Monday, January 25, 2016

Winter in the Garden: To trim leaves on PCIs or not?

Kathleen Sayce

A couple of years ago, I posted a comment about having used a dry sunny break in the weather to clip back iris leaves and clean up the garden. Several people reprimanded me for doing so, saying I was taking away these plants' capacity to photosynthesize in coming weeks until the new shoots came into full growth. With PCIs, sometimes that is true, and sometimes it is not. 

PCI "Clarice Richards' stays green all winter; brown leaves are tugged/clipped off in late winter or early spring. 

A storm called an Atmospheric River blew through this week; regionally these are called Pineapple Express storms, which bring warm air, high winds and heavy rain. About 11 inches fell in 3 days, ending with more than 5 inches of rain yesterday, a day so wet that salmon could just about swim in the air instead of the streams. Today the sun came out for the first time in nearly a week.

took photos in the garden of the "photosynthesis-deprived plants" that I trimmed back that fall. My focus in past years for clipping was plants that had brown leaves. Many PCIs have mixed genetic heritages from most of the species in this group, and the degree of browning, if any, varies with those genes.  
Iris innominata has almost completely browned off by mid January. With snow, it will go completely dormant.  

A typical PCI clump in the winter garden, PCI 'Finger Pointing', has a few green shoots and weeds, and a lot of brown. 

Which groups stay the greenest, and can be left alone throughout the winter?  Iris douglasiana-derived hybrids.

Iris douglasiana selections and hybrids with considerable "Doug-blood" stay green all winter long. A few brown leaves are tugged off in late winter or early spring. 

Which groups go the brownest, so that by early winter, the only green leaves are the new shoots?  Joe Ghio's hybrids, and others from his mixed species pool of gene stock. Also, Iris innominata/I. thompsonii plants go brown by midwinter.  

Ghio hybrids typically brown off by early winter. The only green to be seen is weeds, and a few tiny new shoots.

Which groups go completely dormant and lose leaves?  Iris tenax and I. hartwegii. These species' leaves vanish by midwinter. 

Iris tenax vanishes underground by midwinter. Old leaves and winter cress plants will come out when I clean up the oak leaves and spruce cones in a few weeks. 

Spring is coming! Among all the brown leaves and debris, I saw several new shoots on most of my plants. A few have died; one that I though died last fall came back with several new shoots, and the rest have those small green fans we love to see in early spring. 

Now, if the weather stays dry for a few days, I can take my annual soil sample, and start pruning and tidying the garden beds. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

IRISES, the Bulletin of the AIS - Winter 2016 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

A warm welcome to those who are seeing the cover of yet another wonderful issue of IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society. The image below is a majestic view of the Kasperek's Zebra Gardens and iris fields in Utah, photographed by Melissa Hanson, Winner of the 2015 AIS Photography Contest, category "In a Field or Home Garden."

The Winter 2016 issue of the AIS Bulletin is now available for online viewing within the Emembers section of the AIS website. Note: to access this area of the website you must have a current AIS Emembership. AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership. Please see the Electronic Membership Information area of the AIS website for more details.

In this edition of IRISES, meet the new AIS President, Gary White on a beautifully detailed introductory article on pages 6 — 8. 

Learn why Fred Kerr, the creator of beautiful 'Queen's Circle,' won the 2015 AIS Hybridizer Medal, as announced on page 9.

Read about news from different iris organizations on Section Happenings by Jody Nolin, on page 12.  Don't miss news from the Japanese Iris Society, the Spuria Iris Society and the newest group to join the ranks, the Novelty Iris Society. 

Riley Probst reports on pages 15 and 16 about the 2015 AIS Tall Bearded Symposium, some wonderful statistics and lastly all the results, which are always interesting. 

The 2015 AIS Photo Contest Winners are recapped with gorgeous photographs, individual iris shots, irises in garden settings and irises and people. Don't miss them, they are on pages 29 — 33. 

Always inspiring, Remember Friends is a section that provides us with a glimpse on the life of those irisarians now gone, on pages 34 – 36. 

