Tuesday View: The Front Border 5.23.17

So Tuesday is here again and although I just posted the view last week it would be a shame to ignore the irises which have come along since then.

street border

The Tuesday view showing the beginning of iris season.  Still lots of green but the iris are peaking!

Bearded iris are a favorite, and the older “historic” types just beg to be planted en masse in this full sun, often dry, and always exposed, location.  There’s little I have to do for them other than give them a little attention in June when I remove the spent flower stalks and pull up any borer infested plants I find.

iris ambassadeur

The view from the other end.  For now iris ‘ambassadeur’ is center stage, but will soon be swamped by the variegated arundo donax grass which is only just beginning to sprout.   

Besides the color these older iris also are also very generous with their lemony and grape fragrances.  My favorite is this bitoned iris which was growing in my parent’s garden when they bought their first (and current) house back in the 70’s.  After years of wondering, this spring I am officially naming it ‘Folkwang’, a German iris introduced in 1925 by the nursery of Goos & Koenemann.

iris folkwang

My newly named iris ‘Folkwang’ plus a lonely little lupine and a few alliums.

To search for a name for years may be a little obsessive, but it’s not like I was at it 24/7.  A little looking here, a little looking there until finally I found one which really looked close.  To seal the deal I searched high and low for a source, ordered myself a rhizome, planted it out last fall (and a few others of course), and finally this spring got to compare the named one to my own.

iris folkwang

I think it’s a match.  Iris ‘Folkwang’ on the right and a flower of my unknown to the left.

So maybe naming an unknown iris does border on the obsessive, but in the grand scheme of things it’s nothing when compared to how much time I spent this week planting dahlias and cannas and getting a garden ready for the whole half dozen people who might notice… yet again I digress.  It’s iris season, it must be enjoyed.

iris rhages

Iris ‘rhages’ looking a little pale this year.  Usually the flowers show much more spotting, but it’s still a beauty.

There are a decent amount of iris around the garden but to be honest I think I could use a few more.  In past years I spread iris ‘Rhages’ to the other side of the driveway, and they’re now the more impressive clumps compared to the little batch I have growing next to the mailbox.

iris rhages

Iris ‘rhages’ plus more iris next door in my BIL’s garden.  I wonder how he’d feel if I added a few other colors…

I am trying and trying so hard not to give in to the temptations of the newer, bigger, flouncier bearded iris.  They’re so much more of everything, but I just don’t find them as carefree and reliable as the older sorts, and in my garden once the pool and lawn chair start calling I need a certain amount of carefree.

bearded iris

An unknown modern iris which a friend forced onto me.  I couldn’t just let it die so in an out of the way corner of the garden it flowers and offends only me. 

I’m trying to decide which other iris I should add to the front street border.  Should I stick with the blue tones or just throw everything out there?

iris picador

I go back and forth between love and boredom on the mustardy reds of iris ‘Picador’.  I’m just not sure if this color will work out front so in the meantime it stays out back near the meadow.

I might have to make an exception for a cousin of my newly named ‘Folkwang’.  Iris ‘Vingolf’ is also a product of the breeding program of Goos & Koenemann and was introduced a year earlier in 1924.  I’m sure I could fit a clump of these out front.

 

iris vingolf

Iris ‘Vingolf’.  A shorter stouter iris, perfect for along the edge of the bed where the foliage will pick up once the flowers fade.

In this dry and sunny bed the foliage of these historic iris usually holds up well and looks decent throughout most of the summer.  It reminds me that with all this focus on grass trimming, canna planting, and Tuesday views, I’ve missed another monthly focus on foliage with Christina at Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides so I’ll try and sneak that mention in as well.  Here’s a bed across the lawn from the street border, it’s highlight are a few lusty verbascum ‘Governor Aiken’ seedlings which appeared last year and were just too healthy to pull.

verbascum governor aiken

Verbascum and a whole bunch of other things looking Maytime fresh.  The ‘Tiger Eye’ sumac suckers look so innocent right now and of course there are more iris, variegated this time.

