Monday, May 30, 2016

Tall Bearded Irises

This spring seems to have been a good one for irises in the Edwards garden. We were concerned that our tall bearded irises (aka German irises) might not do well this year because of the very wet spring potentially causing the rhizomes to rot, but they bloomed well and were beautiful. 

Here's my very favorite iris, one given to me by my daughter-in-law from her mother's garden. This picture shows the beautiful form of this iris, but it is not a good representation of the color. I must have taken 20 pictures of this iris at different times of day in an attempt to capture the deep color, but I was not successful. 

So below is another picture of the same iris, taken while it was still in bud, that shows the actual color better. Unlike the two-toned irises, whose color can look completely different in bud, this iris is the same color everywhere. Even the beard on this iris is the same deep blue (almost black) color.  This picture was taken in early spring by a better photographer, my grandson Sam.

Putting in the work required to grow beautiful irises is worthwhile, but all our irises are not this beautiful. Irises reproduce from the rhizome and need to be divided every few years (how often depends on how much space you leave between them when you plant). Jack and I decided we would severely reduce the number of irises we grow so that we could give the care to the few varieties we really love. This spring, as the irises bloomed, I used a Sharpie pen to write the flower color on the blades of the fans we wanted to keep. 

Last year we gathered together most of our tall bearded irises into a single bed, with the idea that after spring bloom this year, we would group them by color. Soon (weather and soil conditions permitting), we will dig the rhizomes, replant a small grouping of each of the varieties we love, and give away the rest. Often we think of fall as the best time for transplanting perennials, but with irises it is best done in summer after the bloom.  The West Tennessee Iris Society recommends planting in July, August, or September to ensure that the roots have ample time to get established before winter.

Here are some of the other candidates to remain in our garden. I really like this blue and white one.

And this lilac and white one.

Everybody needs a white iris. This one is not entirely white but the closest we have.

And then there are the yellows, which I love.

And finally, peach.

Once we get the tall bearded irises organized, we will tackle the beardless irises. But that is a subject for a different post.

For more information on growing and dividing tall bearded irises, click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Propagating Gardenia

Shortly after moving into our house in 2011, I was talking with my sister about how much I like gardenias. She said, "You know they are suppose to be easy to root from cuttings, don't you?" She proceeded to tell me that she learned that fact from a gentlemen in the town where she works, Mr. Vip. He sometimes brought blooms from his gardenias to the office so they could enjoy the wonderful fragrance.  He had told her that the bloom stems would root very quickly, and the next time I saw her, she gave me a couple of the most recent stems he had brought by. Sure enough, they were already beginning to show a few tiny roots. I left them in the water for awhile and when I thought the roots looked viable, I planted them in my garden.

Beyond saying that this is surely a Gardenia jasminoides,  I don't know what variety of gardenia it is.  Because it has been in Mr. Vip's garden a long time,  it must be a good one for our area. 

Gardenias  are not always reliably hardy in our zone 7, and the new varieties on the market that purport to be hardy (for instance 'Frostproof') have not been around long enough to prove themselves. They also tend to be smaller plants and many of us would like to have the more traditional, larger shrub. The bloom of Mr. Vip's gardenia reminds me a lot of 'August Beauty', one of the large varieties of gardenias that can be found in this area but is recommended for zone 8 and above. I asked my sister to email Mr. Vip and ask him about the parent plant, in particular, whether he knew what variety it was. 

I suspected that this was an old gardenia plant, and Mr. Vip confirmed my suspicion. He told us that his plant was at least 38 years old and that he thought it might be of the 'Vipperdenia' family. (I love a gardener's humor. I guess that makes my cutting 'Vipperdenia x Edwardenia'.) He related how he rooted the first cutting entirely by accident by leaving a spent bloom too long in the water. He said:
 "I took a flower or two to my store, Lewis Western Auto, and put them in my office window.  Being the more than average male, I did not discard them when the blooms fell.  But a month or so later, I decided that I should toss them.  When I looked into that "Red Solo Cup", I saw white roots running everywhere.   Later, I planted them and shared my experience with the Vipperdenia variety Gardenia with many friends."

So thank you Mr. Vip for what I'm sure will become a favorite plant in my garden. I really love the fragrance of gardenias, and I really love plants that come with a story.

