On the Eve of May

The first rays of morning sun fuel our garden this last day of April.

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May is already upon us.  The garden has filled with flowers, and there are more waiting each morning as we walk outside, to see what has changed overnight.

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Iris ‘Echo Location’

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This is Iris season, and Columbine season, and the grass is filled with wildflowers season.

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Native fleabane, probably Erigeron pulchellus, grow in our front lawn. A short lived perennial, this patch grows a bit larger each year. After it finishes flowering, we will mow this part of the ‘lawn’ once again.

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It all grows unbelievably fast in late April and early May, and I am busily trying to work with the season.

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Erigeron is a native wildflower in our area.  Too pretty to cut back, we have let it have its real estate in the front yard.

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That said, it was only 41F when I followed the sun out of bed this morning.  Neighbors in nearby towns had temperatures near freezing over night, and so I don’t yet trust the weather with so many of our tender, tropical plants.  I am crossing my fingers and toes, and planting out as much as I dare, just as quickly as I can.

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I was a bit surprised to notice the trellis filled with blooming Clematis this morning.

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Spring rolls over us like a wave, before cresting into full on summer.  And I am working to ride that wave as the garden awakens.

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This is the time to set things right; to establish what will grow where, and how, for the next six months.

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Columbine

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But everywhere I look, I see something new.  I see opening leaves, emerging perennials, and unfolding buds.

May’s magic lives in our garden, and I hope it lives in yours, as well.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

After experimenting for the past several days with my new Canon Power Shot Elph 180, I am back to my Nikon Coolpix S3500.  Trying to focus in on the fleabane flowers proved the utility of my little Nikon, which lives in the inside pocket of my gardening vest.  It has crossed the country with me a couple of times now, and is officially obsolete in the world of pocket cameras.  But it still takes a great photo and leaves me satisfied.

 

 

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Sunday Dinner: “Be Fruitful”

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“Don’t sit at home and wait
for mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are.
It won’t happen.
If you are truly hungry for change,
go out of your comfort zone
and change the world.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“True passion motivates the life forces
and brings forth all things good.
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Gabriel Brunsdon

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Double Narcissus ‘Gay Tabour’

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“Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value.”
.
Albert Einstein

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“There is no season of your life
that you cannot produce something.”
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Bidemi Mark-Mordi

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“To be fruitful
is to understand the process of growth”
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Sunday Adelaja

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

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“Success is not how high you have climbed,
but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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