Monday, October 19, 2020

Where The Wild irises Are—A New Wild Lawn

by Kathleen Sayce

Inspiration can come from unexpected directions. Last spring a friend—who lives up a valley about an hour away—sent me photos of irises flowering in the fields around her home. She was looking for plant identification, which I was pleased to supply—these are wild Iris tenax, growing in northeast Pacific County, Washington. Curiously, there are no herbarium specimens for this species in this county, but they grow wild by the thousands here all the same. 

Why was I looking for inspiration? A group of volunteers (horticulturists and ecologists) put together a planting plan for the new headquarters landscape at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, which is also in Pacific County. 

To the left, Iris tenax growing wild in a pasture, Willapa Valley, photo by Megan Martin.

This is a summer-dry climate, so getting the plants off to the right start is critical, and fall planting is the first step. 

The property has irrigation water available; a storm last week added a couple of inches of rain while putting out wildfires to the east in the Cascades, and ending the dry season. Site access was held up by delays in road rebuilding for several weeks—the new road is finally going in right now, about four weeks later than planned. 

These delays mean that instead of including images of the newly planted and seeded wild lawn, we have images of plants ready to place, and local wild Iris tenax from the nearby valley— the inspiration for this new landscape. 

To the right, a few dozen I. tenax clumps in a pasture, photo by Megan Martin.

The design goal is all native plants, low maintenance, with low watering needs, in a visually pleasing layout. Shrub borders and trees were easy to design, but the wild lawn needed a focus. Armed with new images of fields of irises and other wildflowers among grasses, we had the inspiration we needed. 

The site is being prepared right now for planting. We will plant numerous wildflowers, with an emphasis on irises, including I. tenax, I. douglasiana and a few hybrids, along with yarrow, field checkermallow, goldenrod, pearly everlasting, Douglas aster, and other perennials. Chocolate lilies, camas and Columbia lily are some of the bulbs that are native to this area.  The grass matrix will be a mix of low growing fescues, including red and Roemer’s fescues. 

Above, I. tenax growing with daisies, bracken-fern and grasses in a pasture, photo by Megan Martin. 

The wild lawn will be mown once a year, in fall, and after the first year, will not be watered in summer. Fall mowing means we will be able to collect and spread seed on the site to continue to distribute irises around the wild lawn, which covers more than 20,000 square feet. The budget did not have room for the 1000s of plants we needed, so we will start with a few hundred iris, and spread their seeds around to expand the planting. 

Above, a few pots of iris, freshly planted last spring, photo by Kelly Rupp.

There will be some spot management of blackberries and other woody perennials as the lawn settles into its new configuration, on what was formerly a farm homestead surrounded by coastal forest at the south end of Willapa Bay, Pacific County, Washington. We expect it to take about three years to settle in. 

Looking upslope at the wild lawn along the view corridor--the iris+fescue area will be near the building. Photo by Todd Wiegardt. 

Check back next year for an update on this wild lawn.

Photos for this blog were contributed by Megan Martin, Kelly Rupp and Todd Wiegardt. 



  1. Quite an undertaking.....wishing you much success. Please keep us updated as things settle in and mature in years to come. Thanks for sharing! Randy/GA

  2. I will, and am pleased to say that we will start planting irises the last weekend in October.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...