Monday, June 26, 2023

Mel's trip to Oregon in 2023

by Mel Schiller

In May 2023, Bailey urged me to head to Oregon to visit with Thomas and Kirk at Mid-America Garden as Bailey was too busy with school to make the trip. 

Anxiety is something I battle with, and this issue has returned since the death of my other son. Airports are no easy feat. I can confidently say I silently won the battle with the airports and the anxiety. I felt the fear, yet continued on my journey. I met many lovely helpful people along the way who gave me guidance and support, for which I will be forever grateful. It was my first time flying solo outside of Australia.

I flew into Oregon extremely late in the evening and Lynda Miller kindly picked me up from the airport and drove me to Mid-America Garden. Thomas and Kirk are wonderful friends and gracious hosts.
We first met Thomas in Barry Blyth's garden Tempo Two around 10 years ago. A beautiful friendship has developed from there!

Thomas invited us to come stay with him, and we eventually took him up on his offer. We have learned to appreciate our time spent in the United States. I find going shopping amusing, and people love to hear me talk. I guess my Aussie accent is something to get used to! 

I love the trees and the plants that grow in America. I would love to grow rhododendrons like we see in the majority of the gardens in Brooks, Oregon. Gosh, they make my heart flutter. 

In the late afternoon and evening the iris field at Mid-America Garden is so peaceful. It is a magical time of silence and listening to the birds calling in the distance. I spent a lot of time taking photographs. Some 9000 to be exact! In between photographs I hybridized . . . a lot. 

The gratitude I feel towards Thomas and Kirk for allowing us into their lives and passing their love of their garden and irises is beyond beautiful. I feel extremely fortunate and privileged. I fall in love with the irises, both new and old. The beauty to be found in the wonderful new creations is truly magnificent. Here are some that I absolutely loved from Thomas's field. 

'A Million Dreams' (Johnson, 2023)
The clarity of colour on this iris variety is simply outstanding. Coming from 'Arrivederci' breeding, an iris that we love, makes us think of future possibilities. 

'Breath of Fresh Air' (T. Johnson, 2023)
The work that Thomas has achieved in this line is amazing. He has developed many beautiful pink irises with blue beards. We love them!

'Distant Shores' (T. Johnson, 2023)
The colour contrast in 'Distant Shores' shows exquisite depth. This variety just kept calling me and  I kept going back to take another look! 

'How Bizarre' (P. Black, 2023)
Ahh Paul Black . . . lines and more lines. I love his work -  so different, and unusual. That is what the team at Smokin Heights love. Statement irises that are different so they stand out and make wonderful impacts in the garden. 

'Indecisive' (P. Black, 2023)
The foliage. 'Indecisive' is all about the foliage. Variety is the spice of life, and shades of green and cream provide versatility in the garden. The colours just work to make a pleasing blend for the eye to behold. We are all about variegated foliage plants. Visual appeal is everything! 

'Just Between Us' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This iris grew on me over time. There is no doubt about the beautifully branched stems and the pleasing colour to the eye. It also comes from 'Arrivederci' lines. Unfortunately, we find 'Arrivederci' doesn't love our garden in Australia. It is a variety that is extremely slow in growth habits for us! Despite this shortcoming, I still used it in hybridizing.

'Let Me Be There' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This variety is very delicious in every way. Gosh, I fell in love quickly! I used this in hybridizing and have ordered it to import to Australia! The seedlings that Thomas has coming on are beautiful! 

'Lovely Livvy' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This is the iris that broke the internet, and it is easy to see why. It has the stuff that dreams are made of! To see it bloom in my garden will be amazing. I look forward to that day at Smokin Heights! 

'Mega Ruffles' (P. Black, 2023)
Such an appropriate name for this beautiful iris. What is there not to love when you see lots of ruffles?

'Never Enough' (T. Johnson, 2023)
I remember this variety clearly. I remember saying to Thomas, "A rock could sit on the standards." The super substance that this variety presents is amazing. It was an absolute "yes" from me in every way. I loved this variety. 

'On The Line' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This variety had just started to bloom in my last few hours in the field. I managed a quick photograph and liked what I saw. Deep in my heart, I knew Bailey would love this visually appealing variety!

'Princess Pretty Pink' (P. Black, 2023)
I am a sucker for pink irises. I patiently waited for this variety to open, going to the clump daily to check its progress. I was not disappointed. A beautiful pale plicata in pink. Wow! 

