Showing posts with label Iris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iris. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And Spring Begins...

Don't get too comfortable in your shorts and flip-flops just yet, for winter will most assuredly return for another round or two or three.  But as I was out and about our fair city today, I couldn't help but notice that spring--just when I need it the most--has finally begun to peek slowly and cautiously out from under the blanket and that the landscape's long slumber is coming to an end.

The first sure sign of spring each year is this lawn full of crocus that flowers in mid- to late February--like clockwork--regardless of the weather, reminding me that spring, indeed, is but a few weeks away.  And while I know we'll have more cold temperatures, more of those infuriating late spring frosts that nip the buds of over zealous tender plants pushing through the soil too soon, and maybe even a little more snow (but I sure hope not), I know for sure that winter is losing a fighting battle and that spring will prevail.

The witchhazel also tells me that spring is on its way.  In my own garden, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' has chosen to unfurl it's blooms early this year.  It is usually the last of the witchhazels to flower, and this year, it's one of the first!  What's a gardener to do?

Another plant that helps get me through winter's blah and boring days is this beautiful "Christmas Rose"--which is about as closely related to a rose as you are to a dinosaur--therein the problem with common names.  But I digress...  Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper' has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is going to be a great garden plant.  I only planted it in August and it was not a huge plant to begin with, but it is now on it's third round of bloom since the first week of December and even had buds pushing up through the melting snow in January!

For a big, bright splash of color in the late winter landscape, I can always rely on this small patch of Iris reticulata.  Although its flowers last only about a week--maybe 10 days in a good year--it's just the right week every year.  The week when I need to be reminded that winter won't last forever!

And snowdrops.  All the rage in England for decades, American gardeners are now beginning to get interested in them beyond just the common species.  I snapped this photograph in a Nashville garden today.  It has been a damp, chilly day, and the light was terrible for photographing the crocus that I really wanted to shoot, but it was overcast enough that the white flowers didn't glare and "burn out", so all in all it turned out okay.  Back to photograph the crocus on Friday, if tomorrow's rain doesn't destroy them.  If it does, there's always next year and that's part of the beauty of the garden.

When I was headed downtown earlier, I decided to take a quick spin through Centennial Park and see what was flowering in the garden there on the north side of the Parthenon.  I'm sure glad I did.  Otherwise, I would have missed this beautiful witchhazel, Hamamelis mollis 'Pallida'.

Contrary to popular belief, the following photgraph is NOT forsythia!  It's too early!  And it's the wrong color, and it has 5 petals and not 4--and, and, and..... Oh, sorry.  You now know one of my biggest late winter and early spring pet peeves.  This graceful, beautiful, weeping, yellow-flowered, fragrant shrub is always confused with Forsythia when in actuality it is a jasmine.  Jasminum nudiflorum--winter jasmine--to be precise.  It makes a great groundcover or cascading shrub and while I was a mite irritated when I found that the landscape team at this particular establishment had begun shearing this row like a hedge (it used to cascade beautifully to the ground)--I have to admit that it's rather stunning in bloom, even sheared within an inch of its life.

And last, but certainly not least, a rather unusual and lesser known (by the gardening public, anyway) cousin of the witchhazel, Parrotia persica.  These flowers will "puff up" a bit, but what you see is basically what you get.  It's not really grown for its blooms and in fact, I watched at least 20 people walk right past this today and never look up.  But even if its blooms aren't showy, it has beautiful, smooth, silver-grey bark and its tapestry of fall color in shades of red, orange and gold is second to none.

So there you have it!  Spring is officially on its way.  Winter beware.  You might have a few good gusts left in you, but you're not going to win this fight and for this year, anyway, I say good riddance.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chasing Winter Away

It's Sunday afternoon and much of the South is bracing for yet another nasty swipe by Old Man Winter.  He has already taken a couple of good whacks at us this season and it looks as though tonight's snow and ice may extend as far south as Birmingham and perhaps even further!  To help chase away those winter blues, I've been culling through my photo files and trying to reduce the number of unwanted, unneeded and unusable photos that I just haven't gotten around to deleting yet.  Going through file after file helped me realize just how many photos I have of plants that help me get through the cold, gray days of winter in my garden and I thought I'd share a few favorites with you.

