Tag Archives: Higo iris

I have measured out my year in flowers, not my life in coffee spoons (as did J Alfred Prufrock)

As 2018 draws to a close, I decided that I do not have anything to say on new year gardening resolutions that I have not said before. At a personal level, I am resolved to finally complete the two gardening books that have been percolating in my head for several years. This is the first time I have stated that intention publicly. One is at the point of being ready to hand over to an external editor, the other is still in progress. More on them, I hope, as they near publication.

Then the latest posts from a Canadian gardener, Pat Webster, landed in my inbox, charting her garden through the year. I was a bit gobsmacked at four months of snow on the ground. It snowed here once. That is once in recorded history.  I am not sure what I would do in a climate with months of snow. I guess one switches to indoor pursuits.

It is different here where we garden all year round and can expect flowers every day of the year. I have thousands of photographs so finding 12 different garden scenes representing a month each took a bit of effort. It would have been much easier had I just gone for flower close-ups but some readers may like to see the different contexts. Best viewed on a larger screen, of course…

Firstly, January is for lilies. We like our lilies, a whole range of different types, but none more so than the golden Aurelians opening now, to be followed by the OTT auratums which we have in abundance. The new lily border should be a show-stopper this year after our concerted efforts to outwit Peter Rabbit and his extended family, but in the meantime, I give you the auratums in the woodland – planted maybe two decades ago and left entirely to their own devices in the time since.

February is peak summer here, when we get the most settled and warmest weather. And the Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae are just astounding in the same woodland area as the previous photo.  We never planted anywhere near this number. Over the years, they have just gently seeded down and taken over an entire area, so happy are they in our conditions. There aren’t too many people around this country who have scadoxus naturalised in their garden.

March is still summer here although the day length is shortening and the nights noticeably cooler. It used to be a very green time for us, because we have so much woodland garden and there is not a whole lot of high impact flowering in later summer woodland. We went to England three times to look at summer gardens and it is the sunny perennials that flower into this time. It has been really exciting putting in a large summer garden in full sun. I am extremely impressed by the echinaceas which flower from December to April and I have a very soft spot for the blue eryngium, even if I often need to put a stake in to hold them upright.

By April, we can no longer pretend that summer will go on forever. The flowering of the Nerine sarniensis hybrids, the Cyclamen hederafolium and other autumn bulbs in the rockery tell us that time waits for no gardener and early autumn is upon us. We have long spring and autumn seasons in our part of the country.

May brings us the early camellias in bloom, in this case Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’ at the mill wheel bird bath just out from the back door. So too do the months right through to early October bring us camellias, but with advent of camellia petal blight, it is the early flowers that are the showiest, most abundant and the most charming now, which mostly means the sasanquas and quite a few of the species.

June is early winter here. Definitely winter. I could have chosen Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ which flowers on and on through the winter months, but instead I picked Vireya Rhododendron macgregoriae.  This particular plant has a special history for us and, unusually for a vireya, it flowers like clockwork every June and July. Most of this plant genus are less predictable in their flowering times, despite their trigger being day length, not temperature. As a result, we have vireyas flowering twelve months of the year, though we do have to place them in frost-free locations on account of them being subtropical.

July is our bleakest, coldest month. But there is light ahead. July brings us snowdrops and by the end of the month, we have the earliest blooms opening on both the deciduous magnolias and the early michelias. Nothing shouts spring more than the earliest spring blooms. Mark would like some galanthus varieties that flowered later in the season as well and he has tried all that are available, but none of them compete with Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ for showy and reliable performance and the ability to naturalise in his bulb meadows that are a long-term project.

August – yes there is a lot of snow on our Mount Taranaki. All the better to frame our Magnolia campbellii. There is well over 30km between the maunga (as we call the mountain) and our tree but each year I get out with my camera to close up the gap, as viewed from the path down to the park.

I gave September to the prunus, the flowering cherries. It is probably the campanulatas that are the showiest and they flower in August and I had already allocated that month to magnolias. But we grow quite a range of flowering cherries and this one is down in our wild North Garden, an area that we find particularly charming at this time of the year.

October is mid spring. And for October, I chose the clivias yellow, orange and red, seen here with Hippeastrum papilio and dendrobium orchids in the Rimu Avenue. As I selected photos, I realised I was leaning to what we might call our backbone flowering plants – the ones we have a-plenty. Not all of them. I had to skip the azaleas, the michelias, the campanulatas and the hydrangeas owing to my self-imposed restrictions of one per month.

