Bloomin’ beau­ti­ful bulbs

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Peter Cun­dall

IN A way I’m glad my wife Tina has a bit of an ob­ses­sion with irises.

She’s been col­lect­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble va­ri­ety for years and they’ve been com­ing into bloom from mid- win­ter al­most con­tin­u­ously.

In fact there are great clumps of them in all parts of the gar­den and a few have been craftily in­serted in our veg­etable patch.

And it ap­pears most of th­ese amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful flow­er­ing plants have not only sur­vived the re­lent­less rain­fall we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced since Au­gust, but some of them have clearly thrived.

There are still lots of bearded irises bloom­ing fu­ri­ously but their sea­son is grad­u­ally com­ing to an end.

Our most beau­ti­ful irises, be­lieve it or not, are grow­ing among the bush roses.

Th­ese ap­pear to be the ul­ti­mate com­pan­ions, per­haps be­cause the long, sword- like leaves, long flow­er­ing stems and sur­face- cling­ing rhi­zomes of the irises don’t com­pete with bush roses for light or nu­tri­ents.

To see them in full, spec­tac­u­lar and colour­ful bloom among our roses is an un­for­get­table sight in spring and early sum­mer.

I should men­tion that early De­cem­ber is a per­fect time to lift old, con­gested bearded iris clumps from the ground, so they can be di­vided.

Keep in mind most of the old rhi­zomes are dead even if they still ap­pear quite fat. The liv­ing part or in­crease is the green swollen bit from which the leaves emerge.

It is a sim­ple task to cut off the new in­crease and at the same time prune the leaves hard to a short fan about 15cm long.

This can im­me­di­ately be re­planted shal­lowly in any well- drained, sunny spot and will be­gin new growth im­me­di­ately to flower again next Novem­ber.

The re­main­ing old rhi­zome ma­te­rial is of no value, so that can be thrown out.

How­ever, the plants that ob­vi­ously loved the wet con­di­tions most of all were our Ja­panese irises.

Ours have just ex­ploded into mag­nif­i­cent, flat­tish blooms al­most the size of din­ner plates. In fact our best dis­play is com­ing from a huge clump that is sit­ting in the mid­dle of a pud­dle that ap­peared af­ter the last mas­sive down­pour.

Ja­panese irises ( I. en­sata) come in daz­zling colours of blue, pur­ple, white and gold and they cer­tainly love wet con­di­tions.

Ours have just ex­ploded into mag­nif­i­cent, flat­tish blooms al­most the size

of din­ner plates

With sum­mer wa­ter­ing, the clumps mul­ti­ply fairly rapidly and large di­vi­sions can be made in late sum­mer and au­tumn.

Af­ter flow­ers have with­ered, lots of fat lit­tle seed pods form. They can be cut off to strengthen the plants, but if you wish to prop­a­gate new plants it is worth col­lect­ing the seed.

It has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dif­fi­cult to ger­mi­nate, which is prob­a­bly why plants can be ex­pen­sive be­cause the seed rapidly be­comes locked into dor­mancy shortly af­ter ripen­ing in March.

How­ever, I’ve ex­per­i­mented and dis­cov­ered a re­mark­ably easy way to ob­tain ex­cel­lent seedlings at vir­tu­ally no cost. As the seed- pods start to ma­ture in early au­tumn they be­gin to dry off a lit­tle and split.

In­side the seeds should be still slightly sticky. This is when they are best sown, al­ways be­fore they can go into full, dry dor­mancy.

The best medium is noth­ing more than or­di­nary seedling- rais­ing mix ( avail­able from all gar­den cen­tres) in or­di­nary pun­nets.

The se­cret of suc­cess is to keep the mix to­tally sat­u­rated by cre­at­ing al­most bog- like con­di­tions. I even sit filled pun­nets in a few cen­time­tres of wa­ter to keep the mix and ger­mi­nat­ing seeds con­stantly wet.

Be­lieve it or not, the seedlings come up like grass. When big enough to han­dle they can be re­planted into in­di­vid­ual small pots for plant­ing out in spring. Most flower the fol­low­ing year.

Siberian irises also tol­er­ate wet feet dur­ing growth. In fact, they ap­pear to grow to per­fec­tion even in heavy, wet clay, pro­vided they get plenty of sun­light.

Most pro­duce bril­liant pur­ple flow­ers but many new va­ri­eties are a beau­ti­ful deep blue with sev­eral forms also marked with a golden pat­tern.

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