Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Japanese iris have shaken out their crepe petticoats in matching sets of ballet costumes; clumps of each variety spreading with age, floriferous with sunny spring rain, names forgotten with translocation. I suddenly realize that I’ve had these 5 varieties over 2 decades but I actually (somehow) remember the name of one: `Peacock Dancer’ (above, centre) which is the one everyone loves, as do I. It’s graceful, less over-the-top, and the falls – large petals - open like tissue paper, near-white delicately lined by deep purple. Even the name is elegant, and suits the deep blue-violet standards and the somewhat tail-shaped falls.

Earlier in the season clumps of Crested Iris (Iris japonica, above left, an Evansia type from China and Japan) tossed up hundreds of near-white flowers followed by one of those nice surprises: a plant living up to its hype. I respect David Glenn (of Lambley Nursery) but tastes do, of course, differ. Often dramatically. When his plant Iris pallida `Amethystina’ (above right) flowered near my herbs recently I was pretty smitten. It is the softest of mauves; pallid, not amethyst exactly, the colour not wishy-washy but gentle. Unlike nearby Penstemon `Sour Grapes’, a dull creature with some gray tones mingled in its mauve, on floppy stems; bound for the compost heap.
Before now I’ve written (in July) of my pure ambivalence towards Siberian Iris (below, left) and my complete spring love of their deep blue presence (opposed to their messy autumn collapse which – then – I find unforgivable); recently they were pretty showy, at a height, proportion and sheer colour-wattage that just seem so superior to other perennials. This year, though, just as I was reflecting that the show seemed to be over after only 2 weeks or so, I noticed that some clumps here and there of iridescent sapphire Louisiana Iris (below, right) began flowering before all the Siberian Iris had waltzed away.

Louisiana Iris in the glistening truest of blue as well as less showy ivory-white and delicate, palest blue, were dancing merrily (if in clumsy costumes best far from the house and from close examination); and then just as they tired and left the stage, the current ballet of water-lovers began: `Peacock Dancer’ the prima donna (below), the others the chorus, in larger numbers.
Suddenly the front iris bed `works’; visitors heads turn as they arrive and I hope they feel that the garden is welcoming. (Well…no I don’t, precisely; I hope they are impressed as well. Humour me please; wallabies munching most plants make this happen so rarely… I think this is the first time, actually, in 2 decades, that it’s possible. It’s very pleasant.)
Moreover the fortnight of colour has extended to nearly 2 months followed by upright foliage – some evergreen – which has been a great source of pleasure.

I was checking one of my bulb books and saw the moniker `the spring garden’ (in Sissinghurst of course, where else? Other than Munstead Wood…) and thought immediately of calling my iris-dominated area just this. A bed of…let’s see, 7m by 3m. So yes, it is fairly much spring-related and yes, I have a country garden, large enough for seasonal areas (although I always swore I’d not do this, that in southern Victoria I can and shall  have flowers year-round in every part of the garden), but why do we like to copy others so slavishly? I laughed at myself after only half a minute (that’s my story, anyhow) and really this area is already part of my `sun and sky’ bed – more of a colour rule – so why change this end of it? I think we imitate when we want a bit of the magic we’ve seen elsewhere and we are afraid that we cannot do better.  Yep, we are unlikely to equal the famed gardens let alone better them but it’s fun to try and far better to create a unique picture than copy, surely. With the wizardry of nature on our side – this plant sulks unexpectedly, that self-sows sweetly – we are not only gifted charming gardens but fleeting images too. Unless you want rows of golden diosmas, that is. I don’t.

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