“A lily of a day is fairer far in May, although it fall and die that night, it was the plant and flower of light. In small proportions we just beauties see, and in short measures life may perfect be.” —“The Nobel Nature” by Ben Jonson

Hemerocallis, beauty for a day, daylily, ditch lily, tawny daylily, corn lily, tiger daylily, railroad daylily, roadside daylily, wash-house lily. 

Call them what you what you will, the perennial hemerocallis fulva flowering outside my front door, in the words of simplification guru Marie Kondo, never fail to “spark joy” in my heart every year about this time, stirring up a host of multi-generational family memories in the process.

When I say my daylilies have roots, I’m talking about more than the slowly-spreading subterranean  tubers buried in the sandy North Woods soil. I’m also talking about generational roots.  These daylilies have their own family tree chart, going back at least four generations to Great Grandma and Grandpa Aschauer.

These daylillies are also very well traveled, having made the trans-Atlantic crossing from the Old World to the New in the late 1800s, making their dormant journey in a steamer trunk from Germany to North 20th Street in Milwaukee via New York’s Ellis Island.

The American Hemerocallis Society defines a historic daylily as any plant past 30 years old or so. By that measure, the Aschauer plants in my garden are the giant sequoias of daylilies.

As the Aschauer “kids”?— Arthur, Ernest, Mildred and Mabel — fledged into adults and flew the nest, Grandma and Grandpa Aschauer dug up and gifted portions of their backyard daylily patch —  massive in a scale I can scarcely comprehend — in old black-and-white family photos from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Clumps of daylilies went west with my Grandpa Art and Nana in 1954 to their newly-built suburban Brookfield home, where two sprawling daylily beds anchored the decorative white roadside fencing that flanked the driveway, a shingle crafted by Grandpa Art reading “The Aschauers” swinging gently in the soft summer breeze over the daylilies from the towering signpost. 

Following Grandpa Art’s 1969 passing when I was just four, I gladly and proudly took over the green thumb stewardship of his beloved daylily beds over the span of several decades into the early 1990s, faithfully watering and weeding the daylilies for Nana on my regular visits from childhood into adulthood.

When my folks built their Caledonia home in 1978 when I was a teen, Nana sent divided clumps of Aschauer daylilies south to Racine County for their backyard garden, where the Aschauer daylillies still prolifically bloom today. 

And in due time, multiple divided clumps of the Aschauer daylilies made their way north from Racine County to my home in Boulder Junction, where brilliant day-long splashes of orange spans the generations for a few fleeting weeks each summer, the voracious appetites of the neighborhood white deer notwithstanding, reminding me of the colorful family legacy that I carry forward day by day. 

In time, it’s my hope that clumps of Aschauer daylilies will in turn be passed along to my own adult children as they get settled and put down roots, both figuratively and literally, wherever that may be.

Have daylillies. Will travel. It’s a family tradition that binds the generations.