Two of my newly planted broccoli disappeared overnight. The culprit ? It could have been birds but I suspect the baby rabbit I’ve seen lolloping in the garden recently. Like irises the rabbit population is exploding in Central Otago this year. Go walking in the evening, as we did a couple of nights ago, and on the path by the lake dozens were playing hopscotch – black ones, grey ones, baby ones, giants. Our neighbour borrowed a rabbit-hunting dog last week. We need it again. Fast.
Luckily rabbits haven’t yet developed a taste for irises and though the bearded irises in my garden are almost over, various species are making a late appearance. Plants I thought I had lost are flourishing and flowering in places I’m sure I didn’t plant them.
One of the reasons I’m slightly obsessive about irises is the fact that because I grow a wide variety of species I usually have at least one – but usually heaps more – blooming in the garden from July to December. If I could only get Iris unguicularis var.creticus to flower I could extend that by a month earlier.
Not the kind of flowers to make a glorious statement, these species irises are plants that tempt you into the garden each day to peer at close quarters to find out if anything new has appeared. It usually has.
Great was my excitement this morning when I found Iris milesii in flower in the street garden – this being the garden outside our wall and technically on council land. It’s where I go to plant when I’ve run out of space around the house. This iris is a slender plant, about 40cm tall, a member of the evansia group of irises. It’s not nearly as robust as a bearded iris but the flower is dainty and fragile, a pretty mauve colour with a fairly flat face not unlike an orchid. Most of the day this plant is in shade and where I had one of these precious flowers a few years ago, there is now a small clump with several more buds ready to burst open.Iris milesii originated in China and the Himalaya. It goes into a dormant phase during the winter months and as all the leaves of the plant fade, the rhizome lies bare on the soil surface.
Also out in the street garden is Iris graminea. It was banished there because it took up space I needed in my garden proper. Most of the year it’s hard to recognise this plant as an iris. Deciduous in the winter it grows in springtime as a spreading grassy clump, about 40 cm high, and the buds when they form, are difficult to see as they hide down amongst the finely cut foliage, opening up on the outside of the plant first before gradually opening in the centre of the clump.
Iris graminea belongs to the spuria group of irises and beside a voluptuous bearded specimen the flower looks starved. But I like it for its slender, spare purple petals and the fine blue markings on the end of its falls.
Iris sintenisii is even smaller than I. graminea and I grow mine in a hypa tufa pot I made many years ago. Each year when it flowers it takes me by surprise. No sooner have the buds formed than it opens into flower. A couple of days later it’s gone. Maybe because the flowers of these three irises are short-lived they seem more precious.
Another fragile iris that won my heart years ago is Iris chrysographes. It’s a gorgeous velvety purple, a classic slender shape on a narrow stem about 50-60 cm tall. Last year numerous flowers appeared and for at least a week I gloried in the arrival of a new bloom every day. This year, contrary to all the other irises in my garden, this iris has almost vanished which sometimes happens in a garden as crowded as mine. Each year I promise myself to thin out the jungle and just maybe last autumn I dug up the small rhizomes of this dainty iris. One lonely bloom appeared about a week ago. Let’s hope it sets seed as many of my plants do – even several hybrid iris varieties which theoretically are supposed to only increase by vegetative means.