"A world renowned iris garden can be found in a bustling Northern New Jersey suburban community.  A stone’s throw from New York City, the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens located at 475 Upper Mountain Avenue, Upper Montclair, NJ is a repository for fifteen hundred plus varieties in all iris classification." ~ Mike Lockatell 

We hope you are attending the 2016 National Convention in Newark, NJ on May 23 —28. In case you have not seen the registration form online we're happy to share it on page 37. Some information on the convention, such as hotel and gardens are on page 38. And, a fantastic article in beautifully crafted words and photos by Mike Lockatell on what you will see at The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, called "Presby Defies TIme," on pages 39 — 41. Also, Paul Gossett describes for us on page 42 beautiful Glenara Gardens in Upstate Central New York. If the word and photographs inspire you please join us in the Spring. 

"The incredible progress in U.S. iris breeding from the early Twentieth Century to the present comes alive in dazzling shapes, colors and patterns for young and old to enjoy each year."  ~ Presby Defies Time

Future convention dates, plus important AIS Board meeting times and locations are on page 55.

Lastly, a great picture from the AIS 2015 Photo Contest that deserves your attention. 

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats. If you are an AIS member know that you will receive the print edition soon (it's in the hands of the Post Office), or if you are an e-member, then that version is already available online as mentioned above. 

Happy gardening!

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Nitty Gritty on the Down and Dirty

By Vanessa Spady

When it comes to growing iris, soil conditions will often dictate the quality and quantity of your rhizomes and blooms. Sure, other things make a difference as well—I for one think that a zesty combination of spoiling and neglect make for happy plants, but that’s for another post. About the soil...

Our little Comedy of Iris garden is located in central California, in a primarily agricultural area, which means we have a nice amount of space to start with (about an acre of open, slightly sloped land), but also some significant challenges when it comes to the dreadful native soil. As I mentioned previously, our soil has two basic textures—pudding when it rains, and concrete the rest of the time.

Luckily, the nutrient level is very low! (Hooray?) So trucking in good soil and amendments was a necessity. I had six yards of a really lovely loam delivered, and much to my astonishment, I have used it all. But, only the best for my newly purchased rhizomes, because, let’s face it, I want to see massive glorious blooms in the Spring!

Additionally, our hard ground is home to several kinds of critters that love it when we water—it makes the soil soft for them to dig through, and gives them something tasty and nutritious to eat. I, personally, do not like killing critters when they are in their territory, but no amount of reasonable conversation makes ground squirrels understand that they should go around the foundations of your barn when tunneling across your property. And gophers don’t care that the plant they just destroyed was a gift from your recently deceased mother... it was moist and tasty! Basically, any time you add water to our land, you attract the very vermin you want nowhere near your precious plants. Ugh.

Furthermore, it gets very hot here, and it’s quite dry. Because this is basically an irrigated desert, it’s over 100 degrees for weeks at time—so, really hot. And managing the watering (which requires more care during a drought) is also critical. Iris don’t like to be too wet (or they rot), and managing their moisture and nutrients is crucial for them to propagate and increase. But creating moisture means attracting critters that will eat their roots, if not the entire rhizome... wheeee?

So, even after we had good soil brought in, we faced challenges in keeping critters out of the beds, and not losing our stock to heat or rot. Time for some creative solutions.

When I was gardening back in my suburban setting, the soil was decent, critters were few, and the water was a spigot away... it was easy. All I had to do was not over-water, and feed once or twice a year, and I had gorgeous, happy iris all the time. After moving here, with the more challenging conditions, I have tried a variety of solutions, after losing most of a bed of named iris to a ground squirrel.

When I first planted iris in our country soil, they did so-so. I didn’t initially know how to manage the soil moisture and feeding was completely different here. But once I got it figured out, I saw lots of green growth, and happily awaited my first blooms. But they never came, and the number of rhizomes seemed to dwindle. Finally, a bit of loose soil at the back of the bed exposed the dirty truth: a ground squirrel had tunneled into the bed, from under my barn. He had been snacking on my lovely iris from beneath, and I hadn’t noticed him for weeks. This is when it started to get a little Caddy Shack...

