Posts Tagged Bearded Iris

A Passion for Purple

Chives and friends

Chives and friends

Color in the garden is a personal choice, and you will find entire books devoted to this subject. Personally, my eye is not offended by a rainbow of blooms of many species decorating my landscape, but I know that some gardeners with a perhaps more finely tuned aesthetic sensibility prefer to coordinate flower colors with more precision. In my landscape, however, pretty much anything goes.

That being said, I do have a special fondness for the color purple in all its myriad shades. Purple has always been a favorite color of mine, and because it is a mix of red and blue, I think it serves to help many other colors blend harmoniously in my landscape. Truthfully, I don’t much think about harmony when I add another purple-blooming and/or purple-leaved plant to my landscape. I just don’t seem to ever get enough variations on purple to stop me from wanting more.

The chive flowers above are on the lavender side of purple, but they still say “purple” to me. The red flowers in the distant background are those of Crimson Clover, a winter cover crop I sow to protect and enrich dormant vegetable beds.

The bit of delicate bronze/red/purple foliage in the back right corner of the photo is Bronze Fennel. The leaves of this herb are a subtle purple-red. The plant grows to about three feet, then sends up zillions of flower stalks that add another two feet to its height. Leaves impart a delicate anise scent/flavor to the nose and palate. It draws admiration from all visitors and requires no work on my part. I grow it for its beauty, and to serve as a food source for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail. We have a deal: they leave my carrots and dill alone, and they can have all the Bronze Fennel they want. The fennel always survives without significant impact, and I get more butterflies — win-win!

Today, I want to show you some of the purple plants currently (or recently) showing off in my landscape. I think they all bring passion to my garden.

Siberian iris, cultivar forgotten

Siberian iris, cultivar forgotten

Spring is iris season in my yard. I love all of them, but the three main types I grow are Siberian, bearded, and Louisiana. I’ve lost track of the name of the cultivar of the above Siberian iris, but its gorgeousness doesn’t need a name, does it? Irises thrive in my yard, I think because they receive nothing but benign neglect from me. If you make sure their rhizomes aren’t too deeply buried and that they get at least four hours of sun a day, the Siberian and bearded varieties do the rest of the work, multiplying steadily every year.

Here’s another Siberian iris whose cultivar name I’ve lost:

On the magenta side of purple, another Siberian beauty.

On the magenta side of purple, another Siberian beauty.

Bearded iris remind me of my mother and her mother. Both always grew lovely irises, mostly the pale lavender ones that smelled like bubblegum to my nose. I grow somewhat fancier ones. I invested in several varieties about twenty years ago, and they’ve been multiplying and beautifying ever since.

I knew its cultivar name once, long ago.

I knew its cultivar name once, long ago.

And here’s another one in the purple family:

Delicate in color and form, but actually quite sturdy and long-lasting in the landscape.

Delicate in color and form, but actually quite sturdy and long-lasting in the landscape.

I’ve showed you my other bearded iris variety before. This one’s name I remember, because it is named for how it looks:

Bearded Iris 'Batik' was a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law many long years ago. Thanks again, Jerree.

Bearded Iris ‘Batik’ was a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law many long years ago. Thanks again, Jerree.

My bearded irises are just finishing their bloom period, and the Siberians are about half done. But just yesterday, my Louisiana iris cultivars began their blooming cycle. Louisiana irises originated from that part of the US, but I’m not clear on the history of this type. I do know that they thrive in wet conditions, which is why I added them to some of the soggier parts of my floodplain, and one cultivar is planted beside the water feature in my front yard, where I can be sure it gets extra water.

The Louisiana iris by my front water feature is especially lovely. Its first bloom opened yesterday during a brief sunny spell between rain showers.

Louisiana Iris, cultivar forgotten

Louisiana iris, cultivar forgotten

Although it looks a bit pinkish in this photo, its color is really in more of the magenta family. I think it looks especially fabulous surrounded by my Tradescantia cultivar ‘Sweet Kate,’ which is in stunning full bloom right now. A happy accident on my part is the way the yellow center of the iris echoes the color of Sweet Kate’s foliage.

Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Sweet Kate, so you can more fully appreciate them:

Sweet Kate draws admiration from every visitor who sees her.

Sweet Kate draws admiration from every visitor who sees her.

After I noticed the above iris blooming, I made a quick hike to the floodplain and discovered that the water-loving varieties down there are just opening. They will bloom in waves for several weeks, especially if the wonderful rains keep coming.

A truly purple, well lavender anyway, Louisiana Iris

A truly purple, well lavender anyway, Louisiana Iris

I don’t just love purple flowers, however. I’m also a huge fan of purple-leaved plants. Most of these have new leaves that start out purplish, then morph into green that might be tinged with purple. But some plants retain leaves that are distinctly in the purple family. Take for example, this ridiculously enormous Loropetalum:

At its feet is long-blooming, almost indestructible Verbena 'Homestead Purple.'

