Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Spice of Life

I have a large variety of columbines growing in a shade area of my garden this year, and I am thrilled! My first spring here I tried sowing a bunch of columbine seeds in a shady area under the Douglas firs, but some overzealous mow-and-blow crew members grubbed the little seedlings out with a grub hoe, thinking they were weeds.

So I tried again, and when the seedlings popped up, I covered them with cages made of hardware cloth, to make sure it didn't happen again. Last year I had plenty of leaves, but not many flowers.

This year -- Wham! So many different colors and flower types!

Short, tall, double, single, frilly -- and everything in between.

Second only to daylilies, columbines are one of my favorite flowers. I tried to get a patch of them going in my old garden, and I basically succeeded, but they never looked like this!

Did I mention I'm thrilled?

Wouldn't you be?

Wordless Wednesday -- Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday, May 2012 -- Pacific Coast Iris

One of the first plants I ever planted in my new Washington garden was Pacific Coast iris. I got it at a plant swap, with no idea what it was. I grew two kinds of iris in my old garden back in Massachusetts -- Iris reticulata, which bloomed every spring with the crocuses, and a tall purple bearded iris that came with our house when we first bought it. They both seemed and looked pretty exotic to me, and the idea of an iris that was native to North America was a revelation to me.

Pacific Coast iris is a wild beardless iris native to California, Oregon and Washington. There are 11 different wild species, also called "Pacificas", that can be crossed to make many intriguing hybrids with enhanced disease resistance, especially attractive colors and growth patterns, or longer blooming seasons.

There is a group called the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris, a sub-group of the American Iris Society, that is dedicated to this iris. You can check it out here.

It's a favorite of mine now, I very much look forward to it blooming every year. It has spread well. I'm thinking this winter I may have to dig and divide it, and spread its beauty around, probably into the new gravel garden, which sounds like it will be a perfect spot for it. Winter is the time to divide it here, with care taken not to leave its rhizomes exposed for too long. Unlike bearded irises, which can survive out of the ground for quite a while, even be left to dry out somewhat and still thrive when planted again, Pacific Coast irises must be replanted as quickly as possible, so that the little root hairs don't dry out.

Like many other Pacific Coast native plants, they are well adapted to our cycle of wet winters and dry, moderately warm summers. They like well-drained soil, but can manage with being wet all winter. But they will not like being kept wet all summer as well. Their foliage is evergreen but can be neatened up by cutting back in winter, like epimediums and hellebores.

I think I have four different varieties, three of which are currently blooming. They all had name tags when I first got them at the swap, but those tags have faded and disappeared since then.

Some are much more frilly than others, and some have a leanness to them that appeals to me. There are lots of named Pacific Coast iris hybrids that have much more flamboyant color patterns and frills than mine. Like tall bearded irises, they like to be planted with their crown just emerging from the surface of the soil. Their slender leaves and simple look (compared to exotic bearded irises), make them excellent candidates for a woodland garden.

Most Pacific Coast iris hybrids have as their parent Iris douglasiana (one of the 11 Pacificas mentioned above).  In the wild Douglas' iris grows on hillsides and cliffs near the coast at low elevations. Like many West Coast natives, it is named after the explorer and botanist David Douglas. In fact, it's one way I recognize West Coast natives, by checking out whether one of our region's explorers is given credit in the Latin name of the plant. Douglas spent ten years exploring, collecting and classifying plants of the Pacific Northwest, and our iconic huge conifer the Douglas fir is named after him.

I love the veining on the falls of these irises.

When I first got them, I had no clue where to put them so they would thrive. I wasn't familiar enough with my new garden to know where the moist spots were, and where the sunny spots were. I just plunked them down, and by pure dumb luck, they loved it there!

Like columbines, Pacific Coast iris tend to interbreed indiscriminately.

Every year, mine form seed pods, but I usually cut them off when I cut them back in the late fall/early winter. Some day I'm going to save the seeds, and sow them, and see what I get.

The very heavy rain we've had lately has beaten this poor thing into submission

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail Eichelberger of the blog clay and limestone. Check out the link to see other posts about wildflowers.