'Refined Elegance' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This iris was a "yes" from the get-go. This year I am finding myself drawn to yellow. Normally, I am not a yellow person. Maybe my tastes are changing! This iris variety has the perfect name. It was elegant in every way. The bloom won over my heart. 

'Such A Sweetheart' (T. Johnson, 2023)
Oh this was an easy win me over. Pastel shades in this smoky lavender and pale pink plicata mix. Wow. Its warm, it's inviting. Its gorgeous! 

'Superhero Kiss' (T. Johnson, 2023)
This colour combination is a m a z i n g. It is on the shorter side but that does not detract from its beauty. This iris makes a huge statement in the field. I would call it one of those jaw-dropping irises. I love it!

'Unimaginable' (P. Black, 2023)
Oh yes! I come back to the haft-lined pattern as a favourite. I love the drama of this iris. It makes your eyes dizzy looking at the haft area. In a clump, the impact is electrifying!

'Zero Gravity' (T. Johnson, 2023)
I loved this variety coming from 'Sergey' crossed with 'Espionage'. It is another favourite, a beautifully neutral-toned variety. I can see this variety in a beautiful vase amid a mixed bunch of blooms. 

My 2023 trip to the United States was definitely something that I needed in my life at this point in time. The feeling of complete peace washed over me when I stepped into the iris field at Mid-America Garden. There was no agenda or rushing about. No other thoughts except for the irises. It took me a couple days to get my mind sorted and unraveled for my task at hand. And I successfully traveled solo. High Five!

Monday, June 19, 2023

More Seacliff Irises

by Kathleen Sayce

I've posted several notes over the years about wild Iris tenax populations on the coasts of southern Washington and northern Oregon. Today I have photos of I. tenax from a new location. These plants grow on cliffs southeast of the Neahkahnie sea cliffs meadow population and aren't more than a half mile from that lovely meadow. Like that meadow, they grow on Miocene basalt cliffs several hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean. I saw more than ten clumps, battling agoraphobia to hang over the retaining wall to look for flowering plants. 
Iris tenax flowering on a basalt ledge over the Pacific Ocean

A report of a Canyon Wren, more than a hundred miles from its normal range in north Tillamook County, Oregon, brought me to this location, via eBird and a local WhatsApp birding group. I heard two partial trills, and one full song. Traffic on Highway 101 wiped out more than two-thirds of the listening time. No good views of this wren, sorry to say.

Pacific Ocean in background on a sunny, mild day

This I. tenax population has dark pink-lavender flowers with wide petals. It has persisted in my garden for years, and seeds occasionally make their way to the SPCNI seed catalog, open in December and January each year. Getting closer to these cliff-growing plants requires climbing gear!

The image below is of flowering irises from the nearby meadow, growing in my garden. These were grown from wild-collected seed. 
Iris tenax flowers, grown from the Neahkahnie sea cliff population

Other wildflowers in bloom on the cliffs include crevice alumroot (Heuchera micrantha), spring gold (Lomatium martindalei), hairy checkermallow (Sidalcea hirtipes) and giant Indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). That small slice of blue water in the middle image says it all: it was a lovely day on the Pacific Ocean. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

Working Irises

By Gary Salathe

We all focus on the beauty of native Louisiana irises when we see them blooming in the wild. We sometimes forget that these irises provide a service to the habitat in which they grow; they consume huge amounts of overabundant nutrients found within the swamp water, humus soil, and muck that comes from decaying matter. The ability of the irises to accomplish this is the reason that my non-profit, the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), was invited to participate in an important project being done by Nicholls State University. Put simply, the goal of the project is to put the irises to work!

Here is the tale of just how we are going to do this:

Each summer along portions of the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico, the oxygen levels in the water drop below 2 parts per million, creating a situation known as hypoxia. The result is a “dead zone” – the low-oxygen levels kill bottom-living organisms and fish and shrimp will avoid the area. The creation of the dead zone is linked to the flow of two key nutrients down the Mississippi River, nitrogen and phosphorus. Snow melt and springtime rainfall transport these nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico from farms, residential septic tanks, and sewage treatment plants within the river's watershed.


   The map above is from a article.

