin-colored late bud-builder that really will continue blooming until Halloween (though the blooms don't tend to open well after mid-September.) This is pretty strong bud-building: 15 buds on each of two branches. Pollen fertile only.

THREE SEASONS: one of the foundations of my breeding program. A small, unruffled light yellow self that routinely throws three scapes per fan, starting shortly after STELLA. In my garden, where STELLA hardly ever repeats! Around here, I get nine buds on nearly unbranched scapes, but I'm told that it's better down south. It increases rapidly, and in very loose, easily separated clumps. But oh! The seedlings! It passes strong rebloom tendencies, and a small proportion of the seedlings show little trace of the yellow.

TOY TRUMPETS: this is a trophy-taking minature yellow. It has fabulously branched scapes, often with many flowers open at one time. It seems to come away with best miniature at our local shows every two years.

Bob Sobek has released many others as well (I think his count is about 20), but I don't know them all well enough to report on them. Many of Bob's introductions have been out for a while, and are easily affordable. I only know of a few nurseries carrying some of them. Woodside Nursery has a few, and Tranquil Lake Nursery has many. Bob doesn't keep large stocks of his intros, but he does have some.

Bob is easily approachable, and only to happy to share his ideas and practical experience in breeding. He has a great many seedlings that he'll probably not introduce that are of great interest for many breeding programs, such as mine, and he has been very generous sharing them. I've used at least 5 of them heavily in the past two years. If you're breeding in niches outside the current fashions, Bob is the man to talk to.

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