Edgeworthia chrysantha has long been one of my favorite winter-flowering shrubs.  In middle Tennessee, we can expect flowers by mid-February, but the plant needs to be sited in a protected location so that cold weather doesn't freeze the early blooms.  In just the right location, you can expect a 4 to 5-foot tall shrub with a 5 to 6-foot spread, but they often don't get quite that large.  A particularly cold winter may cause some stems to die back, but with careful pruning and shaping the plant will rebound quickly.  Morning sun with afternoon shade is the ideal location, preferably in rich, humusy, evenly moist soil with some protection from bitter winter winds.

The most serious of my plant collecting friends are really into this stunning relative of some of our most important commercial fruit crops--peaches, plums and cherries.  Prunus mume is a species of flowering apricot whose blooms appear in the dead of winter when planted in just the right climate.  In my garden, they frequently get frozen, but I don't mind.  The few days of incredible enjoyment they give me each year, sometimes as early as the end of January, make them worth whatever space they take up in the garden.  It helps that they are intoxicatingly fragrant!

Cornus officinalis is one of our earliest flowering dogwoods.  Dogwood?  Sure enough!  As early as February in a warm winter the golden yellow blooms burst open to brighten even the grayest days of winter.  Imagine the flower of the white flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that most of us are familiar with and then think of that little green "puff" in the center of the bloom.  That "puff" is the little cluster of true flowers that are surrounded by the showy white bracts that we think of as being the flower, but the truth is, it's not.  Just like the Christmas poinsettia, the showy parts are actually bracts and not flowers at all.  In the case of Cornus officinalis, it's missing those showy bracts and it just has the little "puff"--and they happen to be brilliant, golden yellow!  A most welcome sight as winter begins to lose its grip and spring slowly emerges.

Late winter and early spring in my garden are defined by the flowering of the hellebores, or Lenten roses.  Known as the stinking hellebore (an absolutely horrendous common name, as there is nothing about it that stinks!), Helleborus foetidus is one of the earliest flowering of all the plants in my garden.  In fact, it's not uncommon for buds to begin appearing at the top of the plant as early (or late, depending on your perspective) as Thanksgiving!  Those buds will go through a tremendous amount of cold to begin opening their pale green petals the very minute the weather acts as though it is going to moderate!  Helleborus foetidus is almost always in full bloom by mid-February and will bloom for a full three months!

Also beginning in February, the witchhazels take center stage in the late winter and early spring garden.  Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' is a little later, but is also one of the showiest of all of the witchhazels.  Usually in flower around the first week of March, it lights up the garden for about two weeks in early spring and again in fall, when its leaves turn golden yellow with touches of orange and red!

In years when we're lucky (I guess) enough to have a little snow on the ground in late February, the beautiful and diminutive Iris reticulata will actually push its blooms right up through the snow!  Growing from a small, underground bulb, you need to plant these in the autumn--at the same time you would be planting tulips and daffodils.  Perfect perennials, Iris reticulata likes a location in the garden where it can spend the summer hot and dry.  Given the proper conditions it will multiply rapidly and return year after year, putting on a bigger and better show each and every spring.

I noticed yesterday when I was getting out of the car that the 'February Gold' Narcissus that are planted next to the driveway are up about 2" and are already showing the tips of their flower buds!  'February Gold' is one of the earliest of all daffodils and with the reflected heat of the driveway, they are almost always in full bloom by the third week of February!  Spring can't be far off now!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In The Garden

Hi everyone!  I thought I'd share a few photos from the garden.  It has been nearly two years since I moved and as some of you know, it took all of the first year just to get the beds whipped into shape, the weeds under control and gain some sense of control over what was already here when I moved in.  This second season in the garden has been devoted to details and I'm finally at a place where I'm getting plants in the ground every weekend.  It isn't that I haven't planted anything at all over the past two years, I've just worked bed by bed to try and get it right the first time (yeah, right!) and keep the moving of plants later on to a minimum.  Whether they eventually get moved or not, some of the plants that have been in the ground for a season or two are really settling in nicely and certain ones are really beginning to put on a show.  I thought I'd share a few of the goings on in the garden with you.  Hope you enjoy this little tour of some of the plant life around my garden.

Spring started off back in March with Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise', one of my favorite witchhazels.

Flowering at about the same time as the witchhazel, Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Silver Moon' has quickly become one of my favorites.

