Tag Archives: Iris sibirica

Just another week in the Garden of Jury – late spring, umbrellas and bird’s nest or two

Umbrellas are a part of our lives here. We own quite a few of them and use them often to move around the property. That is because it rains quite a bit and the rain can often be torrential. We get 150cm a year (60 inches). I try and keep the respectable brollies that are in good condition tucked away for when visitors need them, confining us to the somewhat derelict ones. When I say we own quite a few, I mean getting up towards 20 of them and I don’t want to end up with 20 old, crusty brollies. Here I am, drying out some of the better ones to put away again after a garden tour last Sunday.

The tour was a small group of British and American gardeners, led by a tour host whom we particularly like, which is why we agreed to their visit when the garden is otherwise closed. It is a very different dynamic to host tours with a knowledgeable leader and plenty of time for a leisurely walk around followed by morning tea. We really enjoy their company and that has not always been true for garden tours down the years. The more you get, the less personal the experience and, I am sure, less rewarding for the visitor too. The rain didn’t even matter much and it stopped soon after it started.

The English visitors felt right at home as soon as we reached the park and they saw the meadow although one of them marvelled, looking back and seeing our native tree ferns growing amongst the trees – they are self-sown here but very highly valued in the UK. Though truth be told, the most common tree fern grown overseas is the Tasmanian species, Dicksoniana antarctica.

Iris sibirica, Stipa tenuissima and common fennel in the morning light

I showed them the progress on the new garden area and those from colder climates were simply amazed at the growth rates we get here, it being a mere sixteen months since I started planting this area. The other side to that coin, of course, is that while we get a quick result we have to start thinning and managing the growth much earlier. The Iris sibirica are looking particularly good this week and stand well above waist height. We only have three different forms of this iris – the deep ‘Caesar’s Brother’, a white form and the one above which may or may not be ‘Blue Moon’. If I see other colours being offered, I would be tempted to buy more having found how spectacular they can look when massed as single colours.

The simple charm of a grey warbler nest

Behold a grey warbler nest. These are exquisite, small creations that hang from branches but this one had broken off in the recent winds. The migratory shining cuckoo is entirely dependent on the grey warbler for its continued survival because it pressgangs in the warbler into fostering its egg and then the hatchling. I asked Mark how the cuckoo, a larger bird, managed to get its egg into the nest. He is fount of considerable knowledge on these matters and he tells me the cuckoo enters through the hole, lays its egg and then forces its way out the side. The little warbler then repairs the nest and hatches out the cuckoo’s single egg with its own eggs but the larger cuckoo hatchling pushes the baby warblers or warbler eggs out of the nest. Before you worry too much about the warblers, it is the second clutch of eggs they raise that can be supplanted by the cuckoo in the nest and the warbler population is not under any threat at all.

I have a collection of birds’ nests and have been wondering how to display them. I have at last found a suitable tree skeleton that I think can be severed and brought under cover so I can tie the nests to the bare branches. Whether I can do it without it looking terribly naff remains to be seen.

Gardening is a wonderfully cyclic affair. Is there anybody as finely tuned to the seasons as the keen gardener? Yesterday was the first pick of the roses for the season. All but two of these have such scoury foliage that they have been banished to Mark’s vegetable garden (a large area that he refers to as his allotment) so the only reason they still survive is for the cutting of the blooms. Not only is gardening cyclic, it can also be distinctly ephemeral. But often those ephemeral pleasures can be the most charming on the days when they are at their best.

The roses used to grow in borders surrounding the sunken garden before I cut my losses on their awful foliage and stripped out the area for a more sculptural simplicity 

I think it looks better now for the simpler appearance

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

 

 

Singing the praises of blue flowers

???????????????????????????????I am firmly of the view that you can never have too much blue in the garden. While green is effectively colour neutral – every garden has green and usually in abundance – blue is the versatile colour that fits in with all others. The addition of a little blue can lift a pastel colour scheme, add complexity to a white garden, make orange zing or stand as an equal partner in a blue and yellow border. No matter what the dominant colour scheme is, blue will fit in.

Eryngium planum

Eryngium planum

Eryngium planum

This summer flowering perennial has beautiful blooms which look like steel blue teasels and last for many weeks. Plants form tidy rosettes of foliage at ground level and the slightly prickly flower spikes can reach a metre high. Unfortunately, the plants need support – either staking individually or growing through taller plants, although the form sold as ‘Blue Hobbit’ is reputed to be lower growing, thereby avoiding the need to stake. Full sun and good drainage are the rules for growing eryngiums. While often referred to as sea holly, that is more correctly applied to E. maritimum which can be seen growing wild on the coast of Cornwall.

Grown from seed, plants will flower in their second season. Both Kings and Egmont Seeds have eryngiums or you can try your local garden centre.