I took up the few remaining iris, and dug out the entire bed to a depth of about one foot. I molded tight-weave chicken wire into an open-shoe box shape, and laid it into the hole where the bed had been. I then re-filled the bed, and planted a new batch of rhizomes, confident I had outsmarted the little blighter. Joke was on me, though. Several weeks later, as I was watering, I noticed a bump of loose dirt near the outside edge of the bed, and that dirt was moving.

“Ha!” I thought triumphantly to myself. “He’s just run into my chicken wire basket, and can’t tunnel his way through it!” I quietly laid down the hose, and watched to see what would happen. The little guy pushed the dirt out of the tunnel and popped his head above ground. I could see him looking around, so I held perfectly still. He ducked in again for a moment, then came up again, and to my outrage and astonishment, he got out of his tunnel, walked over the lip of the chicken wire barrier, and began to tunnel down into the bed, right in front of me!

The hours spent digging out the bed, making the chicken wire barrier, placing it in so carefully, and replanting the whole bed was undone in one moment. I had been played by a ground squirrel!

All bets were off after that. I dug up the remaining rhizomes from that bed and moved them into pots, but I never liked that solution, nor did my plants. Then I struck on using pallets as beds, which did a good job once I got the soil combination right. I placed the pallets on rocky ground, where the squirrels don’t really dig, and then filled all the slats with a combination of native soil, amendments, and planting mix. This
 had the added advantage of making it simple to keep iris from one bed or section from creeping into another section. I kept only one kind of iris in each pallet, and there was never any confusion. If we ever have an emergency, I can pick up the entire pallet and move it, bed and all. 

We knew from the beginning of this project that just digging up a little bed in the ground and plunking down the rhizomes was not going to be the method for success. For this initial growing year, we are trying a combination of kiddie pools mounted to pallets, raised beds (with a base of weed blocking cloth and wire mesh), and tires (with the same wire and cloth base). We cleared the surface of the soil of the dried and dead native growth (code for “weeds”), and began to layout the different kinds of beds we had to see how they might best work with the kinds of iris we ordered.

This was our preliminary layout, after we cleared the weeds, but before we put down the weed blocking cloth and wire. Ok, and before we painted the tires.

We opted to use only one level of these raised beds for this first year to see how they would do.

To give the iris the best chances for success, separating them from the ground was the smart move.  Besides, I don’t want to encourage any further comparisons between myself and Carl from Caddy Shack. 

The project has expanded considerably since this first phase, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for updates and new photos. And you can bet there will be another load of the gorgeous loam heading our way sometime in the near future. Please, just don’t tell the gophers or ground squirrels.

And because I promised I would, here is a wonderful iris from Chris’ garden:

'Leave The Light On' Riley Probst, R. 2013) Seedling #U4WHXHM. IB, 22 (56 cm), Early, midseason and late bloom. Standards blue-purple with 1/16th gold edge; style arms bright yellow, vertical purple veining on style crests; falls blue-purple luminata pattern, bright yellow area with 1/4" white spear extending downward from beard; beards orange; pronounced sweet fragrance. 'Wild Hair' X 'High Master'. Fleur de Lis Garden 2013. Honorable Mention 2015.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Evolution of Irises

by Tom Waters

Have you ever wondered where irises come from? Well, we all know they come in a box from Oregon via UPS. But I mean a little farther back than that. How did these particular plants evolve? How do they fit into the long history of life on Earth? How did they come to have so many shapes, colors, and sizes, and spread to so many different continents and climates? Iris is a wonderfully diverse genus, with between 200 and 300 species. And it is part of a larger iris family (which botanists call Iridaceae) that includes something like 2000 species, including other familiar garden plants like the crocus and gladiolus. Early botanists tried to deduce the family trees and family history of plants by noting their physical similarities and what clues could be gleaned from fossils. In this century, much has been learned from DNA studies, giving us a more complete picture of plant evolution. Peter Goldblatt of the Missouri Botanical Garden has taken a special interest in the Iris family, and Carol Wilson of Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden has studied the genus Iris itself in more detail. I’ve relied heavily on their work in putting together this post.

