Sunday, February 24, 2013

Landscaping with Iris no.1

Collector gardens

Feature iris gardens

During the last decade I have spoken on landscaping with iris, it’s time to share some of my thoughts from these presentations. The most common types of iris gardens are the collector’s garden and the feature iris garden. Most of this blog will focus on feature iris gardens.

For centuries the rainbow flower has been cultivated for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. My seminars focus on the depth of thought concerning iris and how to apply this thinking in the landscape today.

Many of my iris loving friends are collectors; selection is often made for distinctive color. Iris are displayed in beds matching their cultural needs and added haphazard as they are purchased. Many friends grow tall bearded iris exclusively, TBs all share a common form, and generally just differ in color. Hybridizers seek new colors each is introduced as an improvement or for its unique character. The display of hundreds of varieties blooming at the same time can be a spectacle. When collections bloom you can become eye weary as each plant screams “look at me”! Nothing wrong with this just misses the full potential of the rainbow plant.

Look at me!
The feature iris garden focuses on bearded iris in mass. By using all sizes of bearded iris you can achieve over a month of bloom. The little ones; Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB) bloom first followed by Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris (SDB) sometimes just a week later, these iris can create a colorful border. MDBs usually have single buds and provide a short burst of bloom.  I use these as accents surrounded by SDBs, with multiple buds which fill out and define the gardens edge. 
SDBs as edger
I mass a single cultivar, often more than a dozen, aside complimentary colored iris. One theme is to use warm colored plants together. An example; yellow, orange and white some solid color (self) massed together with a few bicolored varieties.

Intermediate Iris
Intermediate Bearded Iris (IBs) are blooming in my garden in late May, after SDBs, before Border Bearded (BBs) and Tall Bearded (TBs) Iris.  Also intermediate in height they provide a middle ground to then stage a large display of TBs central to the entire garden. IBs are excellent garden plants, able to withstand the wind and weather which bend and break TBs. They can act as a windbreak for their bigger brethren.

Midsummers Night Dream IB
Tall Bearded Iris climax the season and garden. The largest bearded iris class, TBs are the last to bloom. Their size will dominate the garden, a backdrop to that which has passed beforehand. Color combinations are endless.

Tall Bearded Iris, the background
Good grooming of spent flowers, weeds, broken or diseased material is essential to successful presentation of the next group yet to bloom. Spacing to carry out maintenance is critical, depending on the size of the garden area, pathways may become essential.

This type of iris garden will require many classes, numerous varieties and individual iris. Plants can come from a collection or from smaller polychrome boxes. These boxes can be used to trial bloom time and color coordination. They can also be used to trial combination plants which would carry the rest of the growing season. Annuals, for example, can be effective to minimize weeds and cropped to let iris rhizomes bake in the sun.

Bearded Iris prefer quick draining neutral to alkaline soils. Rhizomes rot in damp soil, in northern climes beds can be raised with sandy loam.

The themes can be endless; all warm colors, all cool colors, or one of each. A progressive rainbow throughout the bearded iris season. Garden shape can be a roundel, or oval, a rectangle to walk around or a border along a wall.

A feature iris garden can demonstrate the full variety of size and color in the bearded iris classes. Massed plantings of iris show the maximum potential of the rainbow flower. 

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