I posted again at Cold Climate Gardening.
I thought of it as a here's-my-problem and here's-my-solution kind of post but realize readers' confusion for writing about a plant so early before its season. Now is an excellent time for transplanting them into your garden, allowing for root growth to establish them and producing a respectable showing during bloom later this year.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
I posted again at Cold Climate Gardening.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Saturday, April 21, 2007
I'm looking forward in the future to introducing myself to the Louisianas, their rich tones of rusty browns and other colors providing an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the garden. I've only just started with a few shade lovers and want to grow more. I also have one Japanese Iris, ensata 'Momojido', and want to perfect my growing of it; it is a sorry little plant and has not thrived. Perhaps moving it or replenishing its soil will work but sometimes there is an incompatibility, the relationship is not in equilibrium. That sometimes happens in gardening, the wrong plant in the wrong garden, and then it's time to find a new home for it with someone else. I'm not upset if it happens and want only the best for it, it will be an amicable parting.
Native to the Northern Hemisphere, Iris are grown and enjoyed worldwide. From high alpine ridges to deep forests, and deserts to wetlands along with many grasslands, Iris are found. Some have been used medicinally and others show up as representative symbols for royal houses and youth organizations. There is something about their recognizable flowers that is so appealing and on many levels. Their world is deep and large and I must explore further. I've often thought that a garden without Iris is the weaker for it and makes a statement about the gardener.
For more information please visit:
- AIS: American Iris Society
- Historic Iris Preservation Society
- Species Iris Group of North America
- North American Species introducing us to what's always been here
- Species Iris Database with interactive capability
For specific classes and types of Iris visit:
- Tall Bearded Iris Society
- The Median Iris Society
- Reblooming Iris Society
- Dwarf Iris Society of America
- Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris
- Society for Siberian Iris
- Spuria Iris Society and another Spuria Iris Society
- Society for Louisiana Iris
- Society for Japanese Iris
- Japanese Iris tribute page by a Belgian enthusiast
- Aril Society International has good eye candy
International Iris Societies
- Canadian Iris Society
- British Iris Society
- Danish Iris and Lily Society
- Italian Iris Society
- French Iris and Bulbous Plants Society
- Gesellschaft der Staudenfreunde is the Iris branch of the German Perennials Society
- Middle-European Iris Society
- Russian Iris Society
- Japan Iris Society and in English
- New Zealand Iris Society
- Iris Society of Australia
- South Australian Iris Society
Iris Research from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden which includes a cool phylogeny of Iris based on DNA sequencing
Most of the societies have links for where to buy Iris but in case they might have missed some try:
- The Iris Page from Cyndi's Catalog of Garden Catalogs. Cyndi's is an enormous compendium of mail-order gardening sources.
- Cayeux a French Iris breeder. I enjoyed the pictures even though I don't know the language.
My Aunt and Uncle used to visit us while I was growing up. We didn't see them very often, our lives were separate and didn't intersect much, and each visit was a pleasure. They have unique voices, on the order of old radio and movie stars, and I loved hearing them talk. My Aunt had a way of looking at you that let you know her expectations of you were pretty high and you didn't want to see her being disappointed with you.
When I was older I found out she loved gardening and eventually specialized with orchids, covering a small patio and growing them into perfection. She would lose herself with her gardening and plants, taking a respite from the day and replenishing her soul. Eventually they moved into a retirement community, and of course, bringing a few special plants with them. I don't know how my Aunt did it but she managed to secure a unit with a small garden, one of the few and rarely available. The scale was reduced, true, but the joy of being outside and involved with something she loved was still there. My Aunt passed away a few years ago and it's outside I feel closest to her, sharing the same processes, enjoying the weather, and feeling part of an ancient tradition. It's where I imagine Aunt Iris and her sisters, Rose and Fern, being forces of nature and taking on the world.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
I've been writing my Iris posts on the fly, scurrying to get them done and uploading them in a timely manner. I'm behind right now because of a few sleepless nights this week and trying to verify some of my facts in a future post are accurate.
