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Re: landscape irises, ratty foliage, and other genera

  • To: Multiple recipients of list <iris-l@rt66.com>
  • Subject: Re: landscape irises, ratty foliage, and other genera
  • From: Henryanner <Henryanner@aol.com>
  • Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 10:28:28 -0700 (MST)


I would like to make some comments about this business of landscape irises and
some other issues that have arisen with it.

First, I concur with Bob Stassen that neglected plantings of bearded irises
often look dreadful and we do not best fulfill our responsibility as members
of AIS to educate the public about the plant if we treat it in a manner that
shows no respect and results in a nasty display of its negative potential. I
would add that this caveat should extend to our own plantings after the bloom
season is past. 

Second, I agree with Walter that irises are not the only plants that look bad
if they are not cared for. Even some plants in widespread use as "landscape"
plants look dreadful if they do not get a minimum of grooming and care beyond
their bloom season. Daylilies come immediately to mind. They, too, require
deadheading, de-stalking, cutting back if the foliage gets ratty, and removal
of drifted detritus from their bases. This is just to be expected. Few
blooming plants look good for six months with no grooming.

Third, I must disagree about the lack of interest afforded by the foliage of
bearded irises. I have spoken in the past about their unique potential and I
wish to reiterate that they are a valuable componant of my garden even when
not in bloom. The form, texture and colors of the healthy leaves may be used
as an effective visual element and will serve as an attractive counterpart to
dark shiny evergreens and laciniated grey plants especially. My plants are
grown in a hot, dry spot where they get strong sun until mid-afternoon and the
foliage looks good all season with only routine grooming and no spraying. Of
course, I have only about 150 plants and most of them are older cultivars, but
I do not find them at all onerous to maintain. They are my plants and I like
them. I'd grow a few more if I had more dirt, but I would not grow more than I
wanted to care for. Those who have read some of the iris literature from the
earlier part of the century will recall that often the bearded foliage was
remarked upon, with appreciation shown for the different forms, color
gradiations, textures and violet bases. The plant was considered as a whole,
which it should be, unless your inclination is to see them as flower machines
whose sole role is to crank out exhibition blooms.

I think tall bearded irises do have a unique, if possibly limited, potential
for use in landscape plantings as I have understand them. Sturdy plants with
simpler blooms in clean colors which make attractive clumps and can withstand
some weather should do well. Rebloomers should do very well because they offer
aditional floral displays and, as Dr. Z notes, generally hold up better. Now,
bearded irises don't like other plants overhanging their rhizomes, and they
won't take much organic mulch, which is a major factor in low maintenance
landscape plantings around here and a serious potential limit to their
utility, but they offer a range of colors unsurpassed in the plant world, even
rivaling the delphiniums in the blues, and people are becoming ever more
sophisiticated in the use of stone mulches, etc. I think they would look fine
with grasses, species salvias, buddleias, dwarf conifers, artemisias, nepetas,
and sedums, all of which are currently fashionable for these purposes. In
fact, I know one highly original planting of tall blood grass, maroon low-
growing sedums, an ornamental burgundy oregano, and a tailored wine TB that,
while small, is very effective and could easily be expanded with success.
Also, when they are grown in combination with other plants, many disease and
pest problems associated with a monoculture tend to abate.

The borer is a problem and will probably remain one in the public's
consciousness until and even after safe effective controls are developed.
Everyone knows irises get borers. People who know nothing else about
horticulture know that roses get spot, euonymous get scale, and irises get
borer, and they want nothing to do with them. Even those professionals who are
involved in landscape activity are not immune to these thoughts. 

I like the idea of landscape irises. They sound like some might be good plants
for the garden, too, nice and strong and able to work and play well with
others. I recall the great iris plantings in the large private estates in the
first half of the century and I say, why not adapt this idea? There is a
public garden here in town attatched to an imposing historic house and this
estate includes some rolling acreage close to and visible from the terrace. A
little hill rises against the sky. In my mind I see an iris border rising
along and following the crest of the little hill, curving down to define the
contours, running along, five feet wide, for about two hundred and fifty feet,
planted all in mixed blue selfs of every shade and texture and description,
hundreds of them. It would be wonderful, and the stuff of legend. It can't
happen, of course, because, like other public gardens they haven't got the
money or the manpower to maintain such an extravagance, or, frankly the
interest at this time--"irises get borers"--but I sure do like to think about
it. However, they, and other institutions, public gardens, and interested
private individuals may, in the future find that landscape irises may have a
place in their lives when any other bearded irises would not.

Anner Whitehead, Richmond, VA, Zone 7
Henry Hall, henryanner@aol.com

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