The low density of freshwater from the Mississippi River allows it to form a layer over the higher density saltwater Gulf water just off Louisiana's coast. This nutrient-rich freshwater increases algae populations and forms a harmful algal bloom. When the algae bloom is over, this organism dies and sinks to the bottom of the Gulf, where it decomposes, using up oxygen. Low-oxygen conditions generally last until tropical storms or other weather events in late summer and early fall disrupt the layer of fresh water, mixing air from the surface into the saltwater on the bottom.

Obviously, for a state whose coastal areas depend on commercial and recreational fishing, this is a huge problem. It is also becoming a national embarrassment that as ecological concerns in much smaller habitats get plenty of media attention, very few people in the areas upstream in the Mississippi River watershed, where much of the nutrients come from, are even aware of this problem. It’s a problem, all right. Each summer, it often covers an area in the Gulf of Mexico the size of the state of Connecticut.

   The graphic above is from a article.

Much work has been done, and is being done, to understand the Gulf of Mexico's annual dead zone. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 (HABHRCA 1998, reauthorized in 2004, 2014, and 2019) reaffirmed and expanded NOAA's mandate to advance scientific understanding of hypoxia, and support scientists' ability to detect, monitor, predict, and mitigate its occurrences. However, not much has been done in attempting to stop the source of the problem outside of enforcing EPA pollution regulations that typically are not focused on nutrients.

Ducks Unlimited saw an opportunity to offer one solution to the problem of hypoxia and simultaneously solve another problem, how to increase the amount of duck habitat in south Louisiana. They have funded a number of demonstration projects in an attempt to show that creating wetlands near the source of the water runoff can significantly reduce the amount of nutrients entering the watershed. By planting native marsh plants within the wetlands and having the nutrient-laden water flow through, the plants will significantly reduce the amount of nutrients in the water that comes out the other end. This will help solve the first problem. It is thought that the supercharged wetlands full of these plants and nutrients will become the perfect duck habitat, helping to solve the second problem.

Nicholls State University is located in the small rural Louisiana town of Thibodaux, Louisiana, and has a 277-acre farm. The farm is an integral part of the university’s plans to become the center for coastal restoration research in Louisiana. In recent years, Nicholls Biology Department has produced over 30,000 black mangroves at the Nicholls Farm, which were planted along coastal areas. A Nicholls Farm master plan lays out plans for additional land, classroom space, and areas to test coastal restoration projects. Ducks Unlimited approached Nicholls State about creating a wetlands on their farm as one of the first of their nutrient-reducing projects. Nicholls State signed on to the project.
Photo: The wetlands project site at Nicholls Farm is located on the map labeled "Bird Sanctuary" and the "Large Farm Plots" to its right.
The wetland project covers 21 acres of the Nicholls Farm. The plan is to pump water from Bayou Folse into the wetland, let the marsh plants remove the nutrients, and then return the clean water back to the bayou. The bayou is really just a drainage canal at that upstream location. Water drains into the bayou from nearby residential areas - many using individual septic tanks for sewerage treatment, some farmland and sugar cane fields (heavy fertilizer users), and some urban run-off from the town. The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Entergy, and Lowland Construction all assisted with the development and implementation of the project.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative was invited to participate as a partner in the project by the head of Nicholls State University Biology Department and leader of the wetlands project, Quinton Fontenot. Our job is to organize iris rescues and then organize volunteers to plant the irises into the wetlands project. The job of the irises is to remove the nutrients from the water coming into the project from Bayou Folse. In other words, this is an iris restoration with a purpose other than just growing irises. It's a working iris project! We, too, signed on.

Photo: The ability of Louisiana irises to remove nutrients from water and soil are well known. This photo is from a LICI iris rescue in 2020 on Bayou Road in St. Bernard Parish, La. The volunteers showed up with shovels, ready to dig up the irises, only to discover that the irises were all floating on the water's surface. They were growing hydroponically because nearby homes' individual home sewerage treatment plants had their outflows in the bayou, which is actually a large ditch at that location. The photo shows an iris with its huge root system just plucked from the water.

Of course, this wetlands project is also offering us a wonderful opportunity to find a home for huge numbers of rescued I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris from our iris rescue program. What better home for them than in the center of a university's farm that is dedicated to Louisiana coastal conservation and habitat restoration?  The farm already produces other native plants, such as marsh grasses, that are used to create seed stock for USDA-approved nurseries to grow out to use in restoration projects. Our irises will just be added into the mix. (A topic for a future blog posting will be the plan to use the Nicholls Farm and I. giganticaerulea species to obtain for the USDA's approval for irises grown by their approved nurseries to be used in future marsh restoration projects.)

We have agreed that in future years the irises we plant into the project can be thinned out for other restoration projects. It is likely they will become a source of irises for restoration projects all across south Louisiana for years to come.

Photo: Construction of the Nicholls Farm wetlands project was nearing completion when this photo was taken in March of 2023. One of two water control structures is shown in the photo.  The photo also shows the vast amount of shoreline available to plant irises.

One of the really interesting things about this project is that the water level of the wetlands can be completely controlled. There are two out-flow water control structures that lower the water level in 4-inch increments by removing metal panels, which are each 4" tall. You can completely drain the wetlands by removing all of the panelsA high-capacity pump installed next to Bayou Folse can raise the water level 4 inches in a little less than one day.

Photo: The pump next to Bayou Folse is shown running at full capacity the day after our iris plantings were completed in early June.

After the wetland was completely filled with water for the first time, a couple of LICI volunteers and myself walked the areas that were approved by Quinton for us to plant irises in the project. We flagged off areas that were holding between 3" and 6" of water. The grasses that had been growing in these areas were used to being on high and dry land, so they had begun to die off.

Photo: Two LICI volunteers are shown setting out flags in areas where the water depth was between 3" and 6" so that we could locate the sites after the water level was lowered for the iris plantings. 

Preparations for the iris plantings began with iris rescues to collect the irises we would be planting into the project. Our friends at the non-profit Common Ground Relief had an eighth-grade school group from St. Louis, Missouri for a week of service activities in late April. One of their activities had to be canceled, so they contacted me to see if we had something they could do with irises. Well, they ended up rescuing over 2,800 irises from the site west of New Orleans where we have been working to remove them.

Photo: Some of the twenty students from The College School in St. Louis, MO are seen on an iris rescue organized by Common Ground Relief to help us get irises for planting at the Nicholls State Farm wetlands project.

I organized iris rescues during May to add to the number of irises we would have available to plant. Our friends at Limitless Vistas/ Gulf Corps volunteered to do the job. During four iris rescues another 3,000 irises were collected. By including some irises from the LICI iris holding area, we likely had over 6,000 irises available by the time we were ready to begin planting at the Nicholls Farm in late May.

Photo: During early May, small groups of Limitless Vistas/Gulf Corps job training program helped out by doing four iris rescues to gather irises for the Nicholls Farm project.

The final step before we could begin planting irises was to cut the grass within the flagged areas once the water level was lowered in the wetlands project for the planting events. Mike Glaspell, a LICI volunteer from our Lockport, La. boardwalk planting, which is located about 30 miles away, agreed to come out and help prep the site.

Photo: LICI's volunteer, Mike Glaspell, did yeoman work cutting the grass with his brush-blade weed-eater to prep each planting site on Mary 22nd for the next day's iris planting event. 

The first volunteer iris planting event was planned for Tuesday, May 23rd. Even though we were expecting up to 50 volunteers we were pretty sure they would not be able to plant all of the irises.  Because it was going to take some time to lower the water level of the wetlands we wanted to try and get all of the irises we wanted planted in the ground within a few days of each other. A second volunteer event was scheduled for Friday, May 26th to accomplish that.

It took two trips from New Orleans to get all of the irises to the site. 

The morning of Tuesday, May 23rd was clear, very warm, with very little breeze and high humidity. Mike, myself, and other volunteers from Lockport, La., including some Louisiana Master Gardeners, arrived early to help set the irises out, put up four canopies, and set up tables, chairs, and other equipment. They did a great job of getting the irises out of their containers to spread out across the planting area so no time was wasted by the planting volunteers carrying irises to and fro. By the time the first planting volunteers arrived, we were already tired, hot, and our clothes were soaked from sweat.

Photo: LICI's volunteers are shown setting the irises out around the planting sites before the planting volunteers arrived on the morning of Tuesday, May 23rd.

Right on time, just after 9 AM, thirty-five volunteers from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in addition to some of the Nicholls State University faculty, staff, and students arrived to start work planting the irises. Another canopy was raised up on the far end of the planting area and for almost 2 1/2 hours without much of a break the group worked hard planting irises.