But until then, how about some good news? We're in for a stretch of better weather here, from today through next week, with much higher temperatures and a true look at spring. A couple of bluebirds, male and female, were spotted here yesterday and I hope some insects are flying around for them. They were awfully pretty in the evergreens with a snowy background but at the same time it was weird. I'm glad they're back: the snows are receding, Salix sp. (Willow) and Acer rubrum (Red Maple) are blooming and we're on the right track, once again, for spring.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
If Irises are the rainbow flowers, then PCN (Pacific Coast Native) hybrids are the technicolor dreams of what the other Iris can only aspire. Advancing beyond all the rest, the layered combinations of colors often bleed and ooze into traceries of veins. Many have bold central blotches and splotches of contrasting colors, surpassing the ocellated eyes of peacock feathers. Their only rivals for that kind of patterning and coloration comes from some of the South African Moraeas and California Calochortus, but those are bulbs.
PCNs are not perfect and have their faults. They are not attractive without their flowers; calling them "rough" is being kind. The leaves often have brown edges and tips, looking haggard and beat up and without distinction. They require better than average drainage and part shade, being at home on slopes beneath the edges of trees. They have unproven hardiness here but I would still like to experiment with them, discovering for myself if it's possible they will survive and thrive. I would begin with straight species and close hybrids, seeking clones from high elevations or of proven cold tolerance. It is a challenge to grow them, no question, but it is one I would gladly accept.
I realized after I wrote my other post about PCNs that I was too excited discovering a new hybridizer and didn't adequately explain why I think they are at the pinnacle of all Iris breeding. I could go on and on, trying to describe them adequately and failing, piling on the adjectives but running out of them too soon. So instead of listening to me dishing up more blather, see for yourself.
This first section of plants are all winners of the Mitchell Award, given by the American Iris Society in recognition of the year's best new introduction of PCN. The award is named in honor of Sidney B. Mitchell, first president of the California Horticultural Society.
The next section is a sampling of work from top hybridizers.
The plants in this last section were all grown and photographed by Monterey Bay Nursery, a wholesale grower and major supplier of extensive lines of perennials, vines, exotic shrubs, and tender potted plants to Northern Californians. We used to live within four miles of them and sometimes "sneaked" in to purchase plants and look around. These pictures don't do the plants justice and it was always funny that many of them had color descriptors for names.
An outstanding plant known for its floriferousness, growth, and vigor.
This widely planted older variety is used as a standard against newer hybrids.
Monday, April 16, 2007
I think of this section of plants as the leftovers, the hodgepodge of exhaustion that are the second choice at plant sales for most folks, after the sexier stable mates of Beardeds and other Iris are gone. I'm not going to go on and on about how great or terrific these are and how each could be an essential and vital element in any garden. I'm just not. But I have grown all of them and found something admirable and desirable in each of them.
Whenever I hear the word "flag" used in relation to Iris, Iris pseudacorus is the first plant that comes to mind. Cleverly named "Yellow Flag", it is an easy and dependable grower, adaptable to a wide range of habitats and growing well under normal garden conditions. Its favorite environment is aquatic and it thrives in moist, wet, marsh, bog, and water-saturated soils. I haven't grown many of the water-loving Irises but from my experience and reading more, it can tolerate deeper waters than the rest. But don't think water is a crucial component for it and necessary for optimum health, it makes a fine garden plant when landlocked. Mine is the variety 'Sun Cascade', a double flowered selection that I'm not crazy about. My preference with Iris is for single flowers so my 'Sun Cascade' receives nothing special from me. Planted at the base of a Cercis canadensis (Redbud), it fills the void, superbly I grudgingly admit, between soil and lower branches. It is a difficult and trying site for most plants, with poor soil and an unending mashing of small and large rocks but the Iris doesn't care. It flowers reliably and abundantly each year and its foliage remains strong and blemish-free all season. Oh dear, it sounds like I'm liking it.
