In the thread responding to Mat's question for an iris suitable to his coastal
SC/NC border climate, I sat abruptly upright when I read Betty Wilkerson's
most significant comment:
"Matt, I grow Edith in a 17 inch pot and it does well. Every three years or
so, I dig it up and take the left overs to our local sale. This past year I
was told it wasn't appreciated since it wouldn't grow in gardens around here!
Guess I have to buy more pots!"
In her climate and area (which includes my own) the prevailing view about
EDITH WOLFORD is that " it wouldn't grow in gardens around here!" The comment
has a genuine foundation in experience of poor performance and frustration.
Yet Betty's experience year after year of EDITH in a 17" pot is in remarkable
constrast to the prevailing view.
I'm curious. What is there about the pot culture for EDITH WOLFORD that is
different from the experience of garden culture? I cannot help but believe
there is something of profound significance in this from which we can learn
some basics about bearded irises and their needs.
It certainly isn't the humidities or temperatures of our yo-yo Contintental
climate. Betty's potted EW receives all of the same the rest of the plantings
in the ground do.
Does it have something to do with drainage either "vertical" or
"horizontal"--see Lazy Bill's excellent column in the current *Tall Talk*--?
Micronutrients? Soil texture? Diurnal variations in root temperature? Air
I have been shocked at the generally poor performance of Tall Beardeds in
general here in western NC in my ill-prepared, much too clay-dominated, old
and leached Appalachin soil.
I expected growth patterns similar to what I had in my very deep, calcium rich
loessial "blow sand" in which I grew irises in Idaho. Very few varieties
failed to grow exuberantly there. Almost none do here. There are a few,
wonderful exceptions, and I am beginning to believe those differences are as
much in the immediate soil around those plants as it is in the genetics of the
A few of those nearly lost to neglect, activity of moles and poor soil
preparation were lifted last summer, cleaned up of rot, then the surviving
remnants potted in the same Fafard potting mix I use for seed germination, to
which a substantial amount of pelleted lime and a moderate amount of my red
clay "top soil" had been added. They looked pathic during the fall and
winter, but suddenly this spring sprang to life and exuberant, profoundly
I am astounded.
Lazy Bill comments about soil preparation in the same article from *Tall Talk*
I mentioned above, including the sage admonition to prepare a bed *deeply,*
forming a soil that is about equal parts clay, loam (presumably silt loam),
sand and organics. That has many of the characteristics the mix in my pots
contain. Hmmmm. Significant? Obviously.
I am beginning to think my bearded irises are suffocating in their red clay
soil. There is too little air, too low percolation rate, soils woefully and
grossly lacking "tilth"--that latter term pinning the problem to the wall.
Iris roots require good "tilth."
What is tilth? It is the open, friable (another significant word for success
with iris), texture of a soil that results from the mix Bill describes. It
describes a soil with texture that is easily cultivated, absorbes rain,
sustains its plants with both nutrition and much needed penetrability of the
soil by the plants roots without which they do not thrive.
There is much more I would like to say about soils and iris. Perhaps there
are the "seeds" (pardon the pun!) of an article in this.
Just thinkin' (Lazy Bill says he's smilin.' I suspect he does even more
"thinkin'" than "smilin'")
Neil Mogensen z 7 Reg 4 western NC mountain red clay
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