So there it is, the Tuesday view and a few other things all still posted on the appropriate day… assuming you are visiting from the Atlantic time zone… I suggest you take a look at Words and Herbs and see what others around the world are seeing this week.  Maybe it’s iris season there as well and I can’t help but say that’s a good thing.

An old familiar itch

It’s time to face the reality of unsown seeds and unplanted vegetable beds.  There… done.  For the past few years I’ve been making a real effort tot get all kinds of annual seed growing, all kinds of cuttings started, and all kinds of summer bulbs planted, but this year something is off.  Maybe I’ve been too busy with other things, but in all honesty I live a fairly lazy life and for me to say I don’t have the time or energy to start a few salvia seed or pot up a few coleus cuttings is just a bunch of excuses.  My reality this year is I just don’t care to.  I’m not a farmer after all, and the family won’t go hungry or broke if the potatoes fail, so I just keep enjoying what I’m doing and don’t stress it if this year I only start 10 or 20 coleus cuttings rather than 75.  The iris are in bloom after all, and this year they are nearly perfect.

historic bearded iris

The view from the street is far nicer this spring with green grass and healthy spring growth.  I forgot what it’s like to start the year with cool temperatures and ample rainfall rather than dry winds and drought.

I have a weakness for iris, and go back and forth between indifference and obsession depending on the season.  This year it’s obsession.

historic bearded iris

Clumps of iris are scattered throughout the front border.  They are mostly old cultivars (~100 years) and although they lack the ruffles and fluff of the modern iris, they’re very well suited to the rough and tumble of often neglected and often overgrown perennial beds.

The number of blooms, the colors, the fragrance, are conspire against me this season and I’ve been on and off iris websites far more than I should admit…. even though the majority of my iris are either pass-alongs or just plain found alongside the road and had nothing to do with a catalog order.

historic bearded iris

From left to right, Flavescens (pre 1813), Ambassadeur (1920), and Indian Chief (1929).

The jury is still out on any big iris orders since I should really take better care of what I have, but people say it doesn’t hurt to look and so far that’s all I’ve been doing.

blue foundation planting

The striped leaves of Iris pallida ‘aureo-variegata’ accenting the front foundation plantings.  You can count on this iris to scent the whole corner of a bed with that delicious grape scent which many of the older varieties put out.

It hasn’t been all sloth and idleness in the garden this spring.  A few small projects are getting done in spite of my laziness, although I’m not promising they’ve all been done to the best of my ability or that they are the best value for my little effort.  One interesting discovery I came across is that bearded iris are fairly resistant to Roundup type (glyphosphate) herbicides.  That of course leads me to carelessness when spraying around the clumps next door, since the chances of iris damage are far outweighed by my ‘want to do as little free labor as possible especially when it includes pulling weeds out of monotonously boring mulch beds in someone else’s yard’.

roundup on iris

Iris foliage is fairly resistant to Roundup yet the flowers will discolor and stunt depending on how much of the poison they absorb.  These flowers should be larger and a dark velvety red rather than small and anemic looking.   

Before anyone gets too excited, I just want to say I really don’t use too many chemicals in the garden and although I like to appear as if I’m lazily spraying about I really am somewhat cautious, if only because I have too many more sensitive plants which I’d hate to lose.  For what it’s worth my research shows that iris, vinca, and nut grass are pretty much the only plants which will not be outright killed by careless Roundup spraying…. although for the vinca and nut grass the spraying was very intentional.

roundup on iris

Normal iris bloom to the left, increasing Roundup effects on the same plant to the right.  A heavy dose will give a colorless cauliflower-like stalk which is entirely uninteresting.

Besides chemical warfare on weeds, another questionable project started with my purchase of a Charlie Brown delphinium which needed a perfect spot in order to wow everyone with its amazing comeback.  My single successful clump grows alongside the front porch so this was the most obvious spot to try another, except for the six foot Alberta spruce which already grows there.

delphinium foundation planting

The healthy delphinium clump is front and center with the spruce behind.  The Charlie Brown delphinium sits soaking in the white bucket to the right.