At its feet is long-blooming, almost indestructible Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Many Piedmonters have fallen in love with the native Redbud cultivar, Forest Pansy. If you site the tree so that it doesn’t get too much direct afternoon sun, the leaves will remain purplish all season.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy.' Of course, the spring flowers of this tree also feed my passion for purple.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy.’ Of course, the spring flowers of this tree also feed my passion for purple.

One other purple-leaved beauty that I haven’t written about yet is Cotinus ‘Grace.’ It has been adorning my landscape for at least fifteen years now, and I really must show you its flowers and cotton candy puffs of pale pink seed heads when they appear this year. The contrast between leaves, flowers, and seed heads is made more dramatic by the distinctly purple color of the leaves.

Cotinus 'Grace.' If you click to enlarge the photo, you can just make out the just-emerging flower stalks.

Cotinus ‘Grace.’ If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the just-emerging flower stalks.

These are a few of the purple highlights of my landscape at the moment. Even the wildflowers get into the act this time of year. The Lyreleaf Sage, for example, is currently adorning all parts of my lawn. But for now, I’ll close with another favorite purple perennial:

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’

This cultivar was developed by the talented folks at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, then introduced into the horticulture industry, so that gardeners everywhere can enjoy it. The only trick to this beauty is to plant it exactly where it will thrive, because it doesn’t do well when you try to relocate it. Baptisias thrive in sunny, well-drained sites, reflecting their heritage as prairie natives. Site them wisely, and your reward will be ever-expanding, trouble-free plants adorned by long-blooming spires of lovely lavender pea-like flowers. What more could anyone afflicted by a passion for purple desire?


, , , , , , , , ,


My Secret Weapon: Wonder Spouse Photography

Winterhazel flower cluster close-up

All avid gardeners have their secrets for producing a great garden. Some of us save our own seed and bulbs, nurturing a plant line until it is maximally adapted to flourish in our garden. I know a farmer’s market vendor who has done this with the garlic variety he sells. Garlic can be tricky to grow in the middle of NC, but he has laboriously saved the best bulbs from his crops every year, until now his entire crop laughs at the wild swings in temperature and moisture levels that challenge growers in my region.

Some gardeners add secret ingredients to their soils that they swear improve the vigor of their plants. Others plant only on certain phases of the moon. The list of gardening tricks and secrets is likely as long as the list of experienced gardeners.

I have my own little secrets and tips, many of which I have shared here. Early on, I realized my greatest asset — my secret blogging weapon, if you will — is the magnificent photography of Wonder Spouse.  The best photos on this blog are all ones he has taken of the plants and animals who dwell with us on our five-acre patch of North Carolina Piedmont.

In going through my files today, I realized that he had given me a number of gorgeous photos that, for one reason or another, I haven’t shown you. Today, I am rectifying that oversight by sharing some of Wonder Spouse’s recent work, starting with that opening image.  To fully appreciate these photos, click on them to see enlarged versions.

He took that close-up of a cluster of Winterhazel flowers in the middle of March. It took his artistry (and his fancier camera) to convey what I tried to describe to you here.

In mid-April, he took this gorgeous shot of a flower bud cluster of Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ before the flowers opened:

Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

Even at this stage, you can tell it’s going to be a knock-out. I showed you an open bloom cluster from this year here and told you more about this cultivar here.

At the end of April, Wonder Spouse took several breath-taking photos that I want to share. This first is of an evergreen rhododendron that was growing beside our back deck when we moved in 23 years ago. I think it’s R. maximum, the species common to our mountains, and I doubt it’s a named cultivar. Somehow, it has managed to flourish beneath the enormous Northern Red Oak that towers over our home. This shrub is now twelve or so feet high and eight feet wide, and it blooms reliably despite near complete neglect on my part. Here’s Wonder Spouse’s shot of an open flower cluster during peak bloom last week:

A pollinator enjoys R. maximum flowers

Wonder Spouse is a big fan of Amaryllis cultivars. Many years ago, we bought several choice varieties, and they’ve been multiplying in their pots ever since. I overwinter them in the greenhouse and bring them inside or decorate our back deck with them when their thick bloom stalks appear. Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Amaryllis ‘Picotee’ that are still blooming on our back deck:

Each flower is about six inches across and equally long

To close, I want to share this “glamour shot” of one of the bearded iris varieties that thrive in our yard despite my less-than-optimal care. I’ve long forgotten the cultivar name, but the flowers are a lovely coppery orange color. I cut a stalk full of buds and put it in a vase on our kitchen counter, where we could appreciate its beauty and its gentle, sweet scent. One evening last week, Wonder Spouse was inspired by the effect of the overhead counter light on the iris bloom. Without bothering with a tripod, he photographed this iris in our darkened house. I think you’ll agree he captured the essential exquisiteness of this bloom:

Beauty caught between light and darkness

Thus, I have revealed my blogging secret weapon for all to see: the photography of the amazingly versatile Wonder Spouse. He makes our garden and yard look far better than I ever could show you with my pictures or words, and I deem myself the most fortunate of gardeners to be able to call upon his many talents.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: