Monday, August 22, 2016

Truth, Consequences, and the Inevitability of Both


By Vanessa Spady


Once again, as I begin writing the collection of deep and significant lessons I have learned as a gardener of iris, I am humbled, awed, and pooped. Apparently, I like this state of affairs as I am in no way considering a change to my gardening circumstances. I have a large garden, and as you know, with iris that means that it’s always expanding. I don’t keep up with all the associated chores, but scaling back is not my plan. While I love the idea of being “done” planting, or weeding, or feeding, I must acknowledge that it’s probably not in the cards for me. That’s the truth.

I admire the iris gardeners who get their orders of new rhizomes and dash out to the (already prepared) beds and lovingly, carefully plant those new iris in the long-ago designated order and space where they belong. I have nothing but respect for the gardeners who seem to have conquered weeds, leaf spot, excess increases, and the laws of time, and post pictures of their impeccable, immaculate, gorgeous and altogether perfect looking iris beds. I don’t know how they do it, truly I don’t. 

Even when I wasn’t working, I didn’t have perfect beds, or manage to feed or weed on a timely schedule. I created lots of beauty, but it was always squeezed in between the other things I was doing in my life, and never, except on day one, do my beds look groomed or tended. Sometimes they don’t even look like beds that were planted on purpose. Things around here get that feral look pretty quickly.

Scroll back in time to see how these looked when they were first planted...
Feral is the right word for the current conditions
But I do have the ambition to plant my rhizomes as soon as they arrive. And I know I’m not alone. I know some of you have rhizomes growing—nay—thriving where you put them down “just until you can get them planted..." I believe that I’m not the only one who pots new rhizomes with the promise to “get them into the ground when the weather cools off a bit” and then ends up creating a drip system to water all those potted iris… I am certain that I’m not the only one who finds a box in the garage sometime in September or October and opens it to find a cluster of dried and cranky rhizomes that have been completely forgotten in the midst of everything else that has to be done which sadly comes before gardening. That’s the consequence.

I do a lot of apologizing to my rhizome orders, or rather, to the unopened boxes they ship in. I often resent the parts of my life that require my time and attention and keep me from planning and executing those perfect beds of perfect arrangement and perfect sun, water, and exposure conditions. How dare I have to eat, and sleep, and go to work? How dare that new business I bought in May take up so much of my time… it’s bloom season! Or, it’s digging season! Or, it’s new order arrival season! Or it’s dividing season, or planting season, or weeding season… It’s not realistic for me to ignore my life, and so I squeeze in iris time whenever and wherever I can.

So I freely admit that I have slam-planted about half the iris that I have ordered into raised beds in the shade, in no particular order, after soaking them for a day or two because they sat for (up to) 6 weeks in boxes in my hot garage. I also admit that I received orders from vendors I did not remember actually ordering from (and I just found out I still have one more shipment headed my way, egad!). And I must also disclose that shopping from the comfort of my couch in the midst of those long, cold winter evenings means that I’m receiving more iris than a team of us could prep for and plant in a timely fashion.
This is the punk-rock of planting iris. I make a nice soil mixture, I put them
in the shade, and I plant them in whatever order I grab them out of the box.
Unorthodox, but they have name tags, and in they’re in a bed,
so I’m satisfied for now

The good news is that the rhizomes (mostly) forgive me. I break all the rules, and they still grow for me. I neglect them. I overheat them. I ignore them. I am in all ways a bad iris mom. So far, they look a little dry, they aren’t as lush or green as they could be, and they certainly aren’t going to be re-blooming this fall. But they’re in decent soil, and they make new green shoots, and they turn out to be just the right plant for the kind of gardener I am these days. Which is humbled, awed, and pooped.

And, the new rhizomes are slowly but surely getting planted in temporary raised beds, and labels are being made simultaneously (which is certainly part of the delay in planting, in my feeble defense), and I suspect I’ll have all the 2016 orders in the ground before, oh, September eighth? Maybe as late as the tenth? I’m pretty happy with that, since “in the ground” is a major step in the right direction. The truth is I love iris, so I embrace this chaos. The consequence is that I sometimes garden after dark, and make labels on my lunch hour.

Run out of real name tags? No problem. There are always plastic knives around.
Note the not luscious green leaves on some of the rhizomes.
Trust that the roots look fantastic.
No, really. They do.
Once I’m done planting the new ones, I can consider separating, replanting, and moving some of the vastly-increased rhizomes from last year’s project… Oh yeah! Those! 


And, because we need inspiration when all we see is dirt and dry leaves and name tags, here are some pictures of the iris that bloomed earlier this year. My gosh I love them so...

Natural Blonde, and a close-up to show the iridescence
'Natural Blond' Joseph Ghio, R. 2002). Seedling #97-24B3. TB, 36" (91 cm), Early midseason bloom. Warm creamy peach, with light peach sherbet standards center, heart, and falls shoulders; beards peach, tangerine base. Seedling #95-29U2: (seedling #89-89R2: ( 'Lightning Bolt' x ( 'Stratagem' x 'Bygone Era')) x Shoop seedling #89-23-2: ( 'Tropical Magic' x sibling)) X seedling #93-40J3: ( 'Heaven' x seedling #91-92B2: (( 'Birthday Greetings' x 'Bubbling Along') x ( 'Birthday Greetings' x 'Presence'))). Bay View 2003. Honorable Mention 2005



'Coal Seams' ( Schreiner R. 2013) Sdlg. MM 425-1. TB, 41" (104 cm), Midseason bloom. Standards dark purple (RHS 89B); Falls slightly darker purple (89A); beards dark purple. 'Badlands' X GG 378-A: ( 'Dark Passion' x 'Thunder Spirit'). Schreiner 2013. Honorable Mention 2015


'Suspicion' ( Keith Keppel, R. 1998). Seedling 93-83H. TB, 38" (97 cm), Mid bloom season. Standards greyed greenish yellow (M&P 19-DE-1), central area blended aster violet (45-F-7); style arms greenish yellow (19-C-1), lavender lip; falls light greenish yellow (19-B-1), slightly darker margins (19-C-1) and shoulders (20-K-1), giving russet green to oil yellow (12-L-1) effect; beards yellow (10-L-6); pronounced sweet fragrance. 'Wishful Thinking' X 'Spring Shower'. Keppel 1999.



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