Campbell River, British Columbia 
 Gardening in Campbell River

Garden Thoughts for June

I probably shouldn't be writing about Irises this month. With my clay soil,lousy drainage, and overly shaded yard, I'm possibly the worst iris grower in
Campbell River. But, even though they bloom briefly, and spend the summer growing increasingly tatty, I love them and can't help adding more each year.

There are a few irises that I've had fairly good success with (and if they do well in my garden, you know they'll do well pretty much anywhere). The early dwarf irises are great. Many people grow the dark purple, and you should be able to scrounge a piece easily. This iris is a quick spreader,though not too quick, and does all right with less sun and more winter damp than other bearded irises. If you go to the local garden centres, you'll find a good selection of dwarf early irises, including a true sky blue, and a very pretty peach. Another plus with the dwarf irises is that if they do get brown and slug-chewed through the summer, their small leaves can be easily masked by growing something like perennial geraniums or coreopsis close by.

The taller bearded irises are divided by fanciers into subgroups such as intermediate, tall, and so on. They do all take the same basic care. These irises do best in well-drained soil, but they prefer rich soil to sand, and do need enough moisture. The easiest to grow is the common, unimproved, blue flag (that's what my Mum calls it, anyway). This is a medium lilac-y blue and has a lovely smell that's not unlike grape koolade. It blooms with the first roses and geraniums, and looks great with all the soft pinks,yellows and whites of early summer. In my shady backyard, I find it makes a great companion for blue, green and gold hostas. I've thrown some yellow grass into the mix and it looks terrific. (I've seen pictures of irises in an English garden that have been thickly interplanted with nigella and allium, and that's a super combination too.)

Most garden centres carry a full spectrum of the fancier irises, from my favourite mahogany, to midnight black, to wedding cake fantasies in pale pink and white. These irises are definitely worth a try, but most of the improved ones, like roses, are lacking in scent, and it's trial and error to find the varieties that will really thrive in our conditions.

Most people stop about here when thinking of irises, but there's still a wide range of other species to explore. There are yellow flags, a tall iris often sold as a pond plant. This one does really well in my back bed - dry all summer, soggy all winter seems to suit it to perfection. Iris forestii seems to enjoy these conditions too. I haven't tried Iris foetidissima yet.It apparently has bright orange seeds that stay on until fall. But somehow,I just can't bring myself to plant something that's named for it's fetid smell!

Well, I'm running out of room, and I haven't even got to the Japanese or Siberian Irises yet. (They are a key element of much of my planting, so I'll have to save them for a future column.) I hope you'll try a few new irises this year and do try them in different areas. Each one seems to have it's own preferences, and may surprise you.


Karen Barber is an architectural and landscape designer in Campbell River.

Her company is Madrona Design, which sponsors this Gardening in Campbell River webpage.

 Check out her site as she has added a discussion page to her website.
Like a BB where people can post questions etc. get there by clicking on the button below...

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