Origin of the Iris Family. Like many families of flowering plants, the iris family has its beginnings in the late Cretaceous period. At that time, the Earth’s climate was about 8C (15F) warmer than today, and there were no polar ice caps. Sea levels were high, and many areas were covered by shallow inland seas. It was a time when flowering plants were spreading throughout the world. They were diversifying and evolving rapidly, both encouraging and encouraged by the simultaneous evolution of bees and other insect pollinators. The iris family probably got its start about 82 million years ago, in what is now Antarctica.


At that time, Antarctica wasn’t centered on the South Pole, but was nearer Africa, with some parts of it extending well north of the Antarctic Circle. It was still joined to Australia on the east. The climate was temperate, although cool, and the high latitude made for long summer days and long winter nights. It is thought that the strappy, vertical leaves (a distinguishing feature of the iris family) evolved to make maximum use of the sunlight, which would have been nearly horizontal much of the time. Two of the earliest branches of the iris family were isolated in Australia as it broke off from Antarctica, and five others developed in Madagascar and South Africa. (Madagascar and India were wedged between Antarctica and Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean at the time, making it possible for plants to migrate between the two continents.)

Around the time these different branches of the iris family were evolving away from one another and beginning to develop their own separate identities, the Earth experienced one of its great mass extinctions when a meteorite struck the Earth in what is now the Gulf of Mexico, 66 million years ago. Most people think of this event in connection with the extinction of the dinosaurs, but its effects were much more far-reaching than that. Many species of plants that depended on photosynthesis were driven to extinction by the dark envelope of dust that shrouded the Earth following the impact. 

Fortunately for the iris family, Antarctica, Australia, and South Africa—on the opposite side of the globe—were the best place to be. Although it is estimated that more than half of North America’s land plant species were lost in the extinction, few if any species were lost “down under,” although the numbers of individual plants plummeted.

With Antarctica moving south and the world growing colder, the future of the iris family now belonged to these plants that had colonized Africa and other warmer lands.

Two of the types of early irids (members of the iris family) in south Africa turned out to be very successful, spreading to other parts of the globe. These are also the branches of the family most familiar to gardeners today: iridoids and crocoids.

Iridoids and Crocoids. No, they are not rival alien factions from Dr. Who. The iridoids are members of the iris family related to irises, and the crocoids are members of the iris family related to crocuses. The iridoids include irises, as well as other familiar genera like Tigridia, Sisyrinchium, Moraea, and Dietes. A prominent distinguishing feature of the iridoids is their wide, arching, petal-like styles that cover the anthers and end in a crest. We can picture this emerging as an especially effective way to channel bees into the heart of the flower. The crocoids include crocuses of course, but also Romulea, Ixia, Tritonia, Freesia, Crocosmia, and Gladiolus. It’s hard to imagine a stylish modern garden without at least of few of this crew. Crocus, Romulea, and Gladiolus eventually found their way north into Eurasia from their south African origins, but it was the iridoids that eventually made it all the way to the Americas.

Iris. In the iridoid clan, the closest relatives to the irises themselves are the South African Moraea, Dietes, and related genera. Iris separated from these genera about 45 million years ago. The great sea that had divided Africa from Asia was gradually narrowing and vanishing, perhaps allowing the ancestors of the irises to find a new home in Eurasia. Later, the Sahara and Arabian deserts would prevent their return south.

Turkey seems to be the center from which the genus Iris has spread throughout the northern hemisphere. Many different types of irises are found in Turkey today, whereas most other regions have just a few local species.

For centuries, botanists had assumed that the most fundamental divisions of the genus could be seen in the different rootstocks: Junos with their bulbs and fleshy roots, xiphiums (which include the Dutch irises so popular with florists) with their tulip-like bulbs, the small reticulatas with their bulbs covered in netting, and of course those that grow from rhizomes. Some botanists even put these groups into different genera based on their rootstock. The rhizomatous branch of the genus was presumed to have then split into beardless, crested, and bearded sorts.

