Volatile Stalks

It’s funny how people think of gardening as something to do in their golden years. Take the back-breaking labor of double-digging, combine that with the nerve-wracking unpredictability of bloom times, and you’ll realize, gardening is not for the faint of heart or body.

While the rest of my garden is going into decline, looking for the most part like it’s been in a street fight, exhausted and tattered, the tall bearded iris ‘Palindrome’ is set to make a grand show with not one but two bloom stalks! ‘Palindrome’ is an elegant iris: the falls and standards are a deep, striking blue with a smudge of white (the signal) around a yellow beard. It is a rebloomer, with a distinctive fragrance. I ordered two ‘Palindrome’ rhizomes (along with two each of three other varieties) during the summer of 2012 from here, planted them in and waited. April came and went, with a not a hint of a bloom on the ‘Palindromes’. Very late summer, one unexpectedly bloomed with several flowers opening in succession on 40 inch long stalks. The other rhizome never bloomed, though it sent out strong sword-like leaves and several baby plants. And now in cold (by Bay Area standards) mid-fall, I am going to have what promises to be a resplendent display of iris!

Buds of iris 'Palindrome' ready to bloom off season in November
Buds of iris ‘Palindrome’ ready to bloom off season in November

Review of Pleasants Valley Iris Farm: They are based in California, about 60 miles from San Francisco; are family-owned and run. My communications have been with Kendall, who is always prompt and pleasant in her responses. They sent me two ‘Private Treasure’ irises instead of the ‘Planned Treasure’ I’d ordered. When I notified them of the mistake, they shipped me ‘Planned Treasure’ for free. They offer a very large selection of irises, some of them in brilliant colors. In my short and limited experience buying plants online, I think the prices are reasonable.

How I planted the irises: I have clay soil. Very sticky. I dug plenty of compost thoroughly into the top 8 inches of soil along with a few handfuls of bone meal and earthworm castings. (This along with some Chickity Doo Doo chicken manure is my standard formula for planting anything.) My research online indicates that irises don’t need especially fertile soil, but insist on being planted very shallow with the top of the rhizome exposed to the sun. They, like most of us, like sun and space. I disregarded the second requirement; I planted them about 12-14 inches apart and now with growing families, they are getting to be quite crowded.

Some people are put off by irises since they bloom for a mere two weeks of the year, while the sword-like leaves take up quite a bit of space throughout the year. Here’s my argument for having a few irises: first, the foliage is attractive in itself and is a good foil for other plants with more fluffy or broad leaves. Second, you don’t need a bed of irises to make a statement; like a well-chosen and worn piece of jewelry, just one is sufficient.

I sowed seeds of the California poppy ‘Bridal Bouquet’ around my irises. They looked beautiful together and the poppies continued to bloom for several weeks and self-sowed nicely.

In other news, the Dutch hyacinths seem to have been spurred into early growth too. It’s almost as if the bulbs sprouted greenery the instant I’d placed them in the soil and turned my back! Last year, the hyacinths had just started blooming in mid-February. At this rate, my ‘spring’ garden would have bloomed itself out in fall!

Emerging foliage and flowers of Dutch hyacinth 'Splendid Cornelia' in mid-November
Emerging foliage and flowers of Dutch hyacinth ‘Splendid Cornelia’ in mid-November

If you have any insights into why plants bloom at uncharacteristic times, do let me know. I’ve often wondered.

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