 LICI's volunteer photographer, Henry Cancienne, was there to document the whole thing.


Photo: In one of the most impressive displays of volunteer power that I have experienced so far in my iris restoration hobby, they planted about 2,000 irises in the first 1 1/2 hours of the event.

A film crew from Ducks Unlimited arrived to shoot scenes for a documentary they are doing about the project.

Video: About midway through the event a snowball truck pulled into the remote site where the volunteers were working! It had been hired by the LOOP leadership to give all of the volunteers a cool break on a hot day.

Just after noon it all ended and a total of 3,000 irises had been planted. All of the irises we had set out and prepositioned were planted. But there were still plenty of irises that were stored in containers flooded with the wetland's water that we had not set out.

We all headed to the front of the farm to a building used for classes. Then a pizza delivery van showed up and delivered a tall stack of pizza boxes full of pizzas for the group!

Photo: Volunteers from the Tuesday, May 23rd iris planting pose for the final goodby photo.

So far, so good. The days passed quickly and it seemed like in no time the second volunteer iris planting event was ready to go on Friday, May 26th. This time the volunteers were a group of college students from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania,  Limitless Vistas/Gulf Corps workers and our own LICI volunteers.

Common Ground Relief had been hosting the Bucknell group while they were in New Orleans taking a course on the city’s history for three weeks. Our event was just one service activity that the group did with Common Ground Relief while they were in town.

The Limitless Vistas/Gulf Corps crew that had completed four iris rescues for the wetlands project wanted to see where the irises were being planted and to help with the planting, so they could go full circle from rescuing to planting.

Photo: The volunteers for the second iris planting at the Nicholls State wetlands project get ready to start work on Friday, May 26th.

Thankfully, there was a stiff breeze blowing all morning, so the work was more pleasant than on Tuesday. The group worked hard and planted about 1,800 irises.

Photo: Volunteers from the Friday, May 26th iris planting pose for the final goodby photo.
 Quinton went back to the planting site that evening and dropped one 4" panel down on both water control structures and turned the pump on. By the end of the next day the water level had risen to the top of the panel, which got some water around most of the irises that had been planted that week.

I went back to the wetlands two days after the last planting to pick up about 1,200 irises we had left over because there was not enough time to plant them. The volunteers for both events were hot and worn out anyway by the end of the events, so these irises likely would not have been planted even if there was more time available. I planted 200 irises while I was there.

I texted Quinton and told him if we could get the water level up 1" all of the irises would either have some water around them or at least be in moist ground. He was happy to turn on the pump that evening. The water level rose the 1" by the following morning, when he turned the pump off again.

I went back to the wetlands project near the end of last week to check on the water level because we didn't want to raise it back up fully until the irises had put out some new leaf growth to make sure they wouldn't be totally submerged. I gave the OK for the wetlands pump to be turned on to fill it all of the way back up after seeing that almost all of the irises had perked up or put out new leaf growth. I also planted 100 more irises, which brought our grand total for the planting to 5,100 irises!

Photo: One of the water control structures can be seen in the photo. Irises with water around most of them can also be seen in the photo's foreground. This photo was taken after the water had been risen by the height of one panel, plus 1" three days after the planting.

Photo: This is the map we are working on with Quinton for the iris plantings we just completed and the iris plantings we hope to complete by the end of the year.  

Our goal is to get in between 12,000 and 15,000 irises this year.

Quinton told the volunteers that the university has plans to build a walking path between this wetlands project and another one they are just getting started on. Also in the plan, subject to getting funding, would be to build a pavilion that overlooks the wetlands project. The site of that pavilion will be near to the area we have planted the irises. He also told the volunteers that the university will hold some type of open house during next spring's iris bloom so they could all come, along with others, to view the results of their work.

I told my volunteers that seeing 15,000 I. giganticaerlea irises all blooming at one time will likely be a once in a lifetime event for each of us. However, I also pointed out that these 15,000 irises will likely double in number during the next year through off-shoot growth. If we plant 15,000 more in 2024 that would mean there could be 45,000 irises blooming all at once during the 2025 spring bloom in the wetlands project. "Now, this would be a historic event!" I told them.

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Although LICI “is a bare-bones deal”, as I like to say, I'm quick to add that we can always use donations to our cause. We have a “Donate” button at the top of our website home page here.