P.S. I know that some gardenias don't have fragrance, but I don't believe those plants are worthy to be called gardenias. They are perfectly fine, attractive shrubs with pretty blooms--just not gardenias.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pruning Azaleas in Oaklawn

Yesterday we had a large crew of Master Gardeners pruning azaleas in Oaklawn Garden in Germantown. (By the way, this is prime-time for pruning most azaleas, which should be pruned after they finish flowering but before they start setting buds for next spring.) We had a number of interns in the group, who were either learning to prune or sharpening their skills. We also had a number of experienced azalea pruners, including a Lifetime Master Gardener. So a lot of learning took place, in addition to a lot of azaleas being pruned. I wish I had thought to take a picture of that huge trash pile!

I did take pictures of a few things that were still in bloom in the garden. Orange seemed to be the tint of the day. The pomegranate was showing its stuff, but unfortunately the sunshine kept me from getting a good picture. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

The round thing that looks like a fruit is actually the pomegranate bud.

A few native azaleas were still blooming. I think the native azaleas are among the most beautiful. Not often seen in the big box garden centers, you can often find them at your local nurseries.  I have seen both pomegranates and native azaleas for sale at The Dabney's Nursery on Hack's Cross Road.

If you would like to learn more about pruning azaleas, please join local Master Gardeners for a free workshop being held at Oaklawn on Saturday, June 11, from 1-2 pm. This will be an opportunity to learn about pruning in a hands-on way. Bring your gloves and pruners.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Annual Vinca Problems Again

I love annual vinca. Once they get established, they are beautiful, carefree plants that love the heat and dryness of our Midsouth summers.

But last year, my annual vinca suffered from a fungal infection that nearly wiped them out. My vinca bed is the hottest and driest area of my garden in the summer, a perfect location for vinca. But it is also low and tends to hold water in the late winter and early spring, creating conditions that promote fungi. I attributed my problems last year with wetness, so this year I added extra garden soil and soil conditioner to the bed to promote better drainage. I also delayed planting until last week, thinking that the hot weather would be just around the corner, and then I only planted a single six-pack as an experiment.

As you can see from this picture, my caution was well-founded. Several plants have died completely and others are nearly dead. I have other plants growing in this area that are not so susceptible to these types of fungi and they are doing fine. A publication from the University of Arkansas recommends that gardeners use these alternative plants once the fungus has been introduced into the bedding area, so I guess I won't be planting vinca here for awhile. Next year, I'll pick a different site and wait even later to plant. And maybe the weather will be more cooperative. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This Morning's Gardening Companion

This morning, while putzing around the garden, I was joined by this very bold lizard. I'm guessing he is a lizard, but I'm not really sure. After my initial "snake!!" reaction (which I suppressed enough not to scare him), we enjoyed each other's company. He stayed with me while I transplanted a few "volunteer" zinnias, even when I came very close to snap his picture. Eventually, he did move to the walkway, where I was forced to step over him to pass. 

Lizards bring back fond memories of my parents for me. My mother hated lizards. She had flower beds around the porch, and when she saw a lizard, she was apt to take her hoe to it. It wasn't that lizards had offended her in any way, but she wasn't going to risk that they might. Besides, lizards look a lot like snakes, and if there was something she hated more than lizards, it was snakes. My father, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the company of most critters, lizards included. He used to spend a lot of time sitting on the porch, and he was often joined by a lizard or two. One, in particular, was a frequent companion. I know it was the same lizard because it was missing part of its tail. I'm guessing this was from a close encounter with my mother's hoe.

But back to my morning companion . . . . It occurred to me that this might not be the friendly lizard I imagine it to be, but some poisonous reptile that escaped its cage and has come to hang out in my garden. (I do have some of my mother's genes.)  So if any of you can confirm that it is just a harmless, common lizard (or salamander or skink or whatever), please help me out. Here's a closer look.

And in case you are wondering . . . yes, I was using my hoe, but, no, I didn't chop his tail off. It just got cut out of the picture.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spirit in the Garden

On Thursday mornings in the spring (weather permitting), Jack and I can usually be found working at Oaklawn Garden in Germantown. Oaklawn, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the garden, is the former homeplace of Harry and Becky Cloyes. Oaklawn has quite a collection of azaleas and daffodils, and for a number of years, the grounds have been open to visitors as a public garden. But prior to becoming a public garden, Oaklawn was where Harry's family lived and made a living from the land since 1918. 

Harry was born in the family home (circa 1854) in 1926. The family farmed and grew plants until 1951, when Harry married Becky and they opened a nursery and florist, the first in Germantown. After they reached an advanced age, Harry and Becky donated the property to the city of Germantown to be used as a public garden, although they continued to live in the home until their deaths.

