Sunday, 9 April 2017

sprucing up the bog bed

Today's papers brought a warning that farmers in the eastern counties were going to have to start irrigating their crops two to four weeks earlier than normal, and those that did not have farm reservoirs but took their water directly out of the rivers could be limited in how much they could extract, while there have been couple of heath fires in Suffolk over the weekend.  A Met Office spokeswoman was quoted in The Times as saying that we had been spoiled by having such good weather and would notice when temperatures returned to normal next week.  It depends on what you regard as good weather.  I damped down the greenhouse and cold frame several times during the day, and watered some flagging seedlings at lunchtime, but I am afraid that some of them have still cooked.  Freak hot days in early April may be good if you want to sunbathe on Brighton beach, but they are something to dread when you have trays of tiny plants grown from seed.

In between fussing over the greenhouse I carried on weeding and watering the bog bed, that has sadly ceased to be a bog.  I decided a while back that a large patch of iris that was spreading militantly far beyond anything I imagined when I planted it would have to go.  Due to less than perfect labelling and record keeping I am not entirely sure which it is, probably 'Roy Davidson' or 'Tiger Brother', but whereas I bought them fondly imagining that they had the yellow flag iris somewhere in their ancestry and would spread a bit, it turned out to have almost all the terrifying vigour of the straight species.  The flowers were lovely, yellow laced and overlaid with brown, and I am a sucker for brown iris flowers, but the plant itself was a menace, overwhelming another, more restrained iris, two or three clumps or Sanguisorba, and most of the Primula florindae.

I advanced on it with fork and pick axe, not sure how brutal a removal job it was going to be.  You never know until you try.  Some things that you think would dig out fairly easily turn out to have entrenched themselves with tough roots going half way to Australia.  Other things that you imagine are going to be a real battle to extract almost pop out of the ground with a neat, defined rootball. The iris turns out not to have very deep or strong roots, so although the rhizomes are fat and in the centre of the patch extremely congested, still with careful positioning of the fork you can lever them up one at a time.  I toyed with the idea of simply reducing the clump, since the flowers are so pretty, but decided that there was a limit to how many invasive plants I had time to keep on top of, and the iris did not make the cut.  Its other annoying habit is that the leaves spread rather than growing upwards in nice, near vertical accents.  It makes the shape of the plant less interesting than many other types of iris, and means that even a moderate area of root takes up a disproportionate amount of space in the bed.

I found a few valiant remnant Primula florindae hanging on to life in the middle of the clump, another reason to prise it out carefully with a fork rather than going at it energetically with an axe.  I couldn't help disturbing them, though, and watered them before packing up for the day.    I got three more from Long Acre Plants as I was paying postage on the ferns order anyway, but they set me back three pounds thirty each, and I should like several more than three.  Primula florindae has the common name of Himalayan Cowslip (though you are safer sticking to Primula florindae then there can be no ambiguity or confusion) and produces tall stems of scented yellow flowers towards the end of the primula season.  It does like it wet, though.  At the Edinburgh botanic gardens we saw them growing in the bed of an (artificial) stream in an area devoted to Himalayan plants, and when the bog bed was a bog P. florindae was very happy and seeded itself.  It remains to be seen if it will be satisfied with occasional watering, which is another reason not to go mad and buy loads all at once.

The balance of the bed began to look immediately better as the iris began to disappear.  I always feel a pang having to abolish a healthy plant, but it was too domineering, too big and coarse and spreading for its position.  I was surprised though relieved to find the Sanguisorba still clinging on to life under the suffocating embrace of the iris, and can already imagine how that corner could look with airier and more restrained planting.  At least realising that you have planted a stupid iris is not so bad as realising that you have planted a stupid and inappropriate tree.

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