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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Making Our Blessings Count

november-20-2016-clematis-002

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“Cultivate the habit of being grateful

for every good thing that comes to you,

and to give thanks continuously.

And because all things

have contributed to your advancement,

you should include all things

in your gratitude.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Happy Thanksgiving day to you.  I hope it has been a good day, spent in a way that makes you happy and with folks you love.   Thanksgiving is a gentle holiday, and one that I especially enjoy.  I try to avoid travel and keep the day as low key as possible.

Whether at home with family, or gathered elsewhere with family, I’m always one of the cooks.  And I find satisfaction in creating a warm and satisfying meal filled with the flavors and memories which knit our years together into a seamless fabric of loving.

While we celebrate gratitude and appreciation on Thanksgiving Day, most of us are also gearing up for Christmas this time of year.  For many, that means sharpening up our shopping skills and compiling a list of holiday plans and desires.  Ironic, isn’t it?

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August's white flowers are transformed to seed heads, ready to begin again the life cycle of culinary chives.

August’s white flowers are transformed to seed heads, ready to begin again the life cycle of culinary chives.

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“We should certainly count our blessings,

but we should also make our blessings count.”

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Neal A. Maxwell

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Thanks-giving is not a passive thing.  It isn’t about leaning back in our comfy chairs and thinking happy thoughts.

It begins with awareness; progresses to acknowledgement;  stops for a moment to express appreciation and love to others; and then gets down to the real business of using those blessings for the greater good.

Having a blessing isn’t enough.  We find ways to  make use of the goodness it brings to our lives, to make our lives count for something.

I’ve always thought of appreciation as an active thing; an investment in more joy and productivity.  What good are seeds left in an envelope?

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“Great things happen to those

who don’t stop believing, trying,

learning, and being grateful.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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Which brings us back to those holiday desires, which can wake us up and move us forwards.

Whether we’re formulating birthday wishes, sharing a Christmas list, planning a Christmas celebration, or pondering new year’s resolutions; we harness our imagination, our desire, and our personal energies to create a new reality for ourselves.

Gratitude and growth go hand in hand.  We appreciate the blessings we enjoy already, and then multiply that sense of happiness and well being into the next step.    We express appreciation to a loved one, in hopes they will use that good feeling as fuel for their own growth and evolution.

There is always more to accomplish, more to experience, more to learn, more to do for the benefit of others.  We just have to imagine it, and then fuel it with faith and confidence until it materializes in our lives.

Wisdom teachers tell us that our gratitude and appreciation attract more of the same into our lives.

But the reverse is also true:  when we complain and focus on what is lacking, when we criticize loved ones and take them for granted; we lose that rocket fuel called ‘love’ which feeds our happiness.  When we overlook the tiny miracles and blessings of each day, we put blinders on our hearts and imagination.  Eventually, we close ourselves off to the possibilities around us.

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“You probably have the ability

to get what you want.

And you likely have everything you need

to be completely satisfied.

But do you also have the ability

to want what you’ve got?

That just may be one of

the most important questions you will ever answer.”

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Steve Goodier

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But we all find obstacles in our path from time to time.  Perhaps a loved one’s illness or depression makes us put our own lives on ‘hold’ for a while.  We lose jobs we need, see the storms of chance change our lives in unexpected ways.  Things just don’t go according to plan….

Obstacles become detours, but the path stretches before us for as long as we live.  And meeting every obstacle with an open mind, a grateful heart, and determination to find the most benevolent outcome in each circumstance is how we keep moving towards a brighter, happier, more fulfilling life.

“Attitude is everything…”  We learn this as children, but practice it always.  Our attitude of gratitude serves us well, as we appreciate each and every day of our lives.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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A Forest Garden 2017 garden calendar is now available

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“Thankfulness is an attitude of possibilities,

not an attitude of liabilities.”

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Craig D. Lounsbrough

Iris, ‘Rosalie Figge’ and Friends

December 25, 2015 Christmas tree 019

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We have an Iris blooming in the garden today.  It stood up to heavy rain yesterday, and there are more buds to open over the next few days.

