bearded irises

Back garden overview June 2019 with kale tree in bloom

The Marvels of May

May is over, but here is a bouquet of sights from my garden gathered during that month. It was a great year for irises. Two managed to bloom that had not for years, probably due to shade and dry conditions. And I have blue poppies once more. I can’t take any credit for them as yet; if they survive the next winter to bloom again, I’ll have something to brag about. The mass of yellow bloom on the right side of the featured photo is a giant kale plant, almost a tree.

Pale yellow irises with dark red purple bearded irises
These irises (names unknown to me) have always been here. This year they’re blooming better than normal.
Pale yellow irises
Dependable pale yellow iris, type and name unknown to me. They’re increasing nicely in the dry shade of the back garden.
Bearded iris, white with blue edge
Surprise iris (not it’s real name). I vaguely remember it in bloom many years ago. I moved it to a better spot a couple of years ago; it must be happy there.
Purple bearded iris
Another surprise iris, a big purple one this time. No idea when I planted it. It must have languished bloomless for years, until now.
Primula auricula in bloom with tomato plants and potted dahlia with blooming thyme in background
Primula auricula. I have two plants, which both bloomed well this year. Small tomato plants in lower left corner, sprouting dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” above.
White foxglove with thalictrum behind
Volunteer (meaning self-sown) foxglove. It’s right at the front of a border, but I’m glad I didn’t weed it out.
White foxglove spotless
Close up of the foxglove flowers. It’s totally spotless; a plant elsewhere has purple spots inside the flowers.
Urban deer
Trouble in paradise — plant-nibbling urban deer. They cruise by regularly and sample the garden buffet. On the plus side, I’ve seen them eating bindweed.
Mixed foliage in the front garden with "Pink Panda" ornamental strawberry flowers
Mixed foliage in the front garden, with a few flowers of ornamental strawberry “Pink Panda”

Here are four photos of the two blue poppy plants I bought a few months ago. Their labels call them Meconopsis sheldonii “Lingholm” (grandis).

Rosa glauca, red-leaf rose, blooming in the rain
Rain-washed leaves and flowers of the red-leaf rose, Rosa glauca. The inch or so of rain was most welcome.

I’m looking forward to June, but sorry to see the end of iris time.

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Iris Time

Henry Mitchell loved irises and grew a lot of them. He often wrote about them too — their colours, their beauty, the challenges of growing them well.

On my patch of rooty ground, I grow sixteen different irises, with varying degrees of success. I’m sure Mr. Mitchell would not consider them very impressive. But as each of them passes through its season of bloom, I am enchanted, indeed. Sometimes the fact that one or more of my irises chooses to bloom at all is a thrill in itself. A number of them have never bloomed. This year has been exceptional. Several plants produced bloom stalks with (gasp!) five or six buds.

In order of appearance:

I. unguicularis, the Algerian iris, opens the annual parade, as early as January, and lasts until March. Its tough, grass-like foliage grows to 3 feet and overhangs the front walk until I cut it back in October.

Iris unguicularis

Iris unguicularis

I. reticulata blooms in February. Its numbers have declined somewhat over the years, but there are still a half dozen plants near the pond, that send up vivid blue flowers only a few inches tall.

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

In April comes Iris cristata, another small type, icy blue with a touch of lavender, that has spread modestly through a perennial bed under the infamous Norway maples. Sadly, I have no picture of it.

May is Iris Time proper, when the large-flowered, showy bearded irises bloom.

The earliest of my bearded irises, name unknown.

The earliest of my bearded irises, name unknown.

My bearded irises are old varieties whose names are unknown to me. A dark purple-blue one is the first of this type to bloom, followed by a small-flowered pale yellow. Then a large dark yellow and white, a dark red/maroon and sometimes a large medium blue. This year, all except the medium blue (which was taking a year off) outdid themselves. Even plants that normally sulk bloomlessly under the maples put out multiple buds.

Dainty pale yellow iris, also early, name unknown.

Dainty pale yellow iris, also early, name unknown.

 

Maroon/pinky-red bearded iris, name unknown.

Maroon/pinky-red bearded iris, name unknown.

 

Large yellow and white bearded iris, name unknown.

Large yellow and white bearded iris, name unknown.

 

Another view of the yellow/white iris, from 2012.

Another view of the yellow/white iris, from 2012.

Another iris that blooms in May and June is Iris foetidissima, the Gladwin iris, invaluable for dry shade although not much to look at in bloom. Its claim to fame is ornamental orange seeds that appear in early autumn, and of course result in multiple seedlings the following spring. The yellow pond iris (I. pseudoacorus) has formed a small colony along the edge of the pond. These plants are descendants of an enormous specimen that threatened to take over the entire pond. Extracting it some years ago was a big struggle that resulted in about 20 pounds of rhizomes lugged to the municipal recycling yard. The local raccoons invariably rough up these irises in July, fortunately after they have bloomed.

Iris foetidissima

Iris foetidissima

The variegated foliage of Iris pallida is attractive even without blooms, but the lavender-purple flowers, which smell like grape bubble gum, are definitely an asset. My plants did not join in the fun this year and refused to bloom.

Iris pallida foliage

Iris pallida foliage

 

Iris pallida blooms, 2010.

Iris pallida blooms, 2010.

I haven’t had much luck with Iris sibirica, due to poor siting in dry shade, although every now and then one manages to put out a flower. I was surprised to see one last week in a struggling group situated between a Norway maple and a flowering currant shrub. I should really move a few plants to a better spot. Siberian irises are slender and elegant, with bright, intense colours — definitely worth the effort to grow well.

Iris sibirica, one single bloom (and not a great picture either).

Iris sibirica, one sad bloom (and not a great picture either).

Finally — usually in June, but like everything else, early this year — are the Dutch irises, I. x hollandica, the consolation prize of the would-be iris grower. Mine are 100% reliable, a slowly-expanding clump of brassy yellow. There is also a plant with blue and yellow flowers that seems to be lying low this year.

Dutch iris

Dutch iris

I have two plants of yet another iris that should bloom in early summer — late June — with elegant yellow and white flowers. I have seen its flowers elsewhere, but never in my garden, although the foliage (narrower and a brighter green than that of the large bearded irises) comes up reliably every year. And every year I watch for the swellings of buds among the leaves, but so far, no luck. This may be another candidate for a move to a sunnier spot in soil free of maple roots. That so many of my irises stay alive in sub-optimal conditions, instead of giving up and dying, motivates me to help them out.