Alberta spruce is a 365 days a year respectable plant, with an attractive form and many years of service in and many years of service to come.  It would make no sense to pull it out in favor of a temperamental diva which needs fussing and fertilizing and timely staking to protect it from the high winds which strike each year (always two or three days into peak bloom season).

delphinium foundation planting

Spruce gone, delphinium in (one of the ‘New Millenium’ hybrids).  Not the most logical decision I’ve ever made but in the garden I prefer to live guilt free and impulse happy.  Also, if you could, please ignore all the trash and clutter on the porch beyond.  I only got around to cleaning it up after this photo was taken.

I’m distracted again, let me finish up iris season.  The Siberian iris and Japanese iris might be some of the most beautiful flowers of the plant world, but I don’t grow many.  They seem to flower for a total of one week and although the grassy foliage looks respectable all summer and they handle nearly any abuse which comes their way I try to limit any collecting urges.

purple siberian iris

An unknown purple siberian iris with a still unplanted tropical border behind it.

One Siberian iris which I couldn’t walk away from was ‘Super Ego’.  It’s not because it was in bloom when I saw it or that the color was unique or any other particular quality, it was because of a childhood dream which was set on fire by a random White Flower Farm catalog which showed up in my mailbox one winter.  I think I’ve confessed to being a little odd as a child so the fact that I’d sit around spending hours reading through this catalog probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but this 1980’s era catalog (which I probably still have somewhere in the basement) had ‘Super Ego’s glamor shot in it alongside a poetic description which convinced me that owning this plant would make me richer, smarter, and more popular.  Unfortunately the WWF catalog was way beyond my 10th grade budget so the actual plant never left Connecticut and I was forced to go on without.

Siberian iris super ego

Siberian iris ‘Super Ego’ just starting to open on a Thursday. 

The actual experience of growing ‘Super Ego’, while pleasant enough, didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  For what it’s worth, I guess I’m as smart, rich, and popular as I’m ever going to be.

Siberian iris super ego

‘Super Ego’ five days later after a few 90F days bleached most of the darker blue color out.  The chives in the back seem unfazed by the weather or passing time, although they are entirely less exotic in my opinion.

So as I wait for a new plant to come along and change my life I’ll continue weeding through the backyard iris beds.  They are infinitely less photogenic with their hefty companion plantings of weeds, but the old iris continue to carry on and deserve more respect than their neglected planting spot gives.  I even planted a few zinnia and marigold seeds last weekend.  That may not speak of high class and taste nor earn me a spot in the White Flower Farms catalog but it does mean that things are starting to move on the seed front, and if it all works out July and August should still be full of flowery color.

Adios Spring

It always gives me a sense of sadness when spring rolls into summer.  All the anticipation, the return of growing things, and the new life makes spring my favorite season, but it goes too fast.  One after another things rush into bloom, have their day in the sun (or freezing drizzle) and then are gone for another 11 months.  It’s definitely a “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” season and it comes and goes in a rush as we hurry to get everything done before the heat and humidity settle in…..

When the first rose opens I call it summer and I face the fact that not all the projects are going to happen like they were supposed to.  So time to regroup, sit back, and get into porch and pool mode.  A couple 90 degree days push it along and before you know it spring is a memory and you’re into the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

Clematis “multiblue” is carrying over from spring.  I bought it as something else and got this overfluffed flower.  Not something I would pick for myself but its become a favorite.  A “didn’t happen” project from spring was moving it out of the veggie garden and getting a real structure for it to grow on instead of bush trimmings…..clematis multiblue

Clematis “Ruutel”  is also struggling along in a less than deserving position.  I have trouble finding spots for clematis,  I think I prefer them growing up small shrubs but never manage to get a good pairing.clematis ruutel