Iris reticulata is a late winter/early spring bloomer that brightens up the gray days of winter just about the time you begin to wonder if spring will ever arrive.

Beginning in May and continuing on for well over a month is Papaver dubium, the common field poppy.  I love its deeply divided, fern-like foliage and the brilliant orange blooms.  It's a re-seeder, so make sure you leave the seedpods!

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, hydrangea season was spectacular this year.  This is Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billow' in full bloom next to the garden shed.

A closeup of 'Blue Billow'.  So beautiful!

One of my favorite shade plants, Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminster Gold'.  Unfortunately, it's rather hard to find.

I love milkweeds! L-O-V-E them!  And this one, Asclepias variegata, is right near the top of the list.  If you need a cool plant that thrives in dry shade (or part shade anyway), this is it!  And the monarch butterflies like it, too.

Gladiolus papilio is a small-flowered, hardy gladiolus.  I got my corms from Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill Perennials just before she decided to close the nursery.  I have at least three color forms that have flowered so far.  This one has the nicest markings, but there is another that has a more open flower.  The third is an entirely different color--a sort of mauve-lavender with grey undertones.  Quite unusual.

I love this variegated pine, Pinus densiflora 'Oculis Draconis', the "dragon eye" pine.

One of my favorite hydrangeas, Hydrangea arborescens 'Hayes Starburst', discovered by my friend Hayes Jackson in his garden in Anniston, Alabama.  This is a cousin of the popular 'Annabelle' hydrangea, but much, much more refined.  It's also a lot slower to establish and needs about three seasons in the garden to really get going.  It's well worth the wait!

And finally... flowering this week, Musa ornata 'Red Jewel', which has been hardy in a couple of gardens in the Nashville area in protected locations for the past 5 or 6 winters.  I'm not claiming it as "hardy", necessarily, but if you site it appropriately you may get it to come through the winter.  From Zone 7 south, I think it would be pretty reliable.  It sure is spectacular when it flowers!

And that's what has been happening in the garden so far this year.  New things continue to flower and each week I get more plants, some of which have lived in pots for more than 5 years, in the ground.  Hope your summer, wherever you are (or winter if you're south of the equator!) is going well and I'll be back again soon.  Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Iris By The Back Door

I'm sure that for each of us there are a host of characters who played important roles in our lives, especially when we were children.  My cast of characters happens to be a rather long list and oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, almost all of them had something to do with shaping me as a gardener.

I've told this story before, but in order to set up what I'm about to tell, I think it bears repeating that I began gardening when I was three.  Yes, three--when I planted the "helicopters" from a silver maple in the babysitter's flower bed and had so much success that two of those offspring still stand in my parents' yard today.  In fact, I could still give you a virtual walking tour of the babysitter's "garden", as it were, but that's a story for another time.  Maybe next week.

Today's entry moves us forward a few years when I was around the age of six or seven and introduces you to three more characters in my story--Annie Hurlburt, the country vet, and Pearl and Letha Condray, the mother and daughter who lived two doors down and across the street.  Annie and her husband Jack and their family lived on the other side of town (understand that in the town I grew up in, that might have been a mile--maybe a mile-and-a-half) and just down a little country road.  We always took the dogs and cats out for their shots, etc. and because I was squeamish--especially when they were vaccinating squealing little puppies--I usually stayed outside and looked at the garden.  There were irises everywhere, and it was especially fun for me to go in the spring when they were in bloom.

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the story goes that one year Annie and her kids collected seed from some of the iris in the garden, sowed them, and planted the resulting seedlings near the back door of the house.  The sole survivor was a beautiful bicolor, with standards of golden yellow and falls of ruby red and from then on the iris was referred to as the "back door" iris.

There were also irises two doors down at Pearl and Letha Condray's house--hundreds of them--in every color of the rainbow!  Pearl, who lived to be nearly 100 years old, had to have been well into her 80's and probably approaching 90 even when I was a little boy and there were many times in many springs when I would walk down the street and Pearl and I would stroll through bed after bed of iris with her recalling completely from memory the name of every iris in the garden.  She could also tell you who she bought it from and what year!  Pearl's daughter, Letha, was just as sharp and there were just as many walks around the garden with her as there were with Pearl.  In fact, my mother still has two large clumps of spuria iris in the garden that have been there at least 30 years that came as divisions from Pearl and Letha--and there are divisions of those iris now residing in my garden in Tennessee.