One of the floral details I like most about pseudacorus is a fine line of brown that is etched through its lower petals, the falls. Looking like its been painted by an artist using a feather for a brush, it moves an ordinary yellow flower into something more. This line of distinction is even more accentuated in the lighter primrose-colored varieties. If the regular ones are sun-colored then these are surely moon-glowed. Some may see them as too pale and washed-out, bleached by the sun and a mockery of it but I don't care, they are my favorites.
Originating in the Lancashire countryside at Holden Clough Nursery is the surprisingly named Iris, 'Holden Clough'. Arising as an unknown hybrid or a deeply held secret, it is strongly apparent that pseudacorus is one of its parents. Similar in leaf but on a smaller scale, it has grown well. I never had great expectations for it because of a lack of close association and experience with it. But it's here now and doing fine, helping to fill a void during others' bloom cycles. Lost in the landscape at a distance, its true place is up close, where the intricate play of brown drawn on gold can be admired. If pattern and tone are your vice, then this is your fix.
I have grown Iris foetidissima for many years, decades I confess, and appreciate its virtues. Chief among these is its adaptability for growing in shade, a difficult assignment for most plants. That it prefers such a location is noteworthy and its ability to compete with the surface roots of trees is stellar. Its leaves are so smooth they seem plastic and make a great contrast to other shade lovers. It has two vices that must be mentioned if you are considering this plant. The first fault can be deciphered from its name - foetidissima - to smell unpleasant, rank, or fetid. The odor is released when the leaves are crushed or broken, something I'm not in the habit of doing with my other plants so why this one? I don't find it to be strong or especially rank but to each their own nose. The other characteristic is not as easily excused: small ho-hum flowers that put the plain in Jane. But you should try to encourage as much flowering as possible because of its other great virtue - colorful seeds. Opening in the fall, the seedpods gaily display their bounty in shades of deep orange; that there are also white and golden seeded varieties seals the deal. As flashy as the flowers are modest, the seeds brighten up a shaded fall garden. Leave them on the plants and in time you'll soon have seedlings growing, creating drifts more becoming than anything I've done. As easy to transplant as other Iris, use them to fill holes or for profit or barter or even compost, there will be more. It reproduces without becoming weedy and I like that.
I have scant experience with Spuria Iris, one plant I confess, but I've liked what I've seen. Great height is their hallmark and with their rigidly erect leaves I thought an arrow was buried up to its fletching. Mine flowered blue and purple mixed with bronze, presented for inspection without any bending from me. Not loving wet soils, they thrived on a well-drained slope. I don't currently have one but that doesn't mean I'm not looking. Most varieties are purple but other colors are making inroads so let's encourage the breeders to continue refining and expanding their range by speaking well of them in greater than hushed tones. The Iris, silly.
If Iris could be a canine, then brevicaulis would be a lap dog. Very short, no more than a foot, this moisture-lover meanders on long rhizomes about the ground, popping up new sections of itself quite a distance from the rest, as if playing a hiding game with itself and me. With palest blue flowers in spring, I can't help but like it, a plant with humor amidst the beauty.
There is a range of spring-blooming Iris available as bulbs for planting in the fall. One of my weaknesses is small plants, the things that are wee, and when they are replicas of larger plants, so much the better. I'll call them the little ones and they come in all the classic Iris colors: blue, purple, violet, yellow, and white. I had a discouraging experience with them once and it has kept me from growing them again. I had a range of colors and planted them into terracotta containers, imagining them growing into perfect displays of Irisdom. The garden snails had other plans for those plants and easily overran all my attempts to prevent them. I thought Irises were impervious to animal onslaughts but they must have better e-mail, servers, and cellulars than me. I have gotten over it, mostly, and should reintroduce myself to these miniatures.
