“Why Does It Always Rain On The Iris?” and Other Gardening Conundrums

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Our Iris are in full, glorious bloom, and its raining…

Ironic, that just as soon as these gorgeous blooms open, they are inundated.  Petals turn to mush; stems fall over under their waterlogged weight.

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Same with the roses, if you must know.  The first gorgeous buds began to open on Saturday morning.  The rains started on Saturday, too, with more on the way.

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Now, I am always grateful for rain, please don’t misunderstand.  It is much easier to garden in rain than drought.  But I can’t help but noticing these beautiful flowers, with such a short period of bloom, blooming in the rain.

How many of us gardeners plan with the ‘worst case’ scenario in mind?  Very few, I’d bet.

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Gardeners must be optimists.  Otherwise, we’d be living in rented flats in a tall building somewhere, enjoying the local parks instead of puttering in our own unruly gardens.  We tend to expect the best and overlook the rest.

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.

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But real life is full of quirks and challenge.  We must make long range plans and then hope that we get to enjoy them.  Like the Iris, which take nearly a full year, or more, from when you plant their rhizome until they bloom.  We just plant them with a sprinkling of faith that eventually we’ll enjoy a few days of their delicious flowers.

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I have a packet of ‘Ten Free Flowering Trees’ from Arbor Day which arrived in Friday’s mail.  They arrived late in the day, while I was finishing up other projects, with no energy left to plant them.

They are still lying there in the garage, waiting for me.  We may still get a break in the rain, at least enough to get some of them in the ground today, I hope.  We have room for only a few.  The rest I hope to give to friends.

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Our front garden, yesterday in the rain, filled with blooming Mountain Laurel.

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It takes faith to plant a rooted twig, only a foot high, and envision the tree which will eventually manifest.  If one stops to consider the many things which may happen along the way, one might never even consider planting a tree of one’s own.

Two Live Oaks I planted last spring ended up broken off by something over the winter.  A very hungry deer, maybe?  (I gathered up the broken tops, and thrust them into pots hoping they might root.)

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A new Live Oak ended the summer at around 15″ tall, but was broken over the winter. It has begun growing again this spring.

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But consider our wild Scarlet Buck-Eye, Aesculus pavia.  This lovely tree began life as a volunteer seedling, before it was crushed by fallen oak trees four summers ago.  It was broken to a 4″ stump, and we could only hope it would recover.

I think that its strong roots helped it come back so quickly.  What you see is four years of growth, and its best bloom yet.  A gift of nature, it draws every eye in our garden this week.

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Scarlet Buckeye, also called ‘Firecracker Tree’ grows wild in our garden.

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A gardener learns to suspend judgement after a while.  Calling a happening ‘good’ or ‘bad’ proves one short-sighted, all too often.  Better to keep an open mind, and find ways to work with events as they arise.

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But that still doesn’t explain why this rogue, self-planted ‘Firecracker Tree’ looks stupendous today, even in the pouring rain, while our expensive and carefully tended Iris are melting before our eyes.

Maybe all of those purists who urge us to plant more native plants have a point, when you look at things dispassionately.  Did I mention that hummingbirds love those gorgeous red flowers?  Should any find our garden, their buffet lies waiting for them…..

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A gardener’s life comes filled with conundrums.  So many choices, so little time…. And yet, we get a fresh go at it with each passing season.

I’ve come to look at life in our garden as some sort of ongoing science experiment.  We try this, we try that.  When something succeeds, that is very gratifying.  When something fails, we have learned something new.

I’ll try it differently next time.

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And does that mean I’m going to rip out the Iris and plant something else; something that will stand up to our rainy springs?  Not a chance.

I’ll just grab my jacket and a hat and enjoy our garden in the pouring rain, and perhaps even find spots to add a few more Iris ….

Virginia Historic Garden Week April 22-29

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“When you find your path, you must not be afraid.

You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes.

