Bloomin’ beautiful bulbs
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.