My newest acquisition is Iris versicolor, a native. This will be its first year of flowering for me and I'm eagerly waiting for its palest of blue flowers to brighten a shaded bed. I had no hesitation jettisoning some Hostas to make room for it. As it increases in size and I augment it with others, maybe the whole bed will become Hosta-free.
I think as I reread this post my new motto must be: More Iris Please.
Tomorrow: PCN Iris reprise
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Of all the cold hardy Iris, Siberians are my favorite. They are tough and can stand up to a lot of abuse from a northern environment. They are dependable and long-lived, growing well without much fussing. And like ornamental grasses, they add structure to beds, borders, and naturalistic plantings. Whether an Asian themed garden of contemplation, an eclectic cottage garden, a smartly dressed up townhouse, or a composition of meadow and wildflowers, Siberian Iris will be at home.
I bet I could even make them work in a garden devoted to succulents and cacti, taking into consideration their need for even moisture. Regular watering and full sun are their main requirements for good health. They appreciate a light feeding but it isn't crucial. Mine haven't been fed for four years and bloomed incredibly last year. I don't dead-head and leave the seed pods on, not for seed saving but because I like the way they look and their contrast to the foliage. A clean up of old foliage is really the only thing they require to be good looking for an entire season.
Long ago, after a long day of volunteering at the Arboretum, I noticed Beth holding a small plant in her lap on our way home. Calling it modest looking was being overly complimentary to it as it looked like a few sprigs of a rough grass. As head of the bulb department, Beth had an excellent relationship with the head nurseryman for the Arboretum. When I asked about the plant, she said Alec had given it to her as a special gift and I had to believe her as it looked very demure. After consideration for its needs, we found a spot for it and planted it out.
It grew well but surprised me by going dormant that first winter, something I didn't know Iris did because my experience with Iris at that point had been with Beardeds and PCNs. Beth let me know that dormancy was the best time to divide Siberians as they don't like it and prefer to remain in place without being disturbed. She also said dividing can set back their flowering. I was not being impressed with this little plant.
Spring came and our little plant grew, sending up more shoots than the previous year, and I could imagine it becoming a robust specimen in the future. I also, I swear, thought I could see it becoming a bit saucy. We were proud of it and my interest grew alongside it.
It flowered its first spring with us and it knocked me in the head with what an Iris could be, that the world of them was a great deal larger than I had imagined. They were deep blue, in a shade between navy and royal, and looked like tropical butterflies had graced us with their visit. Such a pretty plant.
A piece of the original Iris has been in every garden since, and is highlighted in a prominent bed in the front garden here in New York. It grows like a dream with minimal care and is a joy to have. It is also a living reminder of many special people, places, and times.
The plants in the pictures are the incredible work of Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer of Joe Pye Weed's Garden. Their hybridizing is boldy breaking a trail that hasn't been traveled before and they must be using an unknown alchemy to achieve these results. Horticulture Magazine wrote an article about them here and here.
Additional information can be found at The Society for Siberian Iris, including a list of commercial sources. The Society also has a page here devoted to awarding-winning Siberian Iris.
My final thought is this: there is no letter "e" in sibirica but there are 3 "i's". Anything else is wrong.
Tomorrow: More Iris - the lesser knowns and forgotten ones.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
When the word "Iris" is mentioned, many people will be thinking of hardy garden Iris. Most are classified as Tall Bearded and the botanical name is Iris germanica but never mind, they are the Iris for most gardeners and it is easy to see why. Thoroughly hardy, they are adaptable to a range of environments, thriving here in the east in moist soils and cold temps and being equally at home as drought tolerant stalwarts out west. Along with garden Primulas and Lupinus, Pansy/Violas, and Salvias, Bearded Iris are available in every color and can top them all by spicing it up with a dizzying array of multi-tones, sprinkles, and edges.