Disappointment, defeat, and despair

are the tools God uses to show us the way.”

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Paulo Coelho

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Sunday Dinner: Water Is Life

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“Brushing the clouds away from my eyes,

I see clarity in the raindrop

and beauty in the first ray of morning sun… 

Life is strange and wondrous…”

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Virginia Alison

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“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday,

it rained very hard.

I like it when it rains hard.

It sounds like white noise everywhere,

which is like silence but not empty.”

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Mark Haddon

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“The sky mingled with the Earth infinitely

in the tenderness of rain drops.”

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Meeta Ahluwalia

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“Sometimes enlightenment descends upon you

when you least expect it…”

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Dean Koontz

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Mist to mist, drops to drops.

For water thou art,

and unto water shalt thou return.”

.

Kamand Kojouri

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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Wednesday Vignette: Iris

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“Hope is a rainbow of thought.”

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Harley King

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“To find the rainbow and life’s incredible beauties,

learn to play with adversity.”

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Debasish Mridha

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“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

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Maya Angelou

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“If it rains during sunshine,

don’t worry; you’ll see your rainbow.”

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Vikrmn

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“Pointing to another world

will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

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Walt Whitman

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“Love, I’m pretty sure, is light.”

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Jan Zwicky

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Iris was the personification of the rainbow in Greek mythology, as well as messenger of the gods along with Hermes. She was also known as the goddess of the sea and the sky.  It was said that she traveled on the rainbow while carrying divine messages to the mortals.”

from Greekmythology.com

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Sunday Dinner: Turning In Circles

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“Everything turns in circles and spirals

with the cosmic heart until infinity.

Everything has a vibration that spirals inward or outward —

and everything turns together in the same direction

at the same time.

This vibration keeps going: it becomes born and expands

or closes and destructs —

only to repeat the cycle again in opposite current.

Like a lotus, it opens or closes, dies and is born again.

Such is also the story of the sun and moon,

of me and you.

Nothing truly dies.

All energy simply transforms.”

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Suzy Kassem

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“The life of man is a self-evolving circle,

which, from a ring imperceptibly small,

rushes on all sides outwards

to new and larger circles, and that without end.

The extent to which this generation of circles,

wheel without wheel, will go,

depends on the force or truth of the individual soul.”


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

With wishes for happiness at Eostre

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“If patterns exist in our seemingly patternless lives —

and they do —

then the law of harmony insists

that the most harmonious of all patterns, circles within circles,

will most often assert itself.”

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Dean Koontz

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Wednesday Vignette: Rest

september-25-2016-pond-007

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“You rest now. Rest for longer

than you are used to resting.

Make a stillness around you,

a field of peace.

Your best work, the best time of your life

will grow out of this peace.”

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Peter Heller

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“Your call to power is to slow down and reflect within.

Gather the peace within yourself

before you go out and act among the world….

Establish this peace in your life

and you will experience a whole new reality

of the world that flows with you in every way possible,

rather than against you.”

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Alaric Hutchinson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Wordless Wednesday

May 11, 2016 Iris 004

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“Courage doesn’t always roar.

Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day

that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

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Mary Anne Radmacher

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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May 11, 2016 Iris 005

Wednesday Already?

February 29, 2016 early flowers 055

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This haunting photo taken on Monday is my lone offering for Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday this month.

It is a shell my partner spotted lying on the sidewalk in Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens when we visited earlier this week. He had an eye for small treasures like this, while I was totally absorbed in the spring flowers we found.

We’ve been enjoying the many birds who visit our garden, but I haven’t the talent Tina has for attracting and photographing them.  I hope you will click to visit her post and share one of her secrets for photographing birds, which is absolutely clever!  And then,  if you have a moment, please also check out her gentle reminders to provide safe haven for our precious pollinators.

We were thrilled to find these trees already in bloom in Gloucester; an early food source for those hungry bees!  The Heaths maintain many hives at their garden.