November brings us peak nuttallii and maddenii rhododendrons. The rhododendrons start in August, sometimes the first blooms as early as July, and flower well into December. But the beautiful nuttallis and maddeniis peak in November and are a source of great delight.

Finally, December is marked by the Higo iris down in the meadow in our park. What prettier way to end the calendar year? And gardening being what gardening is, we start the cycle again with a new year. Best wishes to all readers for a happy and rewarding 2019.

The meadow, as we enter its sixth year

We are now entering our sixth year of managing our park as a meadow. Note the word ‘managing’. This is not just leaving it to its own devices but a much lighter touch than the previous mowing and weed control we used to practice. And in December, as in previous Decembers, my heart just fills with joy at the sight of the Higo iris in bloom. I love all times of the year in the garden – there is always something that delights me – but never more so than the iris meadow in the lead up to Christmas.

We have learned a lot in the five years past and I am sure we will continue learning. I was disconcerted to see cleavers moving in to a couple of areas. I just looked up its botanical name –  Galium aparine, which I have never even heard of before so I assume everybody knows them as cleavers. At least they are an annual weed that can be pulled out.

The tradescantia, pretty enough in flower, but arguably the worst weed of all

More alarming is the incidence of Tradescantia fluminiensis, better known as Wandering Jew. Mark has spent countless hours getting rid of this weed down the years. When we bought the property across the road 25 years ago, we acquired a stand of native tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa for overseas botanists) which was completely carpeted in tradescantia. It was a proud day when Mark announced  he had beaten it with a programme of determined eradication. Alas, he may have beaten it on our properties but every time we get a flood, more washes down from further upstream and every, wretched little bit grows. When we kept the grass short, it was easy to spot and remove immediately but in long grass, it damn well hides until we suddenly find another patch that escaped our notice. This will be an ongoing battle.

Having a stream flowing through brings responsibilities and these are weighing somewhat upon us. We worry that we are likely to be blamed for every escaped ornamental plant that establishes downstream, even if at least some are washed down from further upstream. The shiny leafed angelica, Angelica pachycarpa, somewhat more prized in overseas gardens but seen more as a weed here, has introduced itself from an upstream property.  Don’t believe the website that declares: “This is a bizarre and wonderful species of Angelica from New Zealand, and still fairly new to North American gardens”. It hails from Portugal.

I removed all the flag iris from by the water when I found out what a dangerous weed it is here, capable of forming solid islands of floating vegetation, blocking streams and estuaries.

To be honest, we figure that if the beautiful Higo irises establish themselves downstream, that may not matter. They are no risk that we can see. We worry about the Primula helodoxa, which are enormously rewarding as flowering plants but set prolific amounts of seed. We try and dead head them but there are so many that it is a hit and miss process. We are now thinking we should pull out the ones growing in the stream banks and contain it further back on dry land so the potential to seed down in the water is reduced. I am not getting too obsessed about them though. We have them near where the stream enters our place and while there are a few plants appearing further down (still on our place) it is not such a thick carpet as to shriek ‘noxious weed’. Besides, above our helodoxas, we can see we have seedlings that can only have come down from upstream neighbours.

Wachendorfia thyrsiflora – a triffid

We are, however, worried about the weed potential of Wachendorfia thyrsiflora.  It is very handsome, statuesque, even. There is no doubt about that. But it sets prolific amounts of seed and if you dig the plants out and leave them lying on the ground, they do not die. I discovered this. It is one we think we need to get back from the water. It is one thing managing a triffid of a plant on our place, it is another letting the seed fall into flowing water and potentially establish all the way down to the ocean.

Past experience has taught us that we can not get away with the traditional annual mowing of the meadow, just once a year in autumn. Our grass growth is so rampant that we have to do it twice and it seems that late January (so, mid-summer) and around June (mid-winter) are the optimal times.

