Sunday, 6 November 2016

winter iris

It has just begun to rain, driving me in from the garden.  I had better write my blog post now because I am going out later to a Suffolk Villages concert in Boxford and when I come in again then, like Caliban and The Sweeney, I shall want my dinner.  In truth there is not much to blog about.  I went to Waitrose, and then I did some gardening, and then it rained.  The End.

I have been tidying the Iris unguicularis under the south wall of the house.  This is the winter flowering iris, which you will find called Iris sylosa in some old books.  The first couple of flowers have already appeared, making me think I had better try and get it cleaned up ready for the main display and before I risk damaging the emerging buds poking about in it.  The flowers are a delight, of classic iris form, not too big, and carried over a period of months.  They are prone to attack by snails, but apart from that they are perfect.  The leaves, on the other hand, are a bit messy at best. They die so badly, and before they die completely they go yellow and brown at the tips and look rank.

It's the leaves that let down many monocotylenous plants (that's the ones with long strap shaped leaves).  Take the Watsonia that are living so happily in the gravel, at least until we get a cold winter.  Their ever-increasing clumps of dark green, sword shaped leaves would be quite handsome if only they would not fill up with dead brown ones needing to be cut out.  Questing Libertia peregrinans does the same thing.  I once saw my mother's eyes light up with speculative intent as they fell upon its charming, olive green and russet leaves, only to lose interest the moment she heard it required grooming.  Deciduous Agapanthus is more obliging, its leaves turning to mush no more substantial than the faded leaves of hyacinths in mid summer, but the iris hangs on to its old leaves for years, as they turn ever paler and wispier without ever actually shrivelling and disappearing.

The answer is patience and scissors.  If you work your way through the patch of iris, clump by clump, snipping and pulling the old leaves out and collecting up any other leaves that have blown in there plus the dead snail shells, and the live snails if you are so inclined, at the end of it the iris will look much better.  You will have lost a couple of hours of your life and may have backache and sore knees, but you may feel better too.  Nothing to do now except wait for the flowers.  Iris unguicularis does not like being moved.  It likes sun and to bake.  There are those who say you should cut the leaves to half their length in the summer to allow it to bake more thoroughly, but I have not found it likes that particularly, and it will not solve the cosmetic problem of the old leaves.  Baking, sharp drainage, maybe a little blood, fish and bone once in a blue moon, and to be left alone apart from a spot of annual grooming, that is what the winter flowering iris needs.

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