Monday, March 21, 2016

Have Rainboots, Will Garden

By Vanessa Spady

Although we have endured several years of drought here in central California, everything turns green when the rains of  El NiƱo arrive. We recently got some steady showers (hooray!), which means a switch from monitoring to make sure things aren't too dry to ensuring things aren’t too wet. It’s a nice change, and I’m glad it's my biggest concern in the garden right now. There’s still a lot to do out in our gardens, even though it’s raining and not quite Spring.

Several days of steady, fairly heavy rain means that our creeks all have water and my rain gear stays by the door.  I don’t make a practice of gardening in a downpour, but I will confess I can't stay inside while it's merely soggy and inclement. And with the heavier rain, I did need to spend a bit of time keeping an eye on the drainage in the kiddie pool beds. For the first six or seven storms, they drained beautifully, and the rhizomes were in nice, firm condition. This last deluge, however, exceeded the capacity of the holes drilled in the bottoms of the pools. The result was standing water in several of the pools, even four hours after the rain had stopped. That was a surprise, since they’d done so well up until that point. Here’s what I saw:
A pool full of ‘Ensign’ and about a centimeter of standing water. Not good!

So, on with my Wellingtons, and my barn jacket, and my trusted rubber gloves. I chose the largest drill bit in my collection, mucked to the bottom of the pool in several low spots, and drilled two holes in each pool that had standing water. Presto, problem solved. I have been watching closely each time it rains, and so far, that has done the trick. The rhizomes have stayed nice and firm, and all but one now has lots of new growth... whew.

Extra caution is needed when the ground is this wet, since, as I’ve mentioned before, our soil can turn to pudding very quickly. So as I make my rounds, I tread carefully, and thanks to my Wellies, I can cover most of the sloped terrain without trouble. I definitely do not recommend kicking a ball for your dogs while in your rainboots on a wet slope. Yes, I slid and fell. The ground was so delightfully soft (and so was I) that I wasn’t injured. I was wet and muddy, and the dogs had no sympathy, so I sulked for a few moments and then got over myself. Note to self: Galoshes don’t offer much traction. Sigh.

Green slopes, mud puddles, and dogs chasing their tennis ball. Doesn’t look hazardous, right? Ha!

The early bloomers are starting to open, one by one, and the beds are all starting to be full of nice tall, green growth. Spring is certainly right around the corner, and as we enter the Best Part of the Year (in my humble, iris-loving opinion), I expect to be outside in the garden anytime it’s not dark or I’m not at work. Hundreds of hours have gone into our test garden, and we’re about to see if our unconventional methods will pay off. Finger crossed, eyes peeled, and camera at the ready!

I'll leave you with one of my early bloomers, from a raised bed. Can’t wait for the rest to put on their big show!

'Thick And Creamy' (John Weiler, R. 1977). Sdlg. 73-50A-1. TB, 36" (91 cm). Extra early to midseason bloom. Ruffled white, blended primrose yellow (HCC 601/3) with slightly darker hafts; light primrose yellow beard. 'Wedding Vow' X 7-OB: ('White King' x 'New Moon'). Rialto Gardens 1978.


  1. Ooo, I love 'Thick and Creamy'. Got it as a trade for iris cleaning labor years ago and had no idea what it was. Just liked the name. Turned out I loved the iris also.

    1. Isn't it gorgeous? I saw a tiny picture of it, and decided to order it without any firsthand viewing, and I am delighted with how beautiful it is. :)

  2. hey vanessa, follow this blog regularly but never commented. glad california is getting any/all rain!! if your plastic containers are not draining, could be the holes are being plugged up by growing mixture. going forward when using a similar container perhaps try covering drainage holes with window screening or similar. this has worked for me with cactus in containers, insures continued drainage since the drain holes cannot accumulate debris. good luck! randy/ga

    1. Thank you, Randy. It was the soil that was clogging the holes, but making them a bit larger did the trick. It’s not a perfect system, but this garden is all about experimentation. In the next set of kiddie pools we will try your suggestion. Thank you! : )


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