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Our Prostrate Rosemary bloomed for Christmas day, too.  It is the first time this plant has bloomed for us, and we love its soft blue blossoms.

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December 25, 2015 Christmas tree 022

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The Violas and ornamental cabbages are still vibrant,  loving these moist warm days.

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December 25, 2015 garden 018

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The Vinca must think it’s already spring.  Tiny blue flowers are opening all over the garden.

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And the first of the Hellebores buds have begun to appear.  These may be true winter flowers, but have debuted weeks earlier than last year.

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December 25, 2015 garden 019

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Things have slowed down slightly from the few bits of cool weather we’ve had in December, but our garden continues its unfolding.

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Arum italicum just beginning growth in a new bed.

Arum italicum just beginning growth in a new bed.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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In A Vase on Monday: May Remembered

November 30, 2015 iris 001

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On this last day of November, we filled our vase with fresh cut roses and the last of our Iris.  This is one of the many reasons we love gardening in coastal Virginia!

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November 30, 2015 Roses 003

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Today proved wet and mild.  It was in the mid-40s when we went out on mid-day errands, and the low white sky promised more slow and steady drizzle.  A damp glaze on everything and muted light made the remaining golden and scarlet leaves on our trees glow radiantly.  What a simply beautiful day.

Those trees still holding their leaves were  like torches set against the bleak November day.  Our roses shone like beacons across the garden.

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November 30, 2015 Roses 006

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It was already dusk when I finally got outside  to cut the roses.  We thought the frost last week had finished our Iris for the season.  But the buds survived, and this lovely I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ opened today as though the frost had never even happened.

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November 30, 2015 iris 002

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Our Artemisia survived the first few frosty nights as well, glowing with silver light on this dark and rainy day. Our little vase of flowers reminds us of the sheer joy of May; a last gift of the season before we face December in the morning.

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November 30, 2015 Roses 001~

The vase itself came to us through the Habitat for Humanity shop.  I spotted it last summer, and noticing it was made in France, and is quite old; decided to add it to our collection of vases.  I love its cream and gold colors and classic shape.

We’ll enjoy these vibrant apricot roses and deeply purple Iris as we leave autumn behind now, and welcome winter and the holiday season for another year.   Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, has cut autumn roses from her garden for her vase today, too.  It shows me how small our world really is to see we are both cutting similar roses on the very same day, thousands of miles apart from one another!   I hope you’ll pop over to see her gorgeous apricot rose named, “The Poet’s Wife.”

Cathy faithfully hosts this challenge to post a vase of fresh cut flowers each Monday, and I’m happy to join her coterie of flower gardeners again today.

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November 30, 2015 Roses 008

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Soon we will all be awash in red and green, silver and gold as more and more holiday decorations find their way out of storage.

I hope you had a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving weekend spent relaxing with loved ones.  As the garden drifts off to sleep through another winter, our attention turns to other things inside, where it is warm and dry.

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November 30, 2015 Roses 009

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Woodland Gnome 2015

The Last Day Before Frost

November 12, 2014 garden 002

We definitely expect a freeze by tomorrow night.

We feel it coming in the wind blowing through the garden.  With our high for today in the low 50s, we know it will drop quickly from here on.

The winter storm which has so much of the country in its icy grip is blowing into Williamsburg this weekend.

 

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

 

With so much of the country under snow, and threat of snow, we can hardly complain about a mid-November frost.

But the day is still tinged with a bit of  sadness.  Sadness, and motivation to take care of everything we possibly can before the cold settles in this evening.

 

The African Blue Basil may be tough,but it isn't cold hardy.  it will die with when it freezes here.

The African Blue Basil may be tough, but it isn’t cold hardy.  It will die with the first heavy frost.  We still see bees and butterflies.  We hope they find shelter or fly south today.

 

After making the coffee this morning, I set about bringing in those last few pots of tender perennials.

I’ve filled every possible spot now in the house and garage with overwintering plants.  The main body of them in the garage  got re-arranged this morning to make room for a few more pots.

 

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

 

Even the brave Bougainvillea, which only started blooming in mid- October, finally made the journey from patio to garage this morning.

