GARDENING BY RONELLA: Spring’s blooming bulbs and the tall bearded iris
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Apr 18, 2013 | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Soon an old favorite will be budding, the tall bearded iris. There are several kinds of iris, all worth growing, but for most of us, the old favorite from Grandma’s garden is the tall bearded iris. The ones most of us remember from childhood were the purple or lavender ones. I remember well the perfume of Ma’s iris in a vase on her dining room table. I would stick my nose down into the center and come up with a yellow nose but who cared. They smelled so good. Once, every garden had groups of them. Now, there are so many colors and shades to boggle the mind. There are even variegated ones.

These old favorites can’t be beat for ease of culture and their ability to withstand neglect. But they do need just a bit of attention. They are strong growers so they need to be divided every two to five years to get the maximum blooms. If not divided, they will choke themselves to death. The time to divide iris is soon after they finish blooming so they will be established before next spring. This allows for a succession of strong plants and sturdy blooms.

When you divide, remove all the old weak roots and throw them away. Leave about three roots to a clump. After transplanting, cut the leaves back about half to relieve stress on the roots. Never cut the leaves back at any other time. I can’t stress this too much.

The iris rhizomes do not need rich soil, will not tolerate manure and thrive on hillsides or raised beds. Full sun is best or perhaps a bit of shade for a short time. They must not have chemical fertilizer or mulch. If you are digging a new bed, you might add some well rotted manure, so old it is pulverized, and a little wood ash. Some growers use a little bone meal. There is an old gardening saying that any soil that will grow corn, will be good for iris.

The iris has only two enemies: the iris borer and root rot, both of which you will notice as a mushy root. They need to be dug out at once and destroyed. The eggs lie dormant in the dead leaves and in spring will hatch out at flowering time. Enough about iris.

After gardening for many years, I came to believe that growing temperamental, hard to grow plants is just not for me. I have always loved spring flowering bulbs mostly because they require little care from me. Some spring beauties I would suggest are crocus, glory in the snow, snowflakes, grape hyacinths and scillas. The easiest to grow of all spring bulbs is, of course, the narcissi (jonquil or daffodil), which have just about all the attributes.

Just now, all these spring blooming bulbs are very welcome.

In spring, my thoughts turn to my grandmother, Ma Lewis, more than usually because she so enjoyed the flowers and flowering shrubs as they started to bloom. She loved to pick her flowers for bouquets for the house and also for the little cemetery. This week I got a call from an old admirer of Ma’s and she talked about how she enjoyed going to Ma’s when she would meet the mail carrier on the road in front of the old Lewis house. She talked about how, as just a girl, she admired Ma and loved to look at her potted plants along the old porch. She especially loved the asparagus ferns, which were really huge. It is so seldom that I can talk with anyone who knew Ma well because it’s been many years since she passed away. So I really loved to hear Barbara talk about how she admired my grandmother. She was a very special lady.

One special spring event at the old Lewis home was the arrival of a box of special eggs for Ma to set under an old “setting hen”. She loved Rhode Island Red chickens and those were the only chickens she raised when I was a child. She even sent for a couple of baby roosters, believe it or not, and they came in a cardboard carton and must have cost her quite a bit. The mail carrier would deliver the eggs or baby chickens and Ma would watch carefully for the mail carrier. We would go down to the road and carefully carry the box up to the house. It was a really exciting time for a little girl who loved all animals.

Ma often furnished eggs from her pure bred chickens to the neighbor women to set under their old hens. What I remember most about her fine chickens was how big and mean the roosters were.

So there were many exciting things going on at Ma and Pa’s in spring and I thought I should be there for everything.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with questions and suggestions or even just to reminisce.
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