Thursday, September 27, 2018

Unusual Spring Bulbs: Dwarf Iris, Iris reticulata

Tulips and daffodils are classics but adding a few unusual choices can add a real flourish to the standard repertoire of spring bulbs. 

Dwarf Iris, Iris reticulata are among the earliest flowers to emerge each spring. The pictures you see here were taken in early to mid-April. 

These Dwarf Iris have delicate little blooms that somehow manage to withstand the frosty weather of early April alongside Crocus, Snowdrops, Winter aconite and Hellebores. Last year a late snowfall did damage some of the flower petals, but the flowers held their ground until the snow gave up and melted.

Dwarf or Netted Iris, Iris reticulata are native to Turkey, the Caucasus mountains of southeastern Russia, Northern Iraq and Iran. 

The flowers appear on leaf-less scapes. They have narrow upright standards and falls that fly outward and then down at the tips. These blooms are as silky as a fine lady's scarf and have a beautiful iridescent shine in the sunlight.

Dwarf Iris 'Clairette'

Plant the bulbs pointy end up.

Planting Dwarf Iris in the Garden

Dwarf Iris should be planted in the fall along with other bulbs like tulips and daffodils.

The pointy bulbs remind me a little of onion sets. When purchasing your Iris, bare in mind that these are relatively tiny flowers that can get lost even in a small garden, so plan to have groups of 10 or more bulbs for a more impressive show.

Dwarf Iris perform best in light soil that has excellent drainage. Plant the bulbs 3-4 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart. Full sun or part-shade.

Once the flowers fade the fine, grass-like foliage grows to a height of about 10-12 inches. The leaves are not terribly attractive at this stage but don't be tempted to cut them back. This green foliage feeds the bulbs that will produce next year's flower.

By early summer, the leaves have done their job. As the iris falls back into dormancy, the foliage begins to yellow. Other spring perennials will usually hide the unsightly leaves, but if they don't, you can now cut them back to the ground at this point.

Dwarf Iris bulbs can be lifted and divided after they bloom, but this extra work really isn't necessary. If the soil is relatively dry in the summer, tiny bulblets will form all on their own. They mature after a few years and will eventually produce new flowers.

Dwarf Iris 'Harmony' has royal-blue flowers with splashes of white and a yellow crest on each fall.

Plant type: Bulb

Height: 6-8 inches (15- 20 cm)

Spread: 3-5 inches (8-13 cm)

Main Flower Color: White, Yellow, Purple, Blue and Rusty-orange (with accents of other colors)

Lightly fragrant

Bloom period: April/May

Leaf: Thin green leaves

Light: Full sun or Part-shade

Companion Plants: Daffodils, Crocus, Snowdrops, Hellebores

Planting time: Fall

Deer resistant

Problems: None

USDA Zones: 5-9

Winter aconite and Snowdrops
Companion Plants

When massed Dutch Iris look great all on their own, but you can also mix them in with other bulbs that have complementary colors.

It's also a nice idea to accentuate the colors that typically mark iris flowers by choosing companion bulbs that are that same color. For example, play up the yellow crest of a royal blue Iris by planting yellow Winter Aconite.


Fancy Daffodil


Early risers are such a welcome sight at the end of a long Canadian winter! You know that spring is finally on its way when Dwarf Iris start to bloom. 

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Boys Learn to Swim (the hard way!)

Piper took just one look at the brown ducks gliding effortlessly across the mirror-smooth surface of the lake and he forgot all about his aversion to water.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while probably remember how much Scrap loves to play in the sprinklers.

Piper, on the other hand, absolutely hates the water. If he sees me pulling out the garden hose, he cowers on the porch until the tap is turned off and he knows the coast is clear.

A bath is his worst nightmare come true! If he thinks he’s about to be groomed and bathed, he plots his escape and hides from me.

In late August, we took a vacation trip to northern Ontario. Our destination was a campground just outside the town of Sturgeon Falls. 

A couple of hours north of Toronto the landscape changes quite perceptibly. The hills get taller and deciduous trees give way to pine and fur. Traffic thins out the further you go. If there was any doubt about the wildness of the landscape, yellow signs begin to pop up warning drivers about the possibility of encountering a wandering moose. 

Have you ever seen a moose? 