My Mom had an enormous bed of Iris in colors of yellow and purple and a few whites. They were never divided or replanted and over the years had become such an entanglement of overlapping rhizomes that isolating and tracing individual plants to their origins was impossible. They bloomed every spring, enhancing the garden with a deep and intoxicating aroma that to this day, when I catch a whiff will always associate with the color purple.
On a road trip once, Beth and I caught a small roadside sign signaling a nearby Iris farm was open. We followed the sign on our return home and proceeded climbing a steep hill to the nursery. Large and deep beds were burgeoning with arrays of color that it was apparent why Iris had been named after the rainbow goddess. We spent several hours walking the beds and admiring the plants, trying to whittle our wants down and making hard purchasing decisions. The nursery was a retired couple's dream and it's one I sometimes reflect on.
As with Hemerocallis (daylilies), the ranks of hybrids number in the deca-thousands. With such endless choices, choosing a variety for the garden is not easy. I'm a sucker for their colors and am always attracted to the reds and browns. Sometimes it's a yellow I'm after but then there are the near-blacks to consider. The pale colors that look as if clouds have been resting on their surfaces, leaving traces of themselves behind, always attract my interest. Well, you see how it goes. In some far distant future I would like to create a bed composed of blues in colors of sky, confederate, wedgewood, royal and navy with some whites added for spicing to simulate a water's edge on land.
But what I most want from the Beardeds are good growers with clean foliage. I realize as a former breeder of plants there is an unceasing pressure to release new varieties annually. But sometimes plants are released that are not representative of a breeder's best work. Flower form and color, always paramount goals, may be there but if the plant has weak and sparse stems, awkward proportions, slow to grow and increase in size, or susceptible to disease it should have been composted or burned and not made into a new variety. I feel if a new variety does not improve on existing lines of color and form they should also be culled out of existence. And yet the monetary costs of the breeding work have to be recouped at some point. It is an ethical decision every breeder must face and it isn't an easy one.
I am currently excited by a new-but-old variety for me. Received as a gift from friends, it was found on their property amidst a young woodland. I'm theorizing they are relics of an old garden site and the seedlings and saplings of trees have grown through them. I know they will be purple but that won't change my eagerness to see them. They are the plants with the green nubbins I wrote about earlier and their look of being fresh and full holds much promise.
Beth and I brought many plants with us when we moved to New York but there are three groups of plants I wish hadn't been left behind. I didn't know lilies would thrive here and regret they didn't make the trip with us. I had a collection of unnamed large-flowered Clematis of Japanese breeding work and they also are no longer with us. The last one was an Iris Beth bought on a Yahoo! plant auction, before the days of juggernaut e-bay. It came from Missouri and had simple flowers without the ruffles and steroidal look of today's hybrids. The plants grew vigorously and were chock-a-block full of stems; they also had the cleanest, freshest foliage of any Iris I have ever seen. I miss those Iris.
Tomorrow: Saying hello to Siberians
Friday, April 13, 2007
A significant effort, even revolutionary, is underway that is causing many plants to be reclassified. Basing their work on DNA, taxonomists are reshuffling their lists and dealing familiar plants into new stacks of families and genera. The changes always surprise me when I stumble upon them and I'm finding it hard to keep up with what's current.
This is exactly what happened when I found a couple of familiar plants had “lost” their names and become Iris.
|Old Name||New Name||Common Name|
|Belamcanda chinensis||Iris domestica||Blackberry Lily|
|Pardanthopsis dichotoma||Iris dichotoma|
|x-Pardancanda||Iris x-norrisii||Candy Lily|
These have been an absolute delight in the garden.
The interesting aspect to all this is how often the earlier taxonomists were correct. Basing their classifying on careful inspection of a plant's physical characteristics, especially its reproductive structures, they grouped plants into related families and generas that are being verified with current DNA testing. Some changes are being made now, this is true, but they were more often correct than wrong. Tomorrow: More Iris!