Iris unguicularis 'Lavender Moonbeams' (Tasco, 2014):
the newest version of the oldest iris?
photo: Superstition Iris Gardens
What has become clear recently is that these different rootstocks do not represent an early division of the genus into separate branches. Early irises were probably all beardless and all grew from rhizomes. These evolved into several different branches still having these basic characteristics, and then some of these branches gave rise to offshoots with deciduous foliage and bulbs as an adaptation to climates with very dry summers. So spuria irises are more closely related to Dutch irises than they are to Siberians, for example. Crested irises arose in more than one branch of the family tree, and are not a precursor to the development of beards. The earliest group to branch off from the others is represented today by Iris unguicularis and the closely related Iris lazica. If you want to have a mental picture of what the ancestor of all irises was like, Iris unguicularis is a good candidate.

Next, the family tree split into two branches, one of which spread mostly westward in the vicinity of the Mediterranean, while the other spread mainly northward and then east into northeast Asia and eventually North America. The Mediterranean branch produced the bearded, oncocyclus, and Regelia irises, but also gave rise to the Junos, and apparently the crested irises of east Asia, such as Iris japonica  and Iris wattii. These are actually more closely related to the Junos (which also often sport crests of various sorts) than to any other groups. Interestingly, one small branch of this group gave rise to both Iris dichotoma and Iris domestica, once thought to be so dissimilar that they were each placed in their own genus!

Meanwhile, the Asian branch of the genus led to the spurias, xiphiums, and reticulatas, plus most other beardless species. The migration of irises into North America was apparently not a single event, as there is no single branch of the iris family tree that has all the American irises and no Asian iris. The American crested irises, including Iris cristata, have the oldest lineage, but they do not seem closely related to the east Asian crested irises, as was once supposed. The crest feature developed independently in these two distantly related branches. A second venerable branch of irises in north America includes Iris missouriensis (the Rocky Mountain Iris), and the western species Iris tenuis. The Louisiana irises represent another early branch of the evolutionary tree. The other North American irises were presumably later arrivals, with close cousins in Asia. Iris virginica is related to the Siberian Irises and to Iris pseudacorus; this Asian-American grouping has a common ancestor with both the Pacific Coast group and also with the widespread Asian Iris lactea.  

Bearded Irises. The bearded irises grow around the Mediterranean, with some species ranging northward into central Europe. The tall bearded irises were the first to attract the attention of European nurserymen and plant breeders in recent centuries, and they are the most represented in our gardens today. There was probably an earlier division of bearded irises into dwarf species with a basic chromosome count of 8 (Iris attica, Iris pseudopumila, and Iris pumila, which apparently arose as a tetraploid hybrid of the first two) and other species (mostly taller and branched) with a basic chromosome count of 12. It is from this latter branch that our modern TBs, BBs, and MTBs are directly derived. The chart of bearded iris relationships here is not from DNA studies, but based on chromosome analyses, geographical considerations, and other suppositions.

In the big picture over long time scales, we think of evolution as a branching tree, where populations divide, become isolated, and go their separate ways to form new species. But if we look at the process in more detail, we see that species sometimes come about in other ways: as hybrids of earlier species, by polyploidy (doubling or otherwise increasing the number of chromosome sets), or by both these processes at once. The relationships among the bearded irises, for example, sometimes resemble a branching tree, but in some instances are more like a network, which species separating and then coming back together to make new species. Evolution is an intricate process.

Irises, being prized as garden flowers, have attracted the attention of human breeders. When looking at the difference between modern hybrid TBs and their wild predecessors, it is tempting to see a new, accelerated evolution now dominated by human intervention. But although the effects of human breeding efforts are dramatic, it remains to be seen what impact they will have in the long term. Our own genus Homo is perhaps 3 million years old; the genus Iris has been here about fifteen times as long already. The last two centuries of iris breeding, compared with the 45-million-year evolution of the genus, is a very tiny fraction indeed (the same as about half a second out of a day). The irises humans have created mostly depend on humans for their existence—you find them in gardens, and sometimes in old cemeteries, but they have yet to take over the Asian Steppes or the Amazon. Will there still be irises 5 million years from now? 20 million years from now? Will our present interest in them leave any traces that far in the future? 