 

Our three year old Bouganvillia has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

Our three year old Bougainvillea has waited until October to bloom.  It came back into the garage this morning, covered in bright cherry flowers.

 

And the supposedly hardy “Pewter” Begonia got brought in to the garage, as well.  Its leaves are so pretty, I hate to let it go to the frost.

A pot of tender ferns, a few more pots of tender succulents, and a final mish-mash pot of Begonia cuttings completed the morning’s efforts.

 

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns have a snug spot by a basement window.

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns now have a snug spot by a basement window.

 

My ever patient partner assisted (supervised) this final effort until getting called away to assist a neighbor.  And from there to another neighbor’s yard, and then to another.

His work out may have been more strenuous than mine, but we all now have covered outside faucets, covered foundation vents, and we’re as ready as we can be for the prolonged stretch of  cold ahead.

 

This winter I'm using watering globes to care for the indoor plants.  Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.

This winter I’m using watering globes to care for the indoor plants. Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.  The fern hasn’t yet adjusted to the drier inside air.

 

And at noon our local weather guy confided that we may have some “Bay effect snow” by Saturday morning.

That seems to be the way our forecasts evolve around here.  They prepare you for a little change, and then the forecast continues to shift towards the extremes as the system progresses.

We are promised only rain this evening.  And I can feel the falling barometer and approaching storm in all of the usual places….

 

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

 

 

But we have today to enjoy the garden before Frost’s icy fingers have their way with it.  I’ve moved all those things for which there is simply no spot inside up against a brick wall on the patio.

Petunias survived there two winters ago.

Our sheltered patio provides a microclimate which stays warmer during the winter.  Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

Our sheltered patio provides a micro-climate which stays warmer during the winter. Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

 

They began blooming again in February, and just kept going right on through the following summer.  That gives me hope that the few geraniums and succulents I couldn’t bring in have a chance to survive.

And the little olive trees I’ve been nurturing along in pots should make it there, too.

 

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies have managed fine in our cool nights.  They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies and Canna lilies have managed fine in our cool nights. They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

 

I’ve read they are growing olives in parts of England, now.  I hope these are hardy enough to survive our winter outside, in this sheltered spot.

They traveled in and out, as the weather shifted, last winter.  It got to be quite a chore, but the olive trees  were in much smaller pots then, too.

 

November 12, 2014 golden day 194

 

And the many Violas we’ve planted will be fine.  They will shrug off the cold.

We’ve planted lots of ornamental kale, a pot of Swiss chard, hardy ferns, bulbs, and our beloved Violas.

Our garden will continue through the winter, even though much will go with  the coming  frost.

 

Camellia

Camellia

 

 

So, we are bracing ourselves for what we’ll find Saturday morning.

The landscape continue to edit and simplify itself.  As the brilliant leaves  fall from their branches, so will our Ginger lilies and Cannas also crumple to the ground.

 

Iris "Rosalie Figge" normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg.  This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

Iris “Rosalie Figge” normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg. This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

 

 

The bright Salvias will shrivel back to the soil.  The Lantana will lose its leaves, though the berries will remain until cleaned up by the birds.

Basil will freeze beside the stalwart Rosemary, which grows and blooms all winter long.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won't survive a freeze.  But its roots are hardy.  It should return in this pot by early summer.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won’t survive a freeze. But its roots are hardy. It should return in this pot early next summer.

 

The last of autumn’s roses will soon freeze, but the Camellias will continue to bloom until spring.

 

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold.  We'll enjoy them a few more days inside.

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold. We’ll enjoy them a few more days inside.

 

It is the way of things, this annual turning of the seasons. 

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds.  Only a few remain.

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds. Only a few remain.

 

Something is always coming on, and something is always fading in the garden.    And we are endlessly fascinated as we witness the changes which come each and every day.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Holiday Wreath Challenge

Late Summer Purple Haze

We’re a week into September, and finished with the holidays of summer.   Everyone is back in school, from the kids at the College to the home schoolers. You can almost here the hum of brain activity between the diesel rumblings of the school busses each morning and afternoon. Our  mornings are cool and brisk, with … Continue reading

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