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We did spot this wonderful guy beside the water garden, guarding some Crocus,

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and this beautiful Koi enjoying the bright sunshine on his pool.

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But, I was searching for the earliest blossoms from the Heath’s extensive collection of spring bulbs.

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This little winter blooming Iris unguicularis caught my imagination at planting time last fall, and I planted the tiny bulbs in pots.  The one above is growing by the Heath’s water garden in Gloucester.  The one below is the first Iris to bloom in a pot in our garden this year.

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March 2, 2016 Iris 003

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It is still very early to expect to find much in the garden.  Our friend who works in the shop on Mondays reminded us of this.  But I was already headed outside, and knew there would be treasures for those who searched for them.

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We found Hellebores and Crocus, early Daffodils and Hyacinths, Camellias and other flowering shrubs relaxing in the day’s brilliant sun.  A cool breeze off the water kept the garden visit brisk and brief.
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February 29, 2016 early flowers 070

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But it proved just what we needed on ‘Leap Day.’  We leapt into spring full of hope and optimism, though it still is very much winter here.
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February 29, 2016 early flowers 012
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And now it is Wednesday, already.  A very busy week for us, and no time to spend in our own garden before the cold settled back over us today.
No matter.  ‘To everything there is a season,’ we know.  There is time enough for every purpose under heaven…
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February 29, 2016 early flowers 008
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens

in Gloucester, Virginia

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February 29, 2016 early flowers 071

Silent Sunday: Light

May 10, 2015 Mountain Laurel 020

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“The Sun will rise and set regardless.

What we choose to do with the light while it’s here

is up to us.

Journey wisely.”

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Alexandra Elle

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May 10, 2015 Mountain Laurel 021

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“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

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Walt Whitman

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May 10, 2015 Mountain Laurel 023

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“Whatever you are physically…male or female,

strong or weak, ill or healthy-

-all those things matter less

than what your heart contains.

If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior.

All those other things,

they are the glass that contains the lamp,

but you are the light inside.”

.

Cassandra Clare

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May 10, 2015 Mountain Laurel 030

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“PHOSPHORESCENCE.

Now there’s a word to lift your hat to…

to find that phosphorescence, that light within,

that’s the genius behind poetry.”

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Emily Dickinson

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May 10, 2015 Mountain Laurel 056

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts can change his life,

his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.

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Paulo Coelho

The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy

April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 650

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Were you a botanist, and an horticultural artist, would you choose to move to a new home and garden in a notoriously difficult environment?  Connie Hansen moved from Oakland CA, where she was a respected botanist on faculty at the University of California, to a small plot of land only blocks off of the beach in Lincoln City, Oregon, in 1973.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 340

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She bought a small home and a little over an acre of swampy land with a creek running through, in a residential neighborhood close enough to the beach to hear the ocean, in the shade of huge evergreen trees.  What confidence and spunk this gifted gardener had! 

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 575

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Lincoln City, in Zone 8, endures near hurricane force winds from the southwest through much of the winter.  These winds off of the Pacific bring torrents of rain.  There is occasional ice and snow, but mostly cold rain and fog.  Summer days might reach into the 80’s for a few hours, but only rarely.  Salty fog settles over the area for some part of most days, and the rocky soil remains salty far inland.

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Walk a few blocks down 33rd street from Connie’s garden and you find yourself at the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the ocean.  The Cascade Mountains come right up to the coast here, and many creeks and streams flow from the cliffs directly onto the beach.

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But Connie loved the home, previously owned by a painter, and chose to establish her garden in this challenging spot.  She saw potential to grow the Rhododendrons, Japanese Iris, ferns and primroses she loved so much in this damp garden, now home to several small ponds.

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Connie spent the next 20 years, until her passing in 1993, constructing her gardens.  And as Connie created and tended her gardens, she also built community.  She networked with other gardeners not only in her neighborhood, but all over the Pacific Northwest.  She hosted many visiting groups and opened her garden to guests of all sorts.  She ran “Orphaned Plant Sales” with divisions and extras from her garden, which continue today.