Plate tectonic maps by C. R. Scotese, PALEOMAP Project ( Used with permission.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Step One: Decide What Step One Should Be

By Vanessa Spady

Back in September, Chris and I decided to start a growing project that I lovingly call ‘a comedy of iris.’ We had the general idea of having a larger-than-personal growing and touring garden on a piece of property near our homes (originally bought for my mother). In order to address the issues we have in our area of poor soil, temperature and moisture extremes, and a hearty population of burrowing critters, we also decided to experiment with different kinds of beds and watering systems. We did not have a hard-and-fast idea of what this project would look like, which is to say, we had a lot of enthusiasm, but not a concrete plan… The comedy will probably just write itself.

September is late in the season for ordering and planting iris, but not too late, particularly in our climate. The temperatures in September were still hot, even as the days became shorter. So, online we went, iris shopping with a purpose! And, as the shipping season for iris ended in mere days, choosing the iris for our first year of growing was the top priority. An urgent, must-do task of immediate importance. I figured that should be Step One.

When you have as much enthusiasm for iris as we do, it’s remarkably easy to find yourself spending, say, two or three hours shopping for iris online. It’s also easy to click “add to cart” a shocking number of times in that duration. And having a reason to buy more than you already have, well, that is a bit of a dream come true. But choosing carefully, and for purposes beyond “Ooooooh, pretty!” meant slowing down, methodically selecting for attributes and qualities outside of personal preferences. I also needed to ensure I didn’t purchase iris Chris already had and vice-versa, which put the brakes on the runaway shopping spree aspect of populating our first beds. So it slowed down our Step One a touch, which was probably beneficial.

The “before” shot. This is the area where our glamorous garden now exists.

But the beds weren’t ready for an imminent shipment of rhizomes, so certainly preparation of soil needed to become a top priority, and get done ASAP.  This meant we needed to find someone to bring in high-quality soil, as our native soil is, um, well “poor” is the nice way to say it (more on our native soil later). So finding someone to truck in really good planting soil had to be put first on the list of accomplishments.

Of course, before the beds went in, we had to decide on the layout and which kind of watering system we’d be using so those would be ready before the soil arrived, making that the thing we had to start with pronto, maybe even sooner. Definitely, we needed that done as the initial step.

Right after purchasing all the parts for the drip and soakers, which we couldn’t really do until we’d finalized the layout, which would depend on how many iris we bought, and also be somewhat determined by which iris we bought since some of the layout of the beds would undoubtedly be dictated by the types and colors of iris in our purchase... So, we really had to get that done first.

Step One, for sure, should be the uh, the um... what did we just decide? [Re-traces steps, notices circular logic.]

Well, clearly shopping for iris won the contest! Once the order was placed, we moved on to the next step of laying out the beds, designing the watering system, and having some gorgeous, healthy dirt brought in. Clearly, there was a logical, obvious order to this. [Cue the audience to laugh now.]

Wonderful loam, delivered right to the edge of the garden. 
To my surprise, we have used it all!

More soon on adventures in layout design, what kinds of beds to employ, and what kinds of obstacles greeted us as we moved forward. Let me just say this: kiddie pools.

And because I promised photos of iris in every posting, here is 'Pink Kitten':
'Pink Kitten' V. Wood 1977
Blue shade of pink, lined deeper on F.; tangerine beard tipped lighter. 
69-2 (New Frontier x Signature) X Dove Wings.  
Classification - Intermediate Bearded 
Bloom Period - Early and Reblooming 
Bloom Height - 20"

Monday, January 4, 2016

"Talking Irises" TALL BEARDED IRISES -- Merging Ourselves in the Garden Makes for a Meaningful Life

By Susanne Holland Spicker

'SEA POWER' Keppel 1999
 "Why do plants have such a positive impact on us? There are a number of reasons, including: They have a predictable cycle of life that provides comfort in our time of rapid change. They are responsive but nonthreatening. They form no opinions or judgments about their caregivers. They soften our man-made environment. They enable us to change or improve our environment. They provide relaxation and tranquility." ~ Gardening-Therapy for Mind, Body and Soul

'MAGICAL' Ghio 2007
When I started actively gardening about 20 years ago, I just wanted to grow some beautiful flowers. I had no idea the impact gardening would have on me and my life. I found that working in the soil and seeing the miracle of rebirth that takes place when the plants woke in the spring was indescribable.