A new favorite for this time of year is “Ray’s Golden Campion”.  It flowers during my spring lull and does a good job covering dying spring bulb foliage.  I have some seed left and will be starting a few more this summer, they were a gift from Nan Ondra at Hayefield and I couldn’t be happier with the color of bloom and yellow leaves…. it’s another plant that could use better companions though.ray's golden campion

I think this is peony “Do Tell”.  It’s blooming happily in the middle of the vegetable garden.  The reason I’m not sure of its identity is because out of a bag of three this is the only one matching the description.  Now I’ve never seen an ugly peony (yet) so it’s not the worst thing to have happen, but I guess it falls under the ‘get what you pay for’ heading…. they were clearance Van Engelen and the other one (the third hasn’t bloomed yet) is a big fat fragrant double pink so it’s win-win so far.peony do tell

Just about all my plantings are on the redo list.  Sometimes it’s not entirely my fault, but I guess it depends on how you assign blame.  By definition I never really “planted” any of these iris, they’re the result of using not-quite-ready compost as a top dressing before putting down shredded wood mulch.  It speaks of the hardiness of bearded iris that the rhizomes could survive a couple of months in the rotting compost pile and then still come back to life but I guess it also speaks of my laziness.  I never actually prepped the soil in this bed, just planted the stewartia and hostas right into the turf, covered the in between grass areas with a couple of layers of newspaper to smother it, covered the paper with compost and then topped off with mulch.  No one seems to mind and maybe when I plant better things here I’ll do soil prep.yellow bearded iris

I did do soil prep for the tulips but in the vegetable beds it’s easy.  They’re starting to die down now which means bulb digging and then bean and squash planting.  Even though I did go through the effort of soil prep, I may have done some shallow planting last fall.  I don’t think they’re supposed to be this close to the surface and showing signs of sunburn.  It will be interesting to see if shallow planting effects bulb size since usually deep planting is recommended in order to keep tulips from splitting.  A real problem is that bunnies like to eat the exposed bulbs.  It’s possible this isn’t the first shallow planting of tulips and bunnies may have attacked last year.  But they need their vitamins too.shallow tulip bulbs

 

 

 

History in the Garden

Using the term history around here is a bit of a stretch.  History to me means centuries, not the fifty or so years that have passed since our house was built.  Fifty puts us into the outdated category as far as baby blue bathroom themes go, but it doesn’t exactly put us on the historical register.  The garden is even younger.  Fifty years ago five trees were planted, they did well but four were removed just before we bought the place…. and for fifty years the lawn was mown.  So I guess we have one pink dogwood, antique grass and not much else.

Since I can’t afford timeless stone walks and weathered brick walls I settle for the history behind plants.  In my opinion plants with a story behind them are worth growing just for that.  Passalong plants are those which are passed on from gardener to gardener and generation to generation.  “My grandmother gave it to me” vs “I bought it at Home Depot” I guess.  Iris pass on easy, and some of the historic iris even followed the settlers west as they looked for familiar plants to fill their farmyard gardens.  Maybe that’s what I was thinking when I brought these up from the old garden to plant out by the street.iris and alliums

iris flavescensThe pale yellow is “flavescens” which dates to 1813 and is indestructible.  Mine comes from the side of a highway and survives drought, mowing, weeds, salt…. but does much better in the garden.  Sometimes it gets beaten down by relentless gale strength winds (such as we had last weekend) but it always blooms, blooms long, and keeps decent foliage all season.

historic irisThe other iris, a mauve/violet with white standards (the top part) is from my mother’s garden.  It’s been there since they bought the house 40ish years ago and is a favorite.  Like many historic iris it has a strong grape scent which fills the yard (you can see the windblown flavescens in the background).