Nigella damascens

Nigella damascens

Nigella damascens

Love-in-a-mist, as this summer annual is oft referred, has an ethereal lightness which makes it appear to dance through the garden. The foliage is so fine that it can be described as lacy and it takes up next to no space in the sunny, summer garden, combining well with roses and perennials. It does come in pink, white and purple tones as well now, but nothing beats the more common, pure blues in my opinion. Once flowering has finished, even the seed pod is attractive – a bubble-like capsule not dissimilar to a swan plant. Seed is widely available and once you have established plants for the first season, leave one or two to go to seed and it will keep returning in subsequent summers.

Jacaranda mimosifolia

Jacaranda mimosifolia

Jacaranda mimosifolia

There are not many blue flowering trees which may explain why large parts of the world have fallen in love with the summer jacaranda. It is native to Bolivia and Argentina and is fully deciduous. Unfortunately, this does not make it hardy and it is a tree for the warmer north or mild coastal areas of the mid north. It is usually regarded as subtropical but if you have excellent drainage and only the occasional light frost, you can extend its range. In return, it will reward you with a beautiful mass display of lilac-blue summer flowers and a carpet of blue petals below. Over time, it forms an open, airy tree reaching 8 to 10 metres in height.

If your local garden centre cannot find you a plant, Trees & More in Tauranga have it listed for sale.

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa

Daphne genkwa

A lilac-blue daphne? Yes indeed. D. genkwa is as spectacular as any shrub when flowering, though rather anonymous at other times of the year. Unlike most daphnes we grow in the garden, it is fully deciduous with willow-like leaves and arching growth. While it is lightly scented, it is grown predominantly for its early spring floral display. This is not a plant that likes to be moved or trimmed so give it a permanent location with plenty of space to grow – at least 2 metres in diameter. The back of a border with lower growing plants in front will allow it to star when in bloom and remain unobtrusive at other times.

Genkwa is not rare, but it is difficult to propagate because it has to be done from root cuttings so it is not widely available. Ask a good garden centre to see if they can source it from one of the few growers producing it in New Zealand.

That is a true blue verbascum. (Photo: Thompson and Morgan)

That is a true blue verbascum. (Photo: Thompson and Morgan)

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

You will have to hold your breath for this one. As far as I know it is not yet available in New Zealand but we are waiting in hope that it may be imported some time in the near future. It was first released at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show in London and is a remarkable colour breakthrough in large-flowered verbascums. It appears that it is a genuine pure blue and, according to the renowned seed company Thompson and Morgan, whose plant breeder is responsible for this selection, it is perennial, albeit probably a shortlived perennial. Many of the verbascums are biennial, flowering in their second year, setting seed and dying. Blue Lagoon offers the promise of spires of pure blue in the late spring garden without the problems of the fussier delphiniums.

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

This clumping iris is one of the easiest to grow, flowering from mid spring onwards with rich blue flower heads held above grassy or spear-like foliage. Generally the foliage is about 50cm high and the flowers reach 70cm. It originates from central Europe, Turkey through to Russia so it is hardy to cold winters. It grows best in sun to partial shade with heavier soils which don’t dry out. This is a plant which can be left undisturbed for several years while the clump gently expands. Plant it with large leaved perennials like bergenia ciliata or ligularias to keep an attractive contrast in summer foliage, long after the flowering season is over. It is a little untidy when the foliage dies off in winter but that is its only disadvantage. Iris sibirica is widely available from nurseries and garden centres.

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis or Himalayan blue poppy

Nothing matches the electric blue that is sometimes found in meconopsis though, as these are seed grown, the shade can vary. There is something about the simplicity of a simple poppy flower in pure blue – a mere four petals surrounding golden stamens – that is completely beguiling. Unfortunately, they can be very difficult to grow and are usually a waste of time for gardeners at the warmer end of the islands. They are alpine meadow plants so are going to perform better in conditions with cold, drier winters. Plants available in New Zealand are often listed as M. X Sheldonii which is a cross between betonicifolia (which is biennial, flowering in its second year) and grandis (which is meant to be more perennial). These are deciduous plants and too often they fail to return in the second year, as many gardeners will attest. But if you can find the right conditions, they will enchant you in late spring. If you buy a plant, remove the flower head in the first year to allow it to put its energies into getting established, rather than weakening itself by flowering and setting seed. Seed is best collected and sown in trays rather than left to fall in the hope that plants will naturalise themselves.

Seed of M. betonicifolia is available from a number of sources, including Egmont Seeds. Plants are sometimes offered from southern nurseries, including Wake Robin Nursery in Balclutha.

Cordyline stricta

Cordyline stricta

Cordyline stricta

New Zealand does not have exclusive claim to cabbage trees. The lovely blue flowered C. stricta hails from coastal New South Wales up into Queensland but is surprisingly hardy. It will take light to moderate frosts and coastal winds and can grow in full sun to shade. One of the big advantages as a garden plant is that the caterpillar which attacks our native cordylines is also native and appears to shun foreigners, so C. stricta does not get that chewed, motheaten look of our own cabbage trees. Stricta is clump forming and individual stems can reach about 3 metres in height. In summer, many panicles of lilac blue flowers appear, lasting for several weeks. Unlike our native varieties, they lack any scent.