'MONTMARTRE' Keppel 2008

I've learned much during those 20 years. Reading and
studying, taking classes, visiting nurseries and home
gardens. I've also gleaned information from other
gardeners through sites like this one. I think I've learned
most, however, by trial and error in my own flower beds.
This post will concentrate on some of the things I've
learned that have helped to make gardening much more
enjoyable, satisfying and successful for me. Hopefully
there may be an idea or two that can be of some help 
to you as well.


So, where to begin?  May I suggest that garden 
journaling is the perfect place to start?
'PARISIAN DAWN' Keppel 2006
Keep a garden journal. A journal can be as simple as a spiral notebook. I start a new journal every year, and have a separate one just for irises. It contains planting dates, bloom times, plant performance, any insect or growing problems, the action taken to solve problems, and the outcome. Weather-related problems, with freeze or early warm up dates, and the moisture levels for that year are included. Plant information such as the hybridizer, introduction year, plant height, sun, water, and fertilization requirements etc., are kept in an iris journal in a folder on my computer, tagged with its picture. It's been interesting and helpful to compare the data from year to year. 

'EXTRAVAGANT' Hamblen 1983

As I look back on my journals over the years, one of the most pleasurable things is to read my thoughts at that time:  The anticipation of the year's first bloom in the spring, the excitement at the bloom of a new cultivar, the quiet beauty of an early morning walk through the beds after a spring rain, the amazing colors at peak iris bloom time in the gardens, the childlike wonder seeing a bud unfold, or even the  debate I have with myself trying to make room for "just one more" iris! Yes, journaling has been an important and special part of my gardening.

'VIENNA WALTZ' Keppel 2000
Make a garden map. There is no substitution for a good garden map to keep track of your plants. They've been invaluable for success in my gardens. An easy way to make a map is to simply walk around your garden with a sheet of small grid graph paper. Write down the names of plants as you see them in the bed. Then you can take that information and transfer it to the computer. Making changes when plants are added, removed, or transplanted is very easy to do with this system. Hard copies can be printed off and taken out to the garden for quick reference. I like being able to see the garden on paper at-a-glance. I use this method of journaling to design a bed or figure out color schemes and placement of plants as well. I'd be lost without my garden maps.

Use a plant marker system. Since irises look much the same when not in bloom, plant markers are an excellent way to keep track of them. I've had good results by writing names on durable plastic plant markers with a black grease pencil or a black oil-based paint pen. Other markers, even though they claim to be permanent, still fade. I've seen all kinds of markers--blind slats, tongue depressors (although these don't hold up well), plastic cutlery, metal engraved ones--it doesn't matter what you use as long as it is durable and reliable.
Take lots of pictures! There are many reasons why photos are valuable in your journal-keeping: Pictures give the date and time the picture was taken. Tagging photos with pertinent information, such as cultivar name, hybridizer, height, bloom time, etc., makes it quick and easy to find any bloom you've photographed. Irises in an individual folder on my computer, listed by name in alphabetical order has been a system that has worked best for me over the years.

'CROWNED HEADS' Keppel 1997

Australian researcher Mike Steven said that domestic gardening has the potential to satisfy 9 basic fundamental human needs in our everyday lives:  "subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom." 

'ADOREE' Blyth 2010

I think Andi Rivarola sums it up: "Merging ourselves in the garden makes for a meaningful interior life."  I know this has certainly been true for me.

If you haven't kept a garden journal, or implemented the tools mentioned, I encourage you to start now--2016 is the perfect time to begin! 

'PHOTOGENIC' Ghio 2006
Do you keep a garden journal?  If so, has it made your gardening experience more meaningful? I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Begin at the beginning...if you can remember when it began

By Vanessa Spady

It all started for me quite some time ago, at least several decades, but the exact moment is lost. It probably wasn’t really a moment, though, it was more like a gradual awareness, and then an appreciation, and before I knew it, like so many others, I was officially an iris enthusiast. If you aren’t aware of the dramatic and exciting world of iris, then, yes, I am referring to the flowers.