Note: Bluebird Nursery is the source of the pictures and my garden plants.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I was able to see my Iris this week for the first time since January. Their little nubbins of green poking above ground were satisfying to find and were another reminder that spring is here. And after today's snowfall, once again, I won't see them until who knows when. But that isn't going to stop me from thinking about them.
Iris are one of few plants with almost universal admirers. I have yet to find anyone with an active dislike for them, although they are probably out there. And that's too bad for them, because it is definitely their loss.
A spot in every garden can be found for Iris as they are widely distributed and inhabit many different environmental niches. They range from water-loving plants thriving in wet and marshy areas to plants that have adapted to surviving dry and harsh places and would rot away in normal garden conditions. From full sun to deep shade and sometimes clinging to mountainsides, Iris can be found.
I have yet to meet an Iris I didn't care for but my absolute favorites are PCN species and hybrids. Encompassing about 10-20 species, these Pacific Coast Native Iris are pretty unto themselves but when humans started hybridizing them the results have become unreal. Hallmarks of these Iris have always been their fine details of line and subtle shadings and hybridizers have built on that with perfect spins of the color wheel.
These pictures were taken from this article that focuses on the work of Ryan Grisso, a relatively new hybridizer and it looks like a perfect match of plant and man.
I have Iris on my mind and will be posting more of the same during this week. Tomorrow: new Iris species.
Monday, April 09, 2007
According to this article, cold weather affected a large part of the eastern half of the nation over the weekend. When Tennessee and South Carolina woke up to temps in the low 20's on Sunday, you know it's cold. This NY Times article about Easter in the city made me smile, letting me know that Christmas was warmer than Easter.
In my last post, a comment made by Kathy had the right observation. Better to have continuing cold weather now, while the plants are still dormant, than later during active growth. I do not want to watch flowers on fruiting plants get frozen. As much as I don't want that happening, I would only be losing the current year's crop. The farmers' are losing their livelihood.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Where did Spring go?
Breaking out of winter, it was satisfying seeing the piles and mounds of snow disappear and the world of plants waking up again. No more snow blowing or shoveling, it was time to think of soils and mulch and getting excited over another gardening season.
Tuesday was in the 60's and sunny, feeling like mid-spring or late summer. Wednesday we slipped into an autumn feel, with rain all day and a touch of sleet now and then, as though we were salted by (insert your favorite deity). Woke up on Thursday with everything covered in snow and flurries all day and for the next few days. And today, Friday, we started out with 20 and the next couple of days are not going to improve (read that as getting warm again) on that.
Crocus are in color and Violas have buds but neither is going to open for a while. It is frustrating and I'm feeling like the joggers running in place on street corners, waiting for the light to change and they can run again. This is a time for moving forward and I don't want to be held back. Sigh, it's spring weather in the Great Northeast.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The genus Magnolia was conferred by Linnaeus who named it after Pierre Magnol, (1638-1715) a botanist of Montpellier, France. There are over 35 species and countless hybrids and this one falls into a group known generally as Magnolia x soulangeana produced from two distinct species. One parent is the white flowered Magnolia denudata, introduced from China by Banks in 1789 where it is locally known as Yulan magnolia and classified for a time as M. yulan. The other parent, red flowered Magnolia lilliflora was introduced from Japan by Carl Thunberg in 1790. This cross and its subsequent varieties and hybrids began 1820 and were named for Chevalier Soulange-Bodin who raised the first hybrid in France.
The number of species listed, 35, is way too low, but the rest of the information is interesting. The Frenchmen sure lent us some beautiful names to remember them by.
Here's the original of the picture I used for April's header and my post on Cold Climate Gardening:
I really liked the flowers but the background was distracting and uninteresting, so I erased it. It's my first time doing that to a picture and it turned out ok. Not good enough by any means for a graphics professional but at least a "c". I thought the different colored backgrounds I added were appropriate and worked well with the color schemes on each blog.