Monday, March 8, 2010

the Greek word for Rainbow

This past weekend brought us beautiful spring weather and I was able to spend about an hour working in the yard on Saturday. The area I focused on is the small perennial bed next to my mailbox at the street. This planting bed sits at the start of a swale that runs along the front of my property parallel to the street. It’s an odd sort of depression that’s difficult to mow; from day one I envisioned a sinuous planting bed of perennials and shrubs to replace the grass in the swale and provide a colorful front border for the house.

Several years ago I was renovating my grandfather’s Iris bed in Knoxville and the process of dividing his Iris yielded several mulch bags filled with rhizomes. The flower takes its name from the Greek word rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors available in the genus. Now I know that the Iris I planted bloom yellow and white. But at the time I planted my rhizomes, I had no idea what I might end up with.

Iris prefer full sun to bloom well, and they can grow very tall. I have seen some flower spikes reach 3-4’ in height. At the time I didn’t have a spot that I thought would work well for the Iris, so I decided to start my ‘swale’ planting bed. Turning a patch of grass into a planting bed is HARD work; when your lawn is comprised of Bermuda grass, it’s even harder.

I added a few daylilies to the front of the bed as well, given to me by my day-lily breeding uncle. The effect is quite nice with blooms from spring through summer. They actually bloomed well the first year, which was surprising. They had a good year last year, but I didn’t keep up with weeding very well. That’s why I pulled out two garbage bags of weeds (for the composter). Then I cut each Iris fan back to three or four inches from the ground. That is a maintenance task best performed in the fall, but I suppose it’s better late than never.

Next I’m going to mulch the bed with soil conditioner. Most Iris growers do not recommend mulching, because the rhizomes can rot so easily (especially in our humid climate). But I think a light top-dressing of soil conditioner improves the soil and looks really good. I’m still debating whether or not to fertilize this area since I don’t want to give the grass (weeds) a head start. Regardless, I’m looking forward to better maintaining the area and lots of blooms this year.

The attached picture was taken in 2008, and I sent my grandfather a copy of it. After my grandfather passed away last summer, I found this picture framed in his bedroom. Every time I see the Iris blooming, I think of him and his love of gardening.

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