Tag Archives: water meadow

Down in the water meadows, the Higo iris bloom

Higo iris float above a sea of dandelions in the Wild North Garden

I really like that the Japanese Higo iris are such a big feature of our December meadows yet they almost certainly descend from the Japanese quest for a perfect, single bloom as a focus for contemplation. It is such a wonderful contradiction – that quiet refinement, simplicity and elegance that the Japanese traditionally bring to flowers generally and the wild abandonment of our Tikorangi meadows.

Smaller flowered, white Higo in the park meadow

Higo are not a separate species of Japanese iris. They are hybrids, bred over 500 years, originating from Iris ensata. There are three groups of iris from these breeding lines – Edo, Higo and Ise but the best known are the Higo. Our Higo were given to us by Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch of Joy Plants, and apparently originated as wild collected seed. Mark had a discussion with Terry about wanting to try naturalising Higo by the stream but the finely bred, named cultivars were not sufficiently robust to survive in a situation of benign neglect. Terry offered up a tray of about 700 germinated seedlings which seemed a bit of overkill at the time. Now we bless him every year. Not all 700 survived, I hasten to say, but we had plenty to play with.

and a much larger flowered white Higo iris 

The blue is less dominant than the purple shades of Higo 

Because our plants are all seedlings, we have a fairly wide range and some clearly show their I. ensata heritage. Others are pure white, pink, almost pure blue and the whole range of violets, purples and lilac.

More Higo iris

I see the oldest plants are now in their ninth year or so of being planted on the banks by the stream and ponds and they perform reliably every year. Given they have stiff competition and receive absolutely no care or intervention, that makes them very robust plants. I tried some in a mixed border at one stage but they were too strong a grower with leafage that swamped out surrounding plants during summer and autumn so I removed them.

Can we have too many Higo iris?

A few years ago, I planted the last of the neglected pots from the nursery down in the area we call the Wild North Garden and this year, some are starting to bloom. They are much more rewarding than the Louisiana iris we grow where the leaf to bloom ratio is too high.

Seedling variation in the Higo iris

From mid to late November through until Christmas, the flowering of the water iris is such a delight. Like over the top butterflies, they float in the air above a sea of buttercups, dandelions, daisies and wild grasses and they truly make my heart sing.

In the park meadow. The Wachendorfia thyrsiflora with its tall yellow plumes has a death sentence on its head – too free with its seeds to keep it by a waterway 

The Wild North Garden – I am waiting for more Higo iris to bloom

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.

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. 

A water meadow! Tikorangi Notes: December 17, 2015

IMG_6415A water meadow! I was delighted at the sight in our park this afternoon. We stopped regular mowing of our park two years ago when we first closed our garden to the public. We were keen to see how far we could push the meadow effect in our climate and also concerned at our heavy dependence on internal combustion engines to maintain the garden. Long grass and flowers are far more ecologically friendly than mown grass.

IMG_6248Mark took note of my request that we mow double width paths through the grass this year. A single mower width looked a bit mean to my eyes. I commented to him earlier this week that my only worry was the abundance of buttercup that we now have. He wryly pointed out that it has always been that way. His childhood memories are of the yellow buttercups and dandelions and white daisies throughout the park. We have just returned to that, though not to grazing with sheep.

IMG_6420IMG_6421The higo irises are delightful. They started flowering in the second half of November and are still putting up plenty of blooms a good month later. Generally they flower in succession down the stem. The tall yellow spires are Wachendorfia thyrsifolia – a perennial plant for boggy conditions that needs quite a bit of space. And a willingness to accept that some plants are just not designed to be tidy, neat little things.

IMG_6411Before the thunder storm hit this afternoon, the sheer size of the Cycas revoluta finally got to me. It had become far too large for the rockery and was encroaching ever more onto both the narrow paths of the rockery and our adjacent outdoor dining area. I have removed A Lot but there is still a substantial plant remaining. The pups (some are more like overgrown wolfhounds than pups in size!) should grow but I will leave that up to Mark. As far as I understand, his technique is largely comprised of cutting off all the leaves and leaving the pups in some hospitable, shady area to push out fresh growth including roots – a very slow process.

046News from Australia that Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess has been shortlisted as one of only two contenders for the Plant of the Year. That is a meteoric rise and vote of confidence for a new release. We have to wait until February before the winner gets announced, but it is pretty encouraging. We are quite proud of this particular plant and have high hopes for it. It was delightful to see a native tui coming in every day to feed from it in winter. Daphnes are not renowned as sources of nectar for birds.

 

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