Mown paths through the meadow. The clean bark on the right is a crepe myrtle

We have not done much yet to enrich the meadow mix. We are still waiting and watching to see what establishes itself. But Mark mentioned Verbena bonariensis as meadow option. It has light airy growth which would fit the meadow look, flowers for many months and is much loved by the bees. And it is an enthusiastic seeder though it remains to be seen whether it will self-seed in such a competitive environment. And I want more big, white daisies. I am trialling one in another area of the garden to see if it will make a good meadow candidate. I wouldn’t mind if pretty Orlaya grandiflora could get itself established.

Currently, I can be found in the afternoons down by the water, digging out the weedy carex and docks that are shooting up into flower, thinning the primulas and battling the wachendorfias. It is heavy work, sometimes muddy, but the setting is one to gladden my heart.

I have taken to describing our approach to gardening as similar to slow cooking – slow gardening. It is just that we measure it in years, not in hours or overnight.

Tikorangi Notes: Things that go crash in the night, recommended hostas and our pretty meadow

It was not Dudley crashing in the night but he did look somewhat noble down in the meadow yesterday

Things that go crash in the night. On a dead calm night, both of us heard the unmistakeable noise of a large branch falling to the ground. I was pretty sure it was not an entire tree because there was no whump as it hit the ground so it clearly did not bounce, as large trees usually do. Morning light revealed that it was as expected – a branch from one of our old man pine trees. In this case it must have fallen 30 or 40 metres to the ground and it appears to have taken out the two camellias that had more or less staged a revival from being clipped by the last two falling trees.

The damage from a falling branch

As usual, we will gather all the pine cones and get out what firewood we can but it appears that there is some surrounding damage this time.  We are philosophical. It is just part of gardening beneath huge trees that are now up to 145 years old. The fallen epiphytic collospermum may be a clue as to why the branch fell. There will be a big weight in just that chunk of vegetation sitting on the branch. The birds spread the seeds and they can germinate, grow and hang on for grim death up high.

It may have been this massive epiphtye that caused the branch to break

Blue hostas raised from seed

After last week’s post on Hosta Jade Cascade (which is settling in just as well in other parts of the garden where I planted it out), I have been looking anew at the varieties that are thriving on zero maintenance. Some of the enormous clumps will have been in 20 or more years now and just keep reappearing a little larger each season. A lot of our big blue clumps are unnamed, raised from seed – some of them from Hosta seiboldiana.

Hosta undulata variegata is getting smaller, I think, over the years

In a big garden, we need big clumps of plants to have an effect. In this area, the stand out gold is Goldrush, raised and named by Felix Jury. It is a terrific performer and puts up a good floral display of purple flowers. The blue is a seedling. Neither of us can name the variegated hosta which is not the showiest of varieties but it has done well and that is not to be sniffed at. There aren’t many variegated hostas that we have planted that have thrived in garden conditions under a regime of benign neglect. Too many, like this poor little specimen of H. undulata variegata have reduced in size over the years, rather than grown larger.

In the smaller growers, variegated Golden Tiara is again not particularly exciting but a very good garden plant. The blue green, little Flora Dora has increased freely and gold Blonde Elf has also surprised me with how well it has established for a very small grower. On the other hand, I haven’t seen dwarf Kabitan for a while so I wonder if it has shrunk away altogether, which would be a pity.

It looks like Guacamole to me and I am not making up that name

Of the variegated types, this one which I think is Guacamole from memory, is doing very well. It is a reverse variegation sport of Hosta Fragrant Bouquet. I will have planted out large specimens of the latter at a similar time as Guacamole but I have yet to find them in the garden, which means they are not growing as strongly at all.

Sum and Substance

Add Blue Boy as a good, reliable garden plant. We stopped growing it commercially towards the end of our time because there were other, showier, bluer cultivars that sold more readily but while they are not starring in the garden, Blue Boy is a strong survivor. That is my short list of top performers as garden plants that have caught my eye this week and that have proven themselves over several years. Oh, Add Sum and Substance which is surprising me by its willingness to grow suitably large in the spot where I planted it.

As a postscript to the hostas, these are grown with no slug bait or slug and snail control. We now have such a rich bird life that they enable us to grow these plants without having to protect them. Well, I assume it is the birds carrying out this task because there is no reason at all for us to have any fewer slugs and snails to start with than anybody else gardening in similar conditions.

The meadow! The meadow!

At the risk of repeating myself – but we all know that gardening is a seasonal activity that is, by definition, repetitive – the meadow below is bringing me great joy as the Higo irises all come into bloom, interspersed with the Primula helodoxa that has been at its peak for a full month now. What more can I say?