Stricta is a versatile plant that can be used as a specimen or combined with a tropical, succulent or even a shaded woodland look. It also makes a handsome large container plant.

Cordyline stricta will be available in some northern garden centres but also sometimes on Trade Me and from Russell Fransham Subtropicals in Matapouri Bay.

Moraea villosa or peacock iris

Moraea villosa or peacock iris

Moraea villosa

This South African plant is commonly known as the peacock iris as its three petalled flower resembles the eye of a peacock feather. While the colour is variable, the blue or blue and white forms are the most common. Individual flowers are short-lived but each stem produces a succession of blooms in early spring. Held up on wiry stems, they can appear to dance lightly above the garden. These plants grow from corms and will do best in free-draining or sandy soils in full sun. The foliage is long, fine and grassy but gets a little scruffy before it dies down in early summer. Once you have Moraea villosa, it multiplies readily both from seed and the corms but we have not found it to have weed potential.

While not rare, this is one of those odd bulbs that you are most likely to source through Trade Me rather than finding it offered for sale in garden centres.

First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

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Irises – named for the Greek goddess of rainbows

Louisiana iris are flowering by our stream

Louisiana iris are flowering by our stream

I am enjoying the irises enormously this season. This week we have three main types in flower – the Sibericans, bearded irises and the Louisanas.

Botanically Iridaceae, they are more romantically named for Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. It is a big family – there are maybe 300 different species and they are grouped in different botanical sections. Then there are thousands upon thousands of different hybrids, for irises have been bred extensively for hundreds of years. Some of those hybrids are what I would describe – politely, if disparagingly – as ‘novelties’. This is more evident in the bearded iris class than anywhere else but I will draw veil of silence beyond saying that not all hybrids are improvements.

'Crowned Heads'

‘Crowned Heads’

We are not the best bearded iris territory here. These ones grow from rhizomes that sit on top of the soil and they tend to prefer free draining, sandy soils (great if you live on the coast though you may have to stake the flower spikes). They like their rhizomes baked in the sun and they are fine with winter frosts but are not so at home in high rainfall, high humidity climates. They are also better without a whole lot of other foliage flopping over their rhizomes, which tends to happen in perennial beds.

Yes that is a black iris, called 'Anvil of Darkness' no less, and an old yellow variety to the right

Yes that is a black iris, called ‘Anvil of Darkness’, and an old yellow variety to the right

The modern hybrids are often touchier than the old toughies. I was delighted by the iris fields of nursery plantings I saw last spring (www.theirisboutique.co.nz) and tramped up and down looking at them all. The owner, Coleen Peri, has given me a few new ones to try here. Bless her, she avoided the weird colour mixes, splashes and splotches that I personally dislike. The very dark ones are interesting but are not going to be easy to place in the garden so that they stand out. There are some exquisite blues available but my most reliable standby is still an old pure yellow one which dates back to Mark’s mother. It is very forgiving and tolerant.

One of the easiest of all iris to grow, as long as you have heavy or damp soil - Iris sibirica

One of the easiest of all iris to grow, as long as you have heavy or damp soil – Iris sibirica

The easiest of all irises to grow must be the Siberian iris or I. sibirica. As its name suggests, it is fully hardy but it does want to grow in a heavier soil which doesn’t dry out during the growing season. It is dormant in winter, so winter dry won’t matter – though few of us have dry winters in this neck of the woods. It has the classic form with three upright and three falling petals and comes mostly in gorgeous shades of blue. Because it is clump forming (it has a fibrous root system as opposed to many irises which are either bulbs or rhizomes), it can be planted and left for many years. I get a lot of pleasure from the border where I have combined it with the big hairy-leafed Bergenia ciliata. I like the contrast between the foliages and they co-exist happily together.

The Louisiana irises are in flower down by our stream. These ones hail from the bogs and swamps of Louisiana and are easy to grow in clumps on the margins of water, although they can also be grown in heavy soils. These are plant and leave types, too. The lovely Japanese Higo irises will not come into flower for another few weeks yet. We are still working on establishing these here and they appear to be at their best immediately by water. We want lots of them blooming into December because we love their colours and ethereal form.

Moraea villosa or the peacock iris

Moraea villosa or the peacock iris

Then there are the Dutch iris (often sold widely and cheaply as corms in autumn). They looked out of place in the rockery, vulgar even, so I moved them into a perennial border where they flowered away in early spring and looked much better. Dutch iris are not native to Holland. It is just the Dutch who did the breeding to get these popular forms for the floristry and garden markets. The dwarf (ground-hugging) Iris cristata from USA look much more appropriate in the rockery and have that classic three up, three down petal formation so often associated with the iris family. The peacock iris (moraea) species which grow from corms, also fit in well with the rockery and different species flower through autumn, winter and spring though many people would not even pick some as irises.

It seems a general rule that if the iris grows from rhizomes or bulbs, it needs excellent drainage and will do better in lighter soils and full sun. If it has a clumping, fibrous root system, it leans more to heavy soils and damper conditions. One size does not fit all when it comes to the large iris family.

A field of irises being grown commercially

A field of irises being grown commercially

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