When did I fall in love with iris? I can’t really say. But fall in love I did, and that love has inspired a project, the breadth and scope of which only love could inspire! Yes, this is a love story, to be sure!

'Twice Told' (William Maryott, R. 1994). Sdlg. L172D. TB, 34-36" (86-91 cm). 
Midseason bloom and rebloom. Standards flesh to light beige, slight maroon at midrib; Falls velvety medium red maroon; beards tangerine. H92B: (F154D: (('Latin Lover' x 'Victorian Days') x Keppel 74-32E: (('Roundup' x 'Artwork' sib) x 'Osage Buff')) x E31D: (('Dream Fantasy' x 'Pink Sleigh') x 'Heather Blush')) X 'Cameo Wine'. Maryott 1994.


So, onto the players: Vanessa (that’s me) and Chris, two ladies who have pesky day jobs but still garden with a passion. We are members of local chapters of The American Iris Society, and have had plenty of dirt under our nails. We met because of iris, and we have an absolute hoot gardening and talking shop and getting grimy in our gardens together. What fun it is to have an iris buddy!

The plot is a simple one, or rather, it seemed simple when we first conceived it: grow iris. Well, ok, we are already doing that, so grow more iris. Have a touring garden. Work on a larger scale. Experiment with growing environments, layouts, watering systems. Meet the challenges of our climate and topography. Walk the line between full-on, blown-out love for iris growing, and the tweaky, quirky, danger zone of iris obsession. So, it seems this is a comedy.

The setting: an almost rural neighborhood in central California. Chris has beds at her place, and I have some almost-feral beds at my home, but the primary focus of the growing project is at a separate property on my block. The weather here varies from very hot summer days (often over 110°F) to below freezing winter nights. The soil varies, too: concrete in the summer, pudding in the winter. And we have our share of hazardous critters, primarily ground squirrels and large gophers, but also sheep, dogs, gardeners, and the occasional raccoon. Thus you can tell this story is a farce.

The inspiration: We have toured professional grower’s facilities, and have been educated and warned that growing for fun and growing for profit are very different activities. Since we’re both level-headed and practical, we are not proposing to put anyone growing professionally out of business, but we want to expand our gardens to a more-than-average scope. We will be growing iris out of love for the plants, not a grab for gold. So obviously, this story is a drama.

 'Heartbreak Hotel' ( George Sutton, R. 1997). Sdlg. G-19-ARSA. TB, 37" (94 cm), Midseason late bloom. Standards and style arms salmon (RHS 27A); Falls imperial purple (78A); beards nasturtium red (32B), 1" salmon and violet purple horn; ruffled, laced; slight sweet fragrance. 'Sweet Musette' X 'Twice Thrilling'. Sutton 1998.

To anyone who is already an iris enthusiast, or expert, or grower, or casual gardener, this may sound familiar. To anyone outside the world of iris, this story will probably be an eye opener, and a tour through a world you might hardly imagine really exists. It has all the makings of an epic, spanning centuries and continents, involving science and luck, with characters from every place that has enough dirt and enough sun and enough water to grow a few weeds.

I won’t cover that much ground in this first post, but no doubt I will eventually tell of the adventures of the humble and magnificent iris, and its swashbuckling journey from the old world to the new, from manor house to interstate rest-stop, and mostly, of how two nice ladies in the countryside are going to try their hands at growing iris for more than just the fun of it.

Certainly, there will be laughter and tears, great successes, and frustrating setbacks. And once a year, there will be a glorious, magnificent, stunning bloom season. That’s our reward.

While sharing our process will be fun and hopefully entertaining, sharing our blooms and our love of iris is really the main goal. Although we are well out of bloom season now, I promise to include photos in each post, to remind all of us why we go to so much trouble for one little plant.

Yes, it is a love story.

'Revere' (Joseph Ghio, R. 2001). Seedling 97-36B. TB, height 40" (102 cm). Very early to early mid season bloom. Standards white, yellow halo; style arms white, fringed gold;Falls white, blue rim; beards gold. 95-36C. 'Impulsive' sibling, X 'Dear Jean'. Bay View 2002.