 

A water meadow

img_6423December was memorable last year. Finally, we achieved the water meadow effect we have been striving for in our park.  This was thanks to the iris and to our learning how to manage long grass in ways other than cutting it.

higos-7There are anything up to 300 different species of iris but the one that comes to mind most frequently is the bearded iris. These are ephemeral delights in our climate with its high rainfall, high humidity and fertile soils, so a joy in bloom in October but over all too soon. The so-called Dutch iris flower earlier in spring. These are hybrids of 3 lesser known species, often somewhat derided, seen as a little vulgar even, but they can look charming enough in the right setting and are easy to grow.

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

November is the month of the sibirican iris which are happier in our wet conditions. The most common bright blue form is ‘Caesar’s Brother’ but there are other selections around which flower at slightly different times and extend the season well into December. The common name of Siberian iris suggests that they originate in Siberia – which they do, but they are not limited to that area in the wild, growing instead right across Northern Europe as far east as Central Asia. Unlike the bearded iris which prefer sandy, lighter soils where their rhizomes can bake in the sun, the sibiricans thrive in heavy soils and on the margins of wetland areas.

higos-1In early spring this year, I spent a few muddy days down by our stream, digging out the yellow flag iris. We had several large clumps of these and they flowered well every year. Alas, they are a recognised weed in this country and we felt we needed to take an ethical stand and remove them because they were planted by and in running water. Every piece of rhizome that breaks off or gets washed downstream has the higos-5potential to grow and we didn’t think that establishing mats of flag iris all the way to the ocean was a good reflection on us. In digging them out, I can tell you the dense mat they form is not unlike wild ginger. I replaced them with a mix of Higos and sibiricans which may spread by seed but don’t form the choking, solid mats.

higos-3Every time the Higos bloom, we think most kindly of Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch. Years ago, he gave Mark a tray of germinating seedlings which were reputedly from wild gathered seed. Mark had tried growing Higos earlier but without success. They are not a species, but a group of Japanese iris bred extensively over 500 years in the quest for the single perfect bloom to bring indoors, in that wonderful higos-2pared-back style perfected in Japan. The requirements of a garden plant are very different and those highly refined hybrids did not perform. The seedlings from Terry – about 700 of them in the end – gave us a huge range in colour, size and style and they have settled in most satisfyingly by the stream. By this I mean they are performing very well year after year, with no attention at all but without any indication of becoming a weed. I tried some in a perennial border and they grew and flowered well, but their leaves are very long and tend to swamp other plants in the months before they go dormant.

Mark's Louisiana seedlings

Mark’s Louisiana seedlings

Our water iris are something of a United Nations when we add in the Louisianas. Indeed, these do originate from that American state though, like the Higos, they are not a pure species but a group. There are at least five different species of iris native to Louisiana and it is likely that what we are growing are hybrids. They have been settled in down by the stream for many years now but we only have a few different ones. Inspired by the success of the Higo seedlings we got from Terry Hatch, Mark has been experimenting with raising Louisianas from seed to extend the range of flower colour and size and the results have given us more to plant out in the ponds on the other side of our garden, in the area we call the North Garden.

higosWhat we love about the water iris is the contribution they make to a softer-edged, naturalistic style of gardening which we increasingly favour. A return to a more romantic garden style. It took my breath away last December. I am looking forward to a repeat this month.

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abbie005First published in the December issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Flagging away the flag iris

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The first time I realised there was a problem with our flag irises was when Mark intervened to pull a photo from a House and Garden feature on our garden a few years ago. It was a view similar to that above. “It’s a weed,” he said. “It is embarrassing to be shown with a weed.” It has taken a while, but this week, I have dug out the last of it.

The offending flag iris

The offending flag iris

The problem with Iris pseudacorus is its resilient and invasive ways. It can survive in water, even in salt water, beside water, on water as a floating mat of rhizomes and even just on heavy soils and flood-prone areas. It is also poisonous to both humans and stock so is not controlled by animals. It is on most New Zealand weed lists and some regional councils require active management to control its spread.