The "back door" iris from Annie, the vet, also resided at Pearl and Letha's--by the back door, of course.  It was the only iris in a small bed made just for it and when it was in bloom, it's bold coloration shown across the garden.  A division of that plant eventually made it to my garden, too, but unfortunately, after many years, it finally disappeared.  I was reminiscing about some of the people who had influenced me a couple of years ago when Pearl and Letha and Annie all came to mind.  Letha had finally passed away--Pearl and Annie had long since been gone--and Letha's house was left to one of the local churches and the garden, for the most part, was dismantled.  This prompted me to pick up the phone and call mom to see if she knew of anyone around town who might still have some of the "back door" iris growing in their garden.  Letha and Pearl gave away hundreds of iris every summer--anything that needed dividing--so I thought there was a chance that someone might still have it.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later mom called to say that she had run into someone who thought they still had a clump in their garden--at least that's what it was labeled--but it hadn't bloomed in several years, so she couldn't be sure.  She brought mom a fat, healthy rhizome which then made its way to Tennessee and the photo you see above is the very same iris.  It found its way home to me after more than 30 years and this photo was taken last week in my garden.  I didn't know if it was the right one either until that beautiful, boldly colored, golden-yellow and ruby red flower unfurled its first blossom.  And in a few years, when the clump is large and healthy, I'm going to pass the "back door" iris on to some of my gardening friends the same way it was given to me.  After all, friends and memories are really what gardening is all about.  Happy Gardening!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Autumn Reprise

I sat down at the computer today prepared to blog about Hedychium, or ginger lily, but as I was scrolling through my photos this iris (cultivar 'Total Recall') caught my eye. It reminded me that I had just been in a garden earlier this week where the remontant (re-blooming) iris were in their full fall glory and so I changed my mind. I'll do the ginger lily post next week because right now, I have iris on my mind. This is partially due to the fact that just a few weeks ago I planted a box full of rhizomes that my good friend and partner in horticultural crime, Kelly Norris, sent me from his nursery, Rainbow Iris Farm ( in Iowa. (You also should check out Kelly's blog at, but not until after you finish reading mine, please and thank you.)

Anyway... this photograph jogged my memory of several gardens that I have been in recently where the re-blooming iris, because of our long and unusually warm autumn, were absolutely stunning. I used to have a "thing" about plants that were typically spring-flowering reblooming in the autumn (I still don't like fall-flowering azaleas), but I have to admit that these remontant iris have become some of my favorites. 'Total Recall' was flowering at the Daniel Stowe Botanic Garden in Charlotte, NC when the Tennessee gang and I were there on our way to Raleigh for the Garden Writers conference back in late September. Others will bloom throughout the month of October and into November where the growing season is long enough and they don't get cut down by a hard frost.

Most of these re-bloomers, at least the ones that are readily available, are the typical tall bearded types. Being sort of a bearded iris virgin, I'm sure that there are others, too, but the tall beardeds are the ones I'm most familiar with so I'm sticking with those for now. Probably the most famous of all of the re-bloomers is the stunning white 'Immortality'. Now, you know I can barely stand white flowers, so for me to use the terms "white" and "stunning" in the same sentence, let alone side by side in a description, means that this plant must be truly special, and it is if for no other reason that it is one of the most consistent repeaters of any bearded iris, usually offering a show that is almost as impressive in the autumn as it is in the spring.

Other beautiful rebloomers include: 'St. Petersburg', 'Earl of Essex', 'Eleanor Roosevelt', 'Autumn Tryst', 'Summer Olympics', 'September Replay' and of course the ones I've already mentioned, 'Immortality' and 'Total Recall'.

These beautiful iris are just as easy to grow as the typical spring bloomers, but you get twice as much beauty from them! As for all bearded iris, excellent drainage is very important and full sun is preferred, though they will tolerate a little bit of shade (this may affect reblooming). Nearly all of them are extremely cold hardy and will grow all the way up into Zone 3, though fall bloom can sometimes be cut short in colder climates. In our southern gardens, though, where autumn often hangs on well into November as it has done this year, re-blooming iris are a great way to end the season!