I haven't. The whole way north, I kept hoping we might catch a glimpse of these huge, lumbering creatures, but the only excitement we experienced was a family of wild turkeys scurrying from one side of the highway to the other.

After a long day in the car, the dogs were restless. The clerk manning the front desk at our hotel in North Bay told us there was a leash-free park nearby. Perfect! 

So off we went to Champlain Park on the shores of Lake Nipissing.

That's where Piper saw the brown ducks. Squirrels and large birds are enemies you ward off in Piper's mind. He took one look at the small flock of brown ducks and forgot all about his dislike of water.

The ducks weren't exactly worried about the barking dog. They simply moved a little further out into the lake and quack, quack, quacked their disdain from a safe distance.

 Scrap modeling a lifejacket.

Neither Piper nor Scrap can swim. Whenever we're out in our canoe, the boys sport canine lifejackets. Should they ever have the misfortune to tumble overboard, the lifejackets would keep them afloat.

It's a comfort to know that the lifevests would save their lives in such an eventuality, but they wouldn't spare the dogs from being in a state of complete panic. It would make it much easier on them if we could ease their fear of water.

So we didn't discourage Piper from charging into the water after the ducks that day. We even had them fetching the ball just off the shore at Lake Nipissing.

A bend in the Sturgeon River.

The following day we arrived at our final destination– the campground in Sturgeon Falls. After we unpacked our camp gear into the cute, one room cabin, we decided to go for a swim even though the grey clouds overhead were spitting rain.

Dogs were not permitted to swim at the campground's tiny beach, so we skipped the usual precaution of the lifejackets. When we discovered that we were the only crazy people swimming in the rain, we let them off-leash so they could watch us swim from the safety of the floating wharf.

Big mistake! The Sturgeon River is both wide and deep. A few feet from shore the sandy bottom drops away into deep, dark depths.

I bravely took the plunge into the cold water while my husband stayed behind with the two boys. The dogs were transfixed by the sight of me floating in the water. Barking madly, they followed me along the wharf jostling one another for the best vantage point.

Not five minutes later Scrap lost his balance and fell in. I am not sure who was more shocked him or me! You might think that instinct would kick in and Scrap would begin to dog paddle, but no. I watched with horror as he began to sink like a stone.

Thank goodness I was just inches away! I reached down and grabbed Scrap by the scruff of the neck. In one quick movement, I hauled him back up to the surface. 

Treading water, I held Scraps up as he recovered his composure. Unfortunately, he is almost 40 lbs. After a minute or so of treading frantically, I had to let go and pray he would swim on his own. As one final gesture of assistance, I propelled him in the direction of the shore.

Instinct finally kicked in and Scrap began to paddle the water furiously with his front paws. My husband, who had dashed into the water at the first sign of trouble, reached out and dragged him back to safety.

In hindsight, we should have foreseen the possibility that the dogs might accidentally fall in the water.  Lesson learned the hard way! From that moment on, we resolved to use the lifejackets whenever the dogs are anywhere near water.

Thankfully Scraps wasn't at all traumatized by his ordeal. In fact, he waded back into the river a couple of minutes after he was taken to shore. I guess if you're a furry beast cool water is always a relief in the heat of summer.

We put our new rule into practice the very next day. This time it was Piper fell into the Sturgeon River. You should have seen the look of shock on his little face!

The lifejacket did its job and kept his head up above the water. In this instance, instinct had enough time to register and Piper began to paddle. Unfortunately, he chose to head in the direction of the wharf floating high in the water rather than the safety of the beach, so he still needed rescue! Luckily the lifejackets have a handle across the back that allows you to lift the dog out of the water in a pinch.

Even if Piper eventually becomes a confident swimmer the brown ducks, like those on Lake Nipissing, have nothing to worry about. If threatened, they'd simply take to the air.

It's highly unlikely that Piper will ever learn to fly!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Yellow Wax Bells for Shade

Soft, butter-yellow flowers in early September are a great reason to grow Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata.

Initially, the flowers look a little like clusters of fat, round yellow berries. As they mature, the blooms elongate into a tubular, almost bell-like shape (hence the common name). Once they are spent, the flowers are replaced with curious-looking, three-horned, brownish-green seed pods.

This woodland perennial, native to the mountains of Japan and Korea, has stiff, upright stems and the round shape and proportions of a small shrub (fairly similar in size and shape to a common Spirea).

Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata is a great foliage plant for moist, part-shade. It has pendulous butter-yellow flowers and medium green foliage that is shaped like a maple leaf. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-8.

The attractive foliage is yet another reason to grow this plant. The large, medium-green leaves are coarsely toothed and deeply lobed. Wax bells are members of the Hydrangeaceae family, so not surprisingly, the foliage closely resembles that of an Oakleaf hydrangea.

As you can see from my photo, this plant is not immune to insect damage. Slugs and snails can be an issue.

One other issue with regard to the foliage is the danger of a sudden and unexpected dip in the temperature in the early spring. The emerging leaves can be blackened by a surprise frost. If this happens, you can cut the foliage back to the ground and your Wax Bells will recover. I prefer to cover my plant at night if there is a frost warning.

The heavy blooms of this perennial hang down making it advantageous to plant Wax Bells where they can be viewed on an upward angle. This is a lesson I learned the hard way! Originally I had them planted behind some shorter perennials and the flowers were entirely lost from view. So this spring, I moved my Wax Bells to a new hillside location where they overlook what will be a small waterfall and stream in the very near future.

In terms of light, my Wax Bells are planted on the outer edge of a tree canopy. They get a little sun in the morning and then they are in bright shade for the remainder of the day.

To make Yellow Wax Bells truly happy, you really need moist, rich soil. If your growing conditions are on the dry side, as they are in my garden, be prepared to water your plant regularly. A run of dry weather and the foliage of my Wax Bells sulks miserably. A top-dressing of mulch helps to a degree, but I find supplemental water is necessary in the hot, dry weather of mid-summer.

Plant Type: Perennial

Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches)

Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches)

Flower: Butter-yellow

Bloom period: Late summer/early fall

Leaf: Maple-shaped leaves

Light: Part-shade

Growing conditions: Moist, rich, somewhat acidic soil

Move or Divide: Spring

Problems: Slugs, snails and earwigs

USDA Zones: 5-8

Companion Plants

Yellow Wax Bells work with any woodland plant, perennial or bulb that likes moist, part-shade.

Spring perennials might include:
• Primula 
• Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
• Foam Flowers (Tiarella)
• Virginia Blue Bells (Mertensia virginica)
• Wood Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
• Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
• Bloodroot, (Sanguinaria canadensis)
• Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
• Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
• Geum

 Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' 

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Leucojum aestivum, Brunnera variegata

Foam Flowers (Tiarella)

Spring bulbs might include: 
• Snowdrops
• Camassia
• Daffodils
• Erythronium 'Pagoda'
• Anemone blanda
• Fritillaria
• Leucojum aestivum

Very much a work in progress! The waterfall will eventually start just behind the Lobelia (#3) and will flow into a small stream. It will pass under two footbridges and empty into a pond on the other side of the yard. Plants already in place include:
1. Dogwood tree 2. Ninebark shrub 3. Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 4. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart') 5. Self-seeded Pulmonaria 6. Miniature Hosta 7. Geum 8. Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) 9. Astilbe 'Chocolate Shogun' 10. Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' 11. Carex 12. Hydrangea Paniculata 'Little Lime' (that I just about killed when I forgot to water it during one of the recent dry spells!) 13. Repeated Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) 14. Brunnera (with a couple of miniature hosta at its feet that will eventually need to be moved.) 15. Yellow Wax Bells (Kirengeshoma palmata). The purple flowers (not numbered) are Phlox 'Purple Flame'.

Dwarf Goat's Beard, Aruncus 'Misty Lace'

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 

Piper on the second bridge swishing the Eupatorium 'Chocolate' with his tail. 

Astilbe 'Shogun' and two types of Heuchera

The blooms of Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' start off white and then age
 into shades of cream and rose.

Summer/fall options might include:
• Ferns (Japanese and native)
• Heuchera
• Ligularia
• Perennial Lobelia
• Goat's Beard (Aruncus) 
• Hydrangea
• Monarda
• Phlox
• Native Lobelia
• Eupatorium 'Chocolate'
• Bugbane (Actea simplex)

You may have to do a little searching to find Yellow Wax Bells, but I think you'll find that they are well worth the hunt (P.S. A local source would be Lost Horizons just outside of Acton)!

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