Behold the offending rhizomes

Behold the offending rhizomes

Our flag irises have never set much seed, though all the descriptions say that seeding is a problem. We would have acted faster, had we seen threatening seed set. But the rhizomes, the rhizomes! They are sign enough of an issue. They form a dense mat both on and just under the surface. It reminded me of digging out wild ginger with their ability to form a solid barrier, choking out other growth. It was heavy, muddy work digging them out and prising stray rhizomes from farthest reaches with me, precariously balanced. I did not want to end up in the stream at this time of the year.

We had them planted by running water; the upper reaches of the Waiau Stream flows through our park. It was clear that floods or any disturbance of the rhizomes could cause some to wash downstream and from there, populate the countryside. It would not have been an issue had they been by a self-contained pond with no means of escape.

True, we grow Primula helodoxa and that is sometimes flagged as a weed issue by waterways but we dead head it. It is the seeding that is problematic with that plant.

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

Lovely Higo irises

Lovely Higo irises

and Louisiana iris

and Louisiana iris

Fortunately there are alternatives to the flag iris which do not seem to be a weed problem and are arguably considerably prettier.  Iris sibirica, the Higos and the Louisianas are all happy in similar conditions and give us a League of Nations in our park – Northern Europe and Siberia, Japan and USA. We just happened to have plants of all hanging about waiting to be planted. So while the three patches of flag irises are now muddy and apparently bare, in a few months’ time, they may even be flowering again in hues other than yellow.

036We are enjoying the water meadow effect we are achieving in that area of the garden.

More Louisianas that Mark has been raising to plant out

More Louisianas that Mark has been raising to plant out

 

 

Plant Collector – Higo Iris and Primula helodoxa

Down by the stream

Down by the stream

The prettiest photo moment in the garden this week has been the meeting of Japan and China in the Higo Iris and Primula helodoxa down by our stream. These are conditions where the plants will never dry out. They get plenty of sun but are in heavy soil on the stream bank.

P. helodoxa is one of the more common primulas in this country. It is a candelabra type – layers of flowers perhaps more akin to a tiered cake stand than a candelabra. The flowers are sweetly scented but rather a bright, sulphurous yellow in colour. In the right conditions, it is so easy to grow that it is borderline weedy because it sets seed freely and increases by clumping. We try and deadhead our plants because they are by running water. Helodoxa is one of the Primula prolifera group and is known in some parts of the world as ‘Glory of the Marsh’, which is rather lovely.

The Higo irises are from Japan and sometimes referred to as Japanese water iris. Higo is not a species. It is a particular strain of iris that originated from the species I. ensata. These are from wild collected seed and are proving quite resilient with us. The named Higo hybrids tend to have been bred for cutting and bringing indoors whereas we want garden performance, not floral perfection. We have Higos by the stream and I am also trying some as garden plants amongst other perennials where they are now into their third year of performing well. I am just a bit worried that they may be multiplying too enthusiastically. The foliage is thin and grass-like. They are deciduous whereas the primula is evergreen.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector – Higo Iris

Remarkable seedling variation in the Higo Iris

Remarkable seedling variation in the Higo Iris


We are particularly delighted with the Higo irises at the moment, all 700 of them which are in small pots in the nursery awaiting planting out. These are often called the Japanese water iris because they are happy to live in pretty soggy situations.

Unravelling the family tree of Higo is not straightforward. Japanese water iris all descend from I.ensata but around 500 years of breeding has seen different strains developed – Edo, Higo and Ise. Many of these hybrids resulted from a search for perfection in a single bloom, to be brought indoors and contemplated as a transient thing of beauty. This does not necessarily make for garden plants. Mark had tried some large flowered Higos in the past and not had success with them. Not only did the blooms weather damage too readily for our climate, the plants could not cope with anything other than optimal conditions in very well cultivated soil.

Wanting a strain which is closer to the original species and therefore likely to have smaller flowers and maybe a more robust nature, Mark was delighted when Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch, offered him a tray of plants reputedly derived from wild collected seed. It has taken a little effort to pot on the plants and grow them to flowering size but this spring it has all been worth it. There is a huge range of flower size, markings and colourings coming through in the plants though we doubt that they are anywhere close to the original species which grew in the marshes near Tokyo 500 years ago.

Most of the 700 are destined for planting in swathes on the margins of our ponds and stream though I shall get down on a few and experiment with growing them in garden borders. The critical issue appears to be ensuring that they never dry out completely.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.