Have You Any Native Iris in Your Garden?

The Cheerful Gardener says...

It seems fitting, since this newsletter is called "The Cheerful Iris", that the first edition should uncover the beauty of the native Californian Iris. Read our article and learn how to use this beautiful plant in your garden. Tell your neighbors and friends about it. And even better, as your plant will grow larger every year, you can divide it and spread its beauty into other parts of your garden. And who knows, you might even be persuaded to part with one or two to a friend.

California is beautiful in the Spring, so get out there and go see some wildflowers and gardens. Soon it will be too hot in most parts of the state to do much outside except sit in the shade, drink lemonade, and plan a planting list for the Fall. If you'd like a tip on where to go and what to see, look in our list of gardens. And, we are compiling a list of wildflower walks, to appear soon on our website, watch for this exciting list!

As you enjoy the beauty that is all around you, don't forget to do your part to extend that beauty and bring a small piece of it to your garden. Start one plant at a time. When a non-native plant dies, think of a suitable native plant replacement. If you can't find one that fits, don't hesistate to contact us and we promise to find a suitable selection.

And, please, help us sustain this work and effort, tell your friends about this website, forward this magazine, and visit us again. And, as always, send us feedback, reply to this email, and we promise to listen.

-Radhika
Founder--Native Again Landscape LLC

Bring The Cheerful Iris to Your Garden

In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of rainbow and considered to be a messenger of love. The Greeks therefore, planted Iris on the grave of a loved one. This beautiful plant family Iridaceae is amply represented in California. The Pacific Coast Iris, as they are collectively known, can be showy and spectacular in bloom. Depending on the location and variety, blooms appear from Spring to early Summer, with a flowering period that spans about 3 weeks.

Purple Iris douglasiana landscaped near rock and Manzanita

Some Varieties:
One of the most popular and most easily available variety is the Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana). The color variations in Iris douglasiana are wonderful. In the wild they grow in Coastal Prairie, Mixed Evergreen Forests, and other coastal conditions. Buy them in bloom if possible so you are assured of the color you want, or from a reliable nursery. The variety 'Canyon Snow' is white with yellow centers, a gorgeous flower and one of my favorites. Bloom time in the Bay Area is typically April, and it will appear a few weeks sooner in Southern California and hotter regions of the state.

Iris douglasiana Canyon Snow--first bloom of the season

An iris that is native to the San Francisco bay area is Iris longipetala (Long-Petaled Iris). It grows in moist grassy coastal areas in the Central and North-Western part of the state. It likes good drainage and moisture, but it can tolerate summer dryness along the coast, where it is cooler. In hotter inland locations it will require regular summer water. The flowers on this plant have dark purpled-veins on a lighter background.

A good drought-tolerant substitute for Iris longipetala is Iris macrosiphon (Ground Iris or Long-tubed Iris). This one grows in sunny meadows and grasslands and open woodland areas. It has narrow bluish leaves and a wide range of flower colors.

If you are looking for a yellow-colored flower, then look no further than Iris innominata (Del Norte County Iris). It also requires regular summer water, good drainage and part-shade. It is a smaller plant and can be used in rock gardens. It grows on serpentine soil a little more inland than the coastal iris.

Design Notes and Location:
Most varieties are evergreen, so they retain their interesting grass-like, but broader leaves all year. This can serve well, when constrasted against other thinner-leaved grasses and sedges, or in front of smaller shrubs in a design. The native iris are versatile and work well in drought-tolerant meadow plantings, on hill-sides for soil stabilization, and in shallow soil under trees, in dappled shade. I have seen large patches of iris blooming and looking beautiful in the shade of oaks and madrones.

Soil, Climate, and Growing Tips:
Most California native iris require good soil drainage, so plant in raised berms or in soil mixed in with some lava rocks. Iris douglasiana is clay-tolerant, but provide the best drainage possible by planting the bulb close to the surface to prevent rot and on at least a slightly raised berm. This is the easiest one to grow in the Bay Area, and also the easiest to kill by planting it in a low spot where water can puddle. Most Iris (except Ground Iris) need some shade to stay cheerful. So, plant them in part shade and provide no summer water which can rot the roots. They should preferably not be fertilized, and neither should the soil be amended with nitrogen-rich material like manure.

Resources:
Iris douglasiana is now available in most nurseries so check your local nursery or use one of the online nurseries on our nursery listing. CNPS plant sales (check www.cnps.org for your local chapter) in the Spring and Fall are a good place to shop. Iris longipetala is not easy to find in native nurseries, try Iris macrosiphon instead which is carried by Bay Natives nursery and others.

If you are thinking of planting a meadow garden and want to incorporate Iris, or, you are just in love with bulbs then a must-have book is "Wild Lilies, Irises, and Grasses--Gardening with California Monocots" edited by Nora Harlow and Kristin Jakob, and published by University of California Press.

Where To See Wildflowers in the Bay Area

If you were always interested in wildflowers and enjoyed hiking in the many preserves and never knew the names of any of the flowers, then that is like me. I did that for years before I started to sign up for guided walks and started learning all the names. Along the way I bought an eye-glass (to count stamens, look closely at bugs, and such), and a few books. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, here are some places where you can still go to see some nice wildflowers.

At Arastradero Preserve Sambucus mexicana with cream flowers (Mexican Elderberry) among Oaks


A Wildflower Trip to the Central-Sierras

Mentzelia lindleyi (Blazing Star) off Highway 168, East of Fresno

I went on a trip to the Central-Sierras on a trip led by Glenn Keator, a pre-eminent California botanist. It was fantastic and I took tons of photos. I will post a blog and a slide-show on this trip fairly soon, check back!

Carpenteria californica (Bush Anemone) in bloom off Highway 168, East of Fresno


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The Cheerful Iris Issue#001: May 28th, 2009

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