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[iris-talk] Re: Iris Beds at Arkansas State Capitol: long

From: "Patrick O'Connor" <swamp@ix.netcom.com>


Many thanks for the interesting, detailed answer.  I did not mean to make
you work so hard.  Your organization sounds great.  I hope to get to meet
some members at next year's SLI meeting.  I planted some of my Louisianas
in my mother's yard in hopes of having something to bring to the show.

I did notice, by the way, that there were no Louisianas in the capitol
beds.   Any particular reason you did not add any healthy specimens to
replace the sickies from the past?  And, did you consider displaying irises
native to Arkansas....fulva, cristata, brevicaulis (?), others?

Those beds are a great project.  I have always loved the capitol building.
I wish we had a critical mass of iris enthusiasts here, but we are far from
it now.  In time, in time....


At 10:51 PM 9/8/98 -0500, you wrote:
>From: celia storey <storey@aristotle.net>
>Patrick writes:
>>I was in Little Rock over
>>Labor Day and checked out the beds at the Capitol.  They looked pretty good
>>to me.  Nothing seemed folded, spindled or mutilated. <snip> I would like
>>to know a bit about how
>>long the beds sponsored by the Central Arkansas Iris Society have been in
>>place, how the project is funded, and how many people are required to keep
>>it looking as good as it does. <snip>
>You've seen those garden signs that say "My garden was at its peak two
>weeks ago -- you missed it?" Well, our beds were at their worst a day
>before you came. Our third Saturday cleanup crew cleared out a good bit of
>fan-rot and even dunked a few sickies in dilute bleach to discourage
>Southern blight, which has been rampant this year in spite of our drought.
>Go figure.
>How many people? We have 10 faithful workers on our two crews, although not
>everyone shows up every month. Four people come to every session. Sometimes
>it's just Linda Bell, Wendell Hall, me and my mother. But more often we
>have five to seven, including the charming Phyllis Newton of this list
>(hiya Phyllis!), our weed gourmet Loice Peek, an energetic new member named
>Maureen Corder who wants to become a garden judge and others I should name
>but won't because you people don't know them and probably never will. We
>clean on the first and third Saturdays. When we dig plants we ask the
>general membership for help. This year we had 20 dig volunteers over three
>days, including one brand-new member who answered an appeal in the
>newsletter! By comparison, 33 members volunteer to man our booth at the
>annual Flower and Garden show, and almost every one of our 200 members
>comes to see the Iris Show. So the beds are not our club's most popular
>activity by far.
>The beds were almost abandoned two years ago, before our daffy, darling
>president Lucie Burley's single-minded enthusiasm for the society
>re-energized everything. Many of our veteran members are very elderly;
>there had been an ugly fight over selecting and purchasing plants; when the
>Capitol made us move them to a new location, names were scrambled and
>feelings were needlessly trampled; responsibility for the beds would fall
>on one or two sturdy women who made themselves sick trying to do all the
>work and then hated everyone for expecting them to.
>But Lucie inspired Linda Bell -- a whirlwind social sciences teacher -- to
>take an interest. Linda had no idea what she was getting into when she
>agreed. The beds were loaded with hundreds of plants that, although placed
>behind namestakes each and every one, were nameless. In the past the beds
>even accepted unregistered seedlings, so we had all kinds of confusion
>running around in there. Some were donated LAs, the sickest LAs you have
>ever laid eyes on. I mean three-year rhizomes as big as your pinky finger.
>It was scandalous. And we had nine very, very sad spurias in there, too.
>TBs, LAs and spurias, all thrown in together. And they were all buried in
>bermuda and nutgrass. The soil was hard-packed clay, green and black in

>many places but usually dry as the Sahara and hard as rock.
>The secretary of state's office disliked them rather intensely, as you
>might imagine.
>Linda and Lucie naively began trying identify the standouts that can always
>be located in an older iris planting -- Batik, for instance. Immortality.
>We took dozens of photos, spent days looking up checklists and finally
>realized the only sensible course was to dump out everything and start
>anew. We did this over two years. We emptied one bed last year, the other
>this year. And we hauled in truckloads of municipal compost to improve the
>soil. The compost was donated by our local municipal contractor. The
>tilling was done by convict labor. The club allocated $500 to purchase
>materials and rhizomes, and we took up donations to buy the plaques. I
>forget what they cost, but it was a pretty penny. The Secretary of State
>poured the footings for us and did all the installment -- all for free.
>Now we know the name and particulars of every one of our irises, many of
>which were purchased from Sutton's and Woodland Iris Gardens, of this list.
>We have made an attempt to add the creations of our state's hybridizers,
>too, buying cultivars from local growers Mark Grumbine and Len Michel and
>accepting donations from members who were on-their-honor-certain they had
>the right plant (always a risk).
>You ask:
>>I have never grown bearded iris and was interested in how some of them at
>>the Capitol were planted on little hills.  I know they like good drainage,
>>but what happens when the rhizomes get longer?
>You noticed those are concrete planters holding our beds, and they are
>surrounded by sidewalks, which have footings. Underground sprinklers line
>the inside of those concrete walls, and sometimes they leak. Although our
>amendments improved drainage, it's still not marvelous, and we've found
>planting on mounds cuts losses. The mounds settle a lot by spring. The
>rhizomes tend to burrow as they make roots, and the ultimate level comes
>out just about right.
>As for increases growing over the side of mounds, we dig out these plants
>every year, placing back five rhizomes for next year's display. When we
>haven't lifted two-year clumps to separate them, the next year's growth has
>been so massive we've seen too much fungus and leaf spot.
>>Do you find that your planting at the Capitol brings you new members?
>Umm, in Lucie Burley's iris society, everything brings in new members.
>Standing in line at the grocery store is a recruitment opportunity.
>We think our presence in the beds is better advertising than the beds
>themselves. We all talk to passers-by compulsively. But the beds allow us
>an annual shot at TV coverage and newspaper wild-art photos in spring.
>Lucie has us carry membership blanks on work crew days.
>>I guess it was
>>designed not only to look good but also to discourage those who might want
>>a souvenir.  Do you lose irises that way?
>We've only lost one plant in two years to theft. SUNSHINE BOY was ripped
>out in bloom, leaving his little roots poking out of the ground. We also
>wonder if vandals sometimes rearrange our namestakes. So we doublecheck

>them using our maps.
>Our plans include involving the membership in selecting newer cultivars to
>replace those that don't seem to like their location or plants that look
>too much like everything else or plants that we all decide are pug-ugly or
>smart-alecky plants with bad attitudes. We'll ask members to vote.
>We're toying with rewarding our hard workers with some sort of perk. We
>don't know what yet.
>We want to use the third Saturday session to involve youth members ... but
>we have none so far. Well, we have one, but she can't walk.
>And we're working with the state capitol groundskeeper (our new best
>friend!) to add a bit of off-season spot color with companion plantings,
>perhaps pansies in the winter.
>This April for the re-dedication of the beds and our 400-pound plaques, I
>wrote a history sketch which follows in another post.
>Little Rock, Arkansas, USDA Zone 7b
>257 feet above sea level,
>average rainfall about 50 inches (more than 60" in '97)
>average relative humidity (at 6 a.m.) 84%.
>moderate winters, hot summers ... but lots of seesaw action in all seasons
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