Sunday, July 10, 2016

Irises, Poppies, and Lilies - Oh, My!

From time to time, J.D. and I like to share some of the flowers in our garden with you through J. D.'s photographs. Despite a very dry winter and late freezes and frosts, the irises were especially beautiful and bountiful. The miniature iris appeared in early April while the crocuses were still in bloom. The dwarfs were in full bloom in mid-April, followed by Dutch and species irises, and the tall bearded irises bloomed until mid-June.

iris collage




iris marked with yarn
Iris marked for removal with yarn
Many of the clumps have multiplied so much that they must be thinned. This should be done every three or four years, but we are doing it for the second year in a row! J. D. has been designating plants that need to be removed by tying lengths of colored yarn (never in short supply around here) around the stalks. Some will be relocated to other parts of the garden, while others will be sold at the farmers' markets.

Irises reproduce from structures called rhizomes. Many people think of these as roots, but they are really modified stems. They lie mostly on the surface of the ground and the short, true roots grow down from the lightly buried lower surface of the rhizome. I'll let J.D. tell you about lifting and re-planting them.

Iris with rhizome and roots, and digging knife
Iris with rhizome and roots, and digging knife
You need something that will cut the rhizome to separate plants, and something to loosen the soil 4" to 6" down and get under the irises' roots to lift them out. For individual plants or small clumps, I use my Japanese digging knife (pictured at the right); for larger clumps, I have a stout square-end spade. Cut through the rhizomes at the borders of the mass of plants you plan to remove; then dig, loosening the soil until you can get your tool under the irises, gently prying up all around the clump until you can get it to come free of the ground and the adjacent plants. Clean the dirt off the roots, and separate out individual leaf clusters with rhizome and roots.

To re-plant, loosen up the soil to about 5" deep, then make a shallow depression just big and deep enough to spread the true roots and bury them an inch or two deep. If you have particularly poor soil, you can add a little blood and bone meal to the soil now, before filling the dirt in around and on top of the roots. Leave the top half of the rhizome exposed, but pack the dirt firmly around  it and over the roots. Water the iris in well; then pretty much ignore it. Irises seem to thrive on benign neglect - just water it when and as you do the plants that surround it, and leave it alone.

J.D. shared a picture of our earliest-blooming poppy in the June 1, 2016 post. This beautiful purple poppy was frozen last year, but came back vigorously this year. We have two varieties of orange poppies, one of which produces extra-large blooms. Visitors tell me it looks like it is made of silk and want to touch the blossoms to see that they are real. We have two red poppies, one of which has ruffled edges, and two peach varieties, one of which is ruffled. In addition, we have pink, rose, and a beautiful white poppy with a black “throat”.

Poppy Collage





Hands full of poppy
We got quite a nice surprise this spring. We know some of our poppies multiply by self-seeding (the orange ones have established themselves everywhere). This year we found a new one of the peach poppies at least two meters from its parents, growing out of a gravel path. Its top blossom was so large that I had to hold it still so that J. D. could photograph it. It covered both my hands and was larger than a salad plate! We will re-locate it to a more hospitable garden plot and see what it produces next year.

Bagged poppy seed heads
Bagged poppy seed heads
We dig and sell the surplus orange poppies and will divide the peach ones this year, too. We save and sell the seeds from all ten varieties. J. D. can tell you how he does that.

I bag the seed heads with paper lunch bags (plastic makes the heads subject to mold and rot, and slows the drying) secured with several tight wraps of electrical tape. I label the bags with permanent marker by color (before covering the seed heads - much easier to write legibly that way), and wait for the stalks and foliage to dry out before cutting the stems.

Lenten rose in bloom
Lenten rose in bloom
Our plants have kept their own schedules this year some blooming earlier than usual, some later; some blooming longer than usual, others for a shorter time. Some just seem confused. For example, we have a Lenten rose which bloomed and an Easter lily I planted after it bloomed last year. Both are blooming for the fourth of July! The Easter lily bloomed three times last year, the last time just before frost. It seems determined to “celebrate” as many holidays as possible.





orange daylilies
Orange daylilies
The orange daylilies are late this year. They are very prolific and need to be divided just about every year. They are popular at the markets a little later in the summer. They are also popular with our neighbors. One lady a few doors down started with a row of our lilies a few years ago. Now they take up a large portion of her lawn and really “put on a show” each summer. She likes the glossy green foliage even after the flowers are gone and says she has to mow less lawn every year.





Regal lily
Regal lily
I usually don't have to look up at any flowers except our climbing roses, flowering shrubs, and sunflowers. This year, however, we have a really ambitious regal lily. J. D. had to tie it to a long l bamboo pole. It is in a raised bed, so I'm not sure how tall it really is, bur I suspect it comes close to J. D.' s six-foot-one. It really overhangs my five-foot-one! In the same raised bed, there is a clump of white lilies that was only a single stalk last year. Now there are six stalks, so it, too, will need to be divided. I counted 19 buds and blossoms on the original stalk and nearly as many on the younger ones. They all smell marvelous!

White lilies
White lilies
Speaking of fragrances, we did a “tour” of the irises when they were at their best and identified 21 different scents in several categories: floral, fruity, musky, citrus, candy-like, spicy and “what-would-you-call -that?”. Not all of our irises are fragrant, but the majority certainly are. I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of our garden. I just wish you could smell the flowers as well as look at them.

Best wishes from us to all of you,



(and J.D.)



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