IRIS EXPLOSION – E. Ginsburg

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IRIS EXPLOSION

Two years ago a friend divided her mother’s
iris bed and gave me a big box of bearded iris (Iris germanica)
rhizomes. They were strapping healthy things, ready to burst
out of the box and start sprouting. The only aggravating wrinkle
was that they were not sorted by color. But I had always wanted
an iris walk, so I decided to worry about color later. That
fall I spent several sessions installing the rhizomes at regular
intervals around a keyhole-shaped brick walkway. As I planted,
that nagging little voice that all gardeners have kept reminding
me that the ideal planting time for iris is between July and
September.

My iris succeeded marvelously despite the less-than-optimum
planting time, and each rhizome dutifully put forth at least
one fan of leaves the following spring. I had visions of brilliant
golden bi-colors, sky blue standards and even shell pink bearded
falls. Unfortunately the first six rhizomes to sport blossoms
all had flowers that were an interesting shade of brownish
butterscotchy-peach. Nice, possibly, for an accent color,
but not something I would have chosen for an entire bed.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so I waited for the
rest of the iris to bloom. When they did, I was relieved to
see several with velvety purple petals, so deep that they
were almost black. There were also a few rusty dark red blooms—another
accent color. There was also one rhizome that had the courage
to put forth a yellow flower. Hallelujah!

This year the iris are back with a vengeance. The butterscotchy-peach
ones regard even a drop of rain or a grunt from the gardener
as a sign of encouragement. Needless to say they are now huge
and there are more of them than of any other color. The purple
ones are quite magnificent, and the rusty ones are growing
on me as they flourish in the garden. The good news is that
the yellow iris appears quite robust, though there is only
one mature plant.

I should be more grateful. After all, none of my tall
bearded iris have been afflicted by any of those horrible
iris diseases such as bacterial soft rot, crown rot fungus,
leaf spots, mosaic or the dreaded iris borer. What’s more,
none of them rebloom. I would be upset about that except for
the fact that I have so many butterscotchy-peach colored iris.

My iris are so big and healthy that this year I am going
to have to divide them. The first step in this process is
to go out this weekend and tag each plant before the flowers
fade so I remember what color it is. Later on, after the spring
planting, purchasing, mulching and weeding extravaganza is
over, I will set about the serious business of dividing and
rearranging my stock. I will definitely separate the rusty
red iris from the butterscotch. They do not work well together.
I will put some of the deep purple ones around my yellow iris
for a nice contrast, and possibly flank that display with
some divisions of a sky-blue cultivar that the previous owner
left me. The reds may require outside help in the form of
a white iris or two that I will order from one of the catalogs.
Some of the butterscotchy-peach iris will be transferred to
underpopulated spots in my front yard. Perhaps they won’t
be so obvious in a larger space.

If the yellow iris is big enough to divide, I will also group
some butterscotchy-peach bloomers around it. Any remaining
butterscotch iris, plus a few each of the other colors will
go back to the friend who started me on this iris madness.
She has since bought a new house and left her mother’s iris
bed behind. My friend may actually be engulfed by nostalgia
when she catches sight of the rhizomes for the butterscotchy-peach
iris. It gives me such joy to participate in that kind of
humanitarian effort.

I am fully aware that there are many people elsewhere in
the world who would love to have my iris problem. Some have
no sunny space, others spend every day fighting off voracious
iris borers. I feel for them, but I just can’t quite relate
to them.

For those not blessed with friends who are about to divide
an overgrown iris bed, there is only one thing to do. Contact
Cooley’s Gardens, 11553 Silverton Road NE., P.O. Box 126NT,
Silverton, Oregon 97381, (503) 873-5463. Catalogs are $5.00,
and can be requested by calling (800) 225-5391. Cooley’s also
has a wonderful website with great planting and care instructions
at www.cooleyiris@aol.com.