Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Rain Screen for Pacifica Iris Flowers

Kathleen Sayce

A few years ago my Pacifica irises started to flower well. More new plants lived than died each year, and flowers opened by the dozens on some plants. It was time to take the next step and start hybridizing. I tried crosses by hand, but after three years with no success, I went back to relying on bee-pollinated flowers for seed set. That worked well, though I wasn't always around when pods opened (more on seed pods in a later post). 

Then for the next few years, including this spring, the weather was wet, wet, wet. Too wet for bees, way too wet for hand pollination. None of the early to mid season flowering (March-April-early May) Pacifica Iris set seed. Only the late season (late May to late June) plants set seed, and these tend to be the late species and species crosses, not the highly desirable early flowering hybrids. 

A familiar situation:  soggy yellow Pacifica Iris seedling, unnamed, after two days of wind and rain. Flowers are in full bloom, and the weather is dreadful for pollination. 

This year I decided to do something about the rain. Using scrounged materials, including scraps of twin wall polycarbonate greenhouse glazing and wire sign mounts [the kind used for small event and political signs], I fashioned rain screens. The old signs can be painted some innocuous color and placed in the garden to provide shade on seedlings or transplants, by the way. 

Recycling old wire frames for temporary signs into supports for rain screens. The larger ones on the right  are used for the higher ends, and the small ones in the middle for the lower ends.  (I do not yet have a use for the H-shaped wires on the left.)

A scrap piece of twin wall polycarbonate, ready to cut down to a useful size. These panels come with protective films on both the inside and outside, which are peeled off when ready to use. 

I picked out a likely scrap of twin wall polycarbonate and two wire mounts, one large, one small, and bent the top wires over at angles of 135 and 45 degrees. The large one, for the upper end, I bent past 90 degrees to about 135 degrees, and the small one, for the lower end, I bent about 45 degrees. The parallel bent wires were slipped into the ends of the twin wall channels, and then the bottom straight wires were pressed into the ground. I thought about adding a wire or twine over the top to hold the wires to the twin wall, but decided to wait and see. Also thought about some bricks on the lower cross bars, now at ground level, but again, decided to wait and see how this test unit survived. 

Rain screen deployed in my garden, with taller wire frame on left and shorter frame on right,  the  twin wall is inches above the plant, so that no leaves or buds touch or are near the panel. 

The very first day that the first rain screen was up, we had rain and winds above 30 mph. That night, it rained so hard that it sounded like hail more than once.  And the next day, more rain, this time in intense brief squalls, with wind gusts above 20 mph. I was out canoeing that day, and checked on the rain screen when I came home. Not only was it intact, two flowers had opened on the clumps underneath it, a patch of Iris 'Blue Plate Special'. Bumblebees were still buzzing around when I went out before dusk to take photos.  

Rain on top, dry flowers beneath, Iris 'Blue Plate Special' is the test plant for this rain screen. 

The garden looks strange with these deployed strategically over important plants, like a greenhouse fragmented into pieces that blew out over the garden. But I look forward to a few more seedpods this coming year. I like to think the bees like it too, dry flowers in an otherwise wet day. 

The goal:  dry flowers during mid spring on the south coast of Washington.  Iris 'Blue Plate Special' has a chance now to set seed for the first time in four years. 

There's a lot going on in a flower to set seed, none of which is helped by heavy rain or wind.  I have high hopes for my rain screens.  Have you ever constructed something to protect your precious irises?  Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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