Jack and I never knew Mr. Harry personally (he died in 2011, the
year before we began volunteering with the Master Gardeners at Oaklawn), but I feel I know something about him through stories told by others who were acquainted with him. Apparently, Harry was a staunch believer in natural gardening practices. He was an organic gardener, using manure for fertilizer and leaves for mulch. His preference for the natural also extended to the appearance of the garden, telling one garden visitor, "They [city officials] wanted to make it like Bellingrath (a much larger garden and estate in Mobile, Alabama) but I just told them no . . . . I like it to look natural." (Quoted from Steve Scheer's blog "A Rider's Journal," April 18, 2010.) And so, it remained, not only after Harry's death in 2011 but also until Miss Becky's death in 2015.

Harry and Becky Cloyes
Photograph by Steve Scheer (used with permission)

In the same way that the spirit of those we loved remains with us after they die, I believe that something of the spirit of the gardener remains in the garden, long after the gardener departs. When I look at the massive Redwood tree in front of the house, I think of the story of how Mr. Harry inserted a pipe deeply into the ground and watered the sapling through the pipe to promote deep root growth to encourage the unlikely survival of a tree not commonly found in this area. This giant tree stands here because of his care.

Jack and I had the pleasure of knowing Ms. Becky for a few years before her death. When the Master Gardeners convened on Thursday mornings to work in the garden, she came out of the house to sit in the same area where she use to sit with Harry. Sometimes she read her paper while we worked, and I think she looked forward to chatting with the Master Gardeners when we stopped mid-morning for a break. I know we looked forward to chatting with her.

Photograph by Julie Morgan (used with permission)
 She never offered unsolicited gardening advice (as I'm guessing Harry would have), and I wished now that I had asked her more questions, both about her life and her garden. Those were missed opportunities.

Last Thursday at the garden, when I walked passed the house, I could almost sense the spirit of the gardeners who had toiled in this garden: Harry's mother, Mamie, and then Harry and Becky. I think we leave something of ourselves behind in the plants we tend and nurture. 

As a public park, I know the city of Germantown will want Oaklawn to have a more manicured look than Mr. Harry would have preferred. From what I understand, he resisted much pruning of the azaleas. But a number of the azaleas have reached the point where they need to be pruned for the health of the plant. Some have massive old trunks that are nearly dead and need to be rejuvenated. Others are healthy, but have gotten so large that pathways have been obscured. 
Master Gardener Julie Morgan at Oaklawn

But as I prune Harry and Becky's azaleas, I try to respect the wishes of the original gardener, who loved and cared for these plants for more than a half-century. Some plants may be smaller when I finish my pruning, but I try to make them look natural. I hope Harry would approve. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Planting Summer Annuals

You might remember from a previous post that I made a pledge not to rush the planting of summer annuals. It really wasn't hard this year because last fall's pansies looked so good this spring. As a matter of fact, it was hard a few days ago, when I finally decided it was time for the seasonal switch, to pull up plants that still look pretty.

But May is prime time for plants to get established: usually just the right amount of heat and rain. I haven't done my shopping for annuals yet, but I was picking up some paint at one of the big box stores the other day, and you know that I cannot pass by the garden center without checking out the clearance rack. I found a few Supertunias on the rack (I think Supertunias are generally superior to Wave petunias in my garden), and I bought them. So I had a few plants on hand that I wanted to get in the ground before the rain got here.

When I took the plant out of its container, the roots looked like this. The imprint of the bottom of the pot is clearly visible where the roots have encircled the pot and become a hard mass. So before planting, I scratched up the roots along the edges of the pot just a little. Since the roots at the bottom were in such a wad, I cut into them at several points (with my new hori-hori knife, of course) and spread the roots. This plant had a lot of good roots, and I didn't worry about injuring it.

While doing this, I thought of a recent question my brother asked me.  A few days ago, we were planting vegetables plants in his garden. When he popped the plant out of its container, he immediately started to loosen up the roots. But the plant in his hand was not exceptionally well-rooted and had only delicate, white roots that did not need to be loosened. When I told him that it was okay just to plant it, he said, "I thought you were suppose to loosen up the roots before you planted." 

I'm sure this is one of those things that varies by gardener, but here's my strategy. If the roots are in a tight mass, I loosen them where they are tight. For instance, in the example to the left, I would spread the bottom roots a little to ensure that they do not continue to grow in  a circular fashion. But if the plant's roots are not overcrowded, I don't disturb them more than necessary. 

Sometimes the plants we buy have developed very few roots, and the roots they have need to be treated gently. Sometimes they have been sitting in a container too small for them, and their roots have filled the container and need to be loosened and redirected. Like most things in life, what you should do depends on the situation you find yourself in.