“Indian Chief” 1929, was given to me by a friend and is also out there.  It’s a well-known historic and shows up in cemeteries around here frequently since it welcomes neglect.  I sometimes find the darker ‘smokier?’ colored iris hard to show off in the garden and this is one of them.  If anyone has any suggestions on combining them I’d love to hear it.iris indian chiefiris color carnival“Color Carnival” 1949 is not a favorite of everyone.  I would describe it as a fleshy pink with purple veins and a tangerine beard.  My descriptions don’t always match the catalogs.

This batch came up when I used some not completely done compost in this bed.  A year of composting and the roots still made a comeback, not bad.

I got this iris as a kid.  It was growing in our neighbor’s yard against the wood fence.  Rather than outright ask for a bit I patiently pried apart the boards enough so that a single fan could grow through.  A year it did and at that point I felt comfortable digging it up and calling it my own.  It’s been following me around ever since.

“Rhages” 1934 was purchased.  No story.  It’s reliable and I like the speckling.  In iris talk the speckling around the petal edges is called plicata, sounds fancier that way.iris rhages

Of course iris do blues best of all.  This no ID comes from the same highway roadside as flavescens and is just as hardy.  Flowers aren’t too big or too ruffled or too deeply colored, they’re just clear and elegant.light blue iris

I guess that’s plenty of iris.  One last one is “Mme Chobaut” 1916 it’s growing out back in the meadow and could use a decent home.  Maybe this year. mme chobaut iris

In case you’re interested in older iris there’s HIPS, the historic iris preservation society.  It’s a great resource for info and for getting in touch with other old-iris lovers.  Members have an iris database to browse and a forum to post to.  There’s also an annual sale and quarterly magazine. 

I could easily be convinced to grow more of the modern iris, some of them are just amazing in their ruffled fluffery and colors, but I resist.  For now I’ll stick with the tried and true.  Plus this year the late freeze has killed most of their blooms.  Here’s an iris traded to me as “mesmerizer”, but it’s not.  Maybe it’s “Nordica”, another white but with orange beards. white iris

The one bloom looks ok but the other is stunted.  The freeze also damaged leaves and killed off most of the other stalks.  Such is gardening.  It’s like baseball, there’s always next year…. even though you hate to lose.

Late Freeze

A little over a week ago snow and rain and then freezing nighttime temperatures hit this part of Pennsylvania.  Plants were frozen solid and frost covered the lawns in the wee hours of the night until the sun finally came out again to warm things up.  There was damage to many things, but even a week later things are still showing up.  Luckily these blue columbines didn’t miss a beat.  blue columbineStrawberries also looked good on the surface, but closer in you’ll see black centers to some of the blooms.  I think the freeze killed off the berry part of the bloom while the flower was developing.  Good thing there are more coming.strawberry bloomswisteria bloomThe wisteria was getting ready for a great show, a good recovery from last years freak freeze that killed all of 2012’s bloom.  Then this freeze came and did the same thing all over again.  Here’s how it looks today, most leaves are dead and damaged and the blooms have all fallen off.

freeze damage on wisteriaEven with the damage on most shrubs and trees, I have no doubt they’ll all make a full recovery (the aggressive wisteria for sure).  The dried and damaged leaves won’t look good for weeks and maybe all season, but if it’s not a freeze ruining perfection it would be chewing bugs or children with golf clubs or something worse.

Enough about the freeze.  How can you think badly of spring when it’s the start of iris season?  Down along the street the historic ‘Ambassadeur’ (1920) is just coming into full bloom.  It’s not a favorite, but grows like a champ and the grape scent perfumes the area.iris ambassadeur

I’ve got to move those boxwood, they were never supposed to stay there.  I have hedging issues and for some reason always have a couple dozen little boxwood cuttings coming along and in need of a spot to call home.  There are projects galore to deal with around here and finding homes for hedges is always one of them.  It seems like such a good idea in August to take a couple dozen cuttings, but when you have a tray of fifty looking for a home guilt kicks in.  Enough guilt.  Here’s more iris.  This is ‘Pink Bubbles’, a more modern iris…. I’m not crazy about it this year but the violas make a nice backdrop.iris pink bubbles