Mark and Shirley Cline’s Garden Full of Iris
One of my favorite adventures is to visit new gardens. Too often it is only a quick visit to a new nursery. While this can be fun, it is much better to visit a friend’s garden, especially one that specializes in growing selective plants. Mark and Shirley Cline have just such a garden. Their garden has been growing and evolving for over 50 years. They have some truly beautiful old plants such as a female Holly, which was in full bloom for my visit, and a just maturing Ginkgo. The Ginkgo was a good 30 feet tall which means it is probably as old as the pyramidal shaped Holly.
Mark and Shirley have both been extremely active in the local garden club affectionately named SIDHDIS. The shorthand stands for Southern Indiana Daylily, Hosta, Daffodil and Iris Society. It is quite a mouthful. Most prefer to call it by its initials as phonetically as possible. Mark was an early President of the society as well as the newsletter editor for a number of years. Shirley’s ever present smile and pleasant personality could be found helping to organize name tags, making sure everyone had a movie ticket for the usual drawing of donations awarded at the end of the meeting and all the other organizational tasks that make the meeting run smoothly.
They recently began collecting Iris in earnest. This was the focus of my visit. These flowers will stop anyone in their tracks for a closer look. The size, form and colors are almost endless. Mark and Shirley try to have cultivar selections from all the Iris categories. Mark likes the Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris. They have Intermediate Bearded and Siberian and Japanese Roof Iris and even some regular Japanese Irises that grow in boggy areas as well as some other beauties. Their favorites seem to be the Tall Bearded and the prime reason for this visit. The Tall Bearded Irises were in full bloom.
What is a Tall Bearded Iris?
Tall Bearded are known for their high stature. The flower scape often reaches close to 3 feet tall. This makes it really easy for a viewer to get a close up look without bending down too far. Each individual flower will last for 2 or 3 days depending on temperature. Each flower scape has quite a number of flowers that will open during the bloom season. If the weather is on the cool side they last a bit longer. It is possible to get almost a month worth of bloom just for the Tall Bearded Irises.
The flower has 3 petals that form a living gazebo over the stamen and anthers. These seem to offer protection to the vital parts of the flowers. There are also 3 petals that fall downward. These are in fact referred to as “falls”. These seem to act as a run way for the landing pollinators. There is a “fuzz” or “beard” that is the runway carpet to welcome the pollinators. This fuzzy strip is how the common name for this type of Iris came into common acceptance.
Mark follows advised cultural recommendations. He likes to spread a granular product called Merit late winter just as growth is ready to begin. In our South Central Indiana location this is early to mid March. Merit is the brand name for the systemic insecticide known as Imidacloprid. It has a low toxicity level for mammals. This product is used to control the Iris borer. This pest is the larva of a fly that will consume the tubers from the inside out. An infestation will wipe out a collection in a single season. It is a problem that has to be addressed every year.
Old time recommendations are to drench your stand of Iris with a 10% Clorox solution. This 1 part Clorox to 10 parts water is effective. Mark has a huge area to cover and this technique is not feasible. He likes the ease of spreading the granular Merit. Merit only has to be applied once a year while one may have to monitor your collection for potential reapplications with the Clorox drench.
Mark also orders a special 6-24-24 fertilizer blend. He applies this fertilizer after they have flowered for the year. In a pinch he says that he will use a 5-10-10 fertilizer which can usually be found locally. The numbers in the fertilizer tell the grower the concentration level of nitrogen (the first number), phosphorous (the second number) and potassium (the last number). The numbers are the percentage found in the bag of each macro nutrient.
Nitrogen is needed for growth. Phosphorous and potassium are needed for bloom and root development. You will notice that nitrogen is the smallest percentage. One wants to grow Iris for the flowers. This is what is encouraged. That is why this is a preferred blend for Iris. He only fertilizes once each year after they have finished blooming. When possible be sure the fertilizer you choose has some other micro minerals included.
Mulching is important to control weeds that may want to crowd out the Iris. Mark mulches after the flowers are finished blooming. The mulch is applied after to prevent any damage that could happen to the flowers while blooming. Also, the cool mulch is welcome to the tubers that grow on top of the soil during the hot summer. Mulching before the Iris has begun to grow in the spring may invite rot.
He likes to use a few layers of newspaper with the mulch on top. This helps to stretch the mulch. Not as much is needed to keep weed seeds from sprouting this way. A future Hub will explore this technique. It works very well. It is environmentally sound and is a way to use all the junk mail that accumulates during the year.
Dividing and Sharing
The amazing thing about these flowers is that Mark is often able to begin dividing and sharing his Iris with others in the society in as few as 3 years. The oldest part of the main bed he said is only 3 years old and some of the clumps were very large. The other side of the bed was only 2 years old. The whole bed together appears to have been planted for years.
Mark plants new Iris in the fall. This is the best time to lift and divide Iris. This is when the specialty nurseries ship too. He says most if not every Iris he plants in the fall will bloom the next spring. Of course, the second and third years and beyond will produce an abundance of color.
Vendors to Consider
Mark has 5 vendors that he commonly uses. He is fond of Schreiner’s Gardens, Comanche Acres Iris Gardens, Pleasants Valley Iris Farms, Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farms and Joe Pye Weeds Garden. These are large and well respected nurseries. They have helpful staff to guide novice growers with all their questions. They also carry the supplies like specially blended fertilizer and Iris Borer pesticides. All three sites are worth Google-ing just to view the hundreds of incredible images.
Don’t forget about your local garden club. Many members will also be active growers that will have plenty to share and trade. The price for new Iris is reasonable compared to many other specialty flowers. You will have an envious collection buying a few each year and trading divisions with other members in just a few short years. Remember that these multiply quickly with a small amount of care.
Bloom time is important to consider when choosing your Iris. Be sure to plant all the different types of Iris like Mark and Shirley. The Siberian Irises were just sending up some flower scapes. A few had begun to bloom. Louisiana Iris won’t begin blooming until early summer. With a collection of all the different types of Iris available one can have bloom for a considerable amount of time from very early spring through summer. Mark says that he often has very early Iris in bloom while snow is still on the ground. There are even many hybridizers that are breeding Tall Bearded Iris for repeat bloom. There are some lovely ones available that bloom again in the cool fall.
Irises bloom when the weather tends to be pleasant. It is past the cold of winter and not yet hot summer. Planting new cultivars happens in the early fall when the weather again is very pleasant. These are a flower for those who dislike both the cold and heat.
Now is the time, before summer arrives, to seek out these flowers. Take pictures. Ask questions. Jot down names of your favorites. And, if you are lucky, visit someone that specializes in growing Iris. It will be a pleasant time for both the visitor as well as the grower. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time to enjoy each and every flower.