Monday, March 21, 2022

The Sun Sets on Rainbows at Dry Creek: Part II

 By Jeff Bennett

In a previous post, I described planting guest irises at the Dry Creek Garden in Union City, California for the 2019 American Iris Society (AIS) National Convention and installation of the fence enclosure in late 2017. By early 2018, the winter rains brought the winter weeds. This area—having never been cultivated before—had a seed bank to die for . . .literally.

Weeds (mostly grasses) started to sprout during November and December of 2017, but they were too small to start pulling. By mid-January of 2018 they were tall enough to work with. Unfortunately, I soon discovered it took me about 8 hours to weed just one bed and the garden had 25 guest beds that all needed this attention at the same time. I reached out to the local iris societies for help.

Volunteers from the Mount Diablo and Sydney B. Mitchell Iris Societies started coming on a bi-weekly basis to get weeds under control. Needless to say, this was a daunting task. Irises were competing with weeds for light and nutrients, making a rocky start to their first growing season. Little by little, our efforts revealed irises growing in the beds and gave them room to breathe and expand.

Weeds at the Dry Creek Garden

Meanwhile, weather was warming. Irrigation lines were connected and fine-tuned to provide water as our long dry spell started. In California, rain stops falling in mid-May and often doesn’t start up again until late October or November or even later. I continued to trap gophers all summer and planned the next stage of improvements to the maze of pathways.

The planting site was plagued by Convolvuls arvensis, a horrible wild morning glory, better known as field bindweed. This herbaceous perennial has roots that go down more than 12 inches and cannot be removed completely by pulling. But, we pulled anyway to help control it. In pathways, however, we tried different materials to suppress growth: paper, cardboard and woven fabric. Of course, all three options cost money, so I decided to do three pathways with fabric. We laid it out, used ground staples to hold it in place and put a layer of compost on top to hide it. It looked fantastic afterwards. Unfortunately, the ever-persistent bindweed would come up through that staple hole: and we learned not to use fabric staples.

Woven fabric before and after adding compost

The next (and cheaper) experiment was cardboard and paper. I found a company in Colorado selling 3x500-foot rolls of recycled paper as weed block for organic gardening. They cost $99 each, but only last one growing season. The paper was bio-degradable and worked temporarily for our purpose. This was used for the remaining pathways and compost was spread evenly on top. We used over 90 yards of compost to complete the task and finished in March, 2019.

Biodegradable paper and compost installed in pathways between iris beds.

In the meantime, another winter rainy season sprouted another round of weeds to be pulled. We reached out to the societies for help again in pulling weeds among the now larger clumps and now about 37 beds. A larger task indeed, four months before the convention. I reached out to Clara B. Rees Iris Society for additional help. They wholeheartedly stepped up and joined the project. It was great to have three societies working together for a common goal. We all got to meet new people that shared our love of growing irises. 

Volunteers from three different iris societies helped reduce weed pressure at the Dry Creek Garden

 Along with continuous weeding, signage needed to be determined and placed. Since everything was new, we had no existing permanent signage for each iris. Just those little plastic tags that break or blow away. Planting lists are essential, especially when others are helping and might put a tag back in the wrong place. At this point we had about 1,200 irises in the ground and ALL of them needed a sign. I wanted something unique and easy to read. I did a mock-up of a sign, showed it to a few people, and ran with it. I used wide mouth canning jar lids purchased in bulk. I spray painted them different colors for the different classes of iris. White was for tall bearded, yellow for intermediate bearded, etc. I even did them for the beardless irises too. Then I started handwriting each one with the required details: Iris name, hybridizer’s name, year and type or seedling. Then I rigged up 36” irrigation flags and taped the signs on with extreme-hold tape. Amazing, the tape really held up well.

Iris labels made from metal, wide-mouth canning jar lids.

It was now April, 2019, and the national convention was only four weeks away. Placing the signs, coordinating table and chair rentals, tents, music, restrooms, and maintenance weeding kept me focused during the crunch time. It was also a very wet spring which was great for the irises and their growth. Excitement and hope were building. Would they be at peak bloom on time? Would there be some bad wind or hail event to ruin things? Would we be ready? All these things crossed my mind daily as we got closer . . .and closer.

Stay tuned . . . for the next installment.

Orange California poppies blooming among bearded irises.

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