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Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden's support.

Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden’s support.

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In fact, Connie had such a loving and supportive network of gardening friends that when she passed, they kept coming to tend the garden for her.  The property was converted to a Conservancy and operates now as a free community garden staffed and tended by volunteers.

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The garden still hosts visitors every day of the year.  The garden is supported wholly by donations and has no other financial support.

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Connie’s former home at 1931 NW 33rd Street may be rented for special events.  It is open two days a week to visitors.  But one may simply wander in any time from dawn to dusk to enjoy the peaceful beauty of this special place.

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And this is a teaching garden.  Visitors learn what will thrive in this peculiar climate, and how to nurture it.  There are no “off-limits” areas so far as I could see.  The huge compost bins are right there for everyone to examine, and many of the plants are labeled for the curious.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 303

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Compost is most obviously the key to this garden’s vibrant abundance.  The native soil wouldn’t support a garden this densely planted.  Copious quantities of compost are added on top of the various beds, which was evident as I walked through.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 345

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While Connie has included many native plants in the design, she also established her own extensive collection of exotic and hybrid plants here.  I saw a vividly blue Azalea in bloom; Skunk Cabbage growing in a path; a giant ornamental Rhubarb; many varieties of Iris; Horsetail ferns, Equisetum, everywhere; and huge old Rhododendrons in the most wondrous and unusual colors.

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Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

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As the brochure states, this is truly a botanist’s paradise.

One may learn by simply sitting on one of the many benches and contemplating the surroundings.  Connie’s plant choices and associations are simply brilliant, even at the very opening of the season in April before many of the perennials have come into their own for the season.

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If the climate and wet soil weren’t enough to contend with, the garden also hosts families of deer, believe it or not.

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I had been told that deer remain a problem in the communities of Lincoln City, but saw them grazing on one of my late evening visits.  They appeared silently while I was wandering around capturing photos in the soft evening light, and had no fear of my presence there.  When they moved on, I couldn’t see any damage from their grazing.  What might they be eating, other than grass?

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Connie also tended a collection of geraniums.  This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

Connie also tended a collection of geraniums. This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

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One of the many informational pamphlets offered by the volunteers is an exhaustive list of deer resistant plants suited to this peculiar coastal climate.  Other pamphlets offer suggestions for shade gardens and list plants which can grow so near the beach.  What an invaluable resource for local gardeners!

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Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen.  Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen. Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

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This beautiful garden remains a gift of love from Connie Hansen to her community.  She worked in it every day she was able for twenty years, and used it to connect with her neighbors and with horticulturists all over the world.

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Her mission to delight and educate has been taken up by others now, but it continues.  When you visit the garden’s website you will find a rich schedule of events on offer for those who may be interested in learning more.

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I appreciate volunteer Lisa Bain, who greeted me on Saturday morning, and invited me to explore the garden with my little granddaughter.   She was warm and friendly and answered every question I could think to ask.

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Horsetail ferns, a new plant I learned about by talking with Linda.

Horsetail ferns, a new plant I learned about by talking with Lisa.  These look like pine seedlings to me, but she assured me they are naturalized ferns.

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She presided over a tantalizing offering of plants for sale, which I would have happily adopted had there not been the small matter of the jet taking me home to Virginia in a few days…    The plant sale  helps to support the operation of the garden.

If all of the volunteers are as enthusiastic and welcoming as Lisa, I know this beautiful garden will continue to thrive indefinitely in this little coastal town in Oregon.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

With special appreciation to Rickii at Sprig to Twig, who first told me about the Connie Hansen Garden.

Rickii gardens in Portland, Oregon, and suggested that I visit this beautiful garden during my visit to the coast. 

Thank you, Rickii!

 

Additional photos taken at the Connie Hansen Garden were published in “Back to My Garden.”

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 295

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