The Story of Iris Part 12 – Why Grow Iris

1. Pajaritomt said, “Because I love them. Same reason I love strawberry shortcake. They are beautiful, easy to grow and come in more colors, shapes and sizes that one would ever believe possible.” And that is it. They are simple, easy to grow plants that are a classic in the garden. You can not go wrong with adding iris to your life. They are one of the easiest plants to use, grow and love you can ever add to the garden.


2. Breath Taking Beauty – No matter how many iris I have seen, how many years they are in my garden, or how they came to my garden, I find that each new morning when the iris are in bloom I jump up to see their colors and shapes in the morning dew. These are not just a plant that will complement others in the garden. It is a plant that in bloom stands up and says look at me I am here and sent to give you a great start to a great day!

3. Tough Plants – I hear time and time again

Seed Starting 101 Sowing & Transplanting Tips for Strong Seedlings

You’ve set up light shelves and heat mats. You’ve sterilized your seed starting mix and considered other tips to prevent damping-off. You’ve ordered seeds for more plants than your yard and your neighbors’ yards together can possibly hold. You are more than ready to start turning your seeds into rows Geranium seedling labeled photo showing difference between cotyledon (nurse leaf) and true leafand pots of healthy seedlings!


Although it’s possible to sow seeds one by one into little pots on your light shelf, many plants seem to do better when transplanted once between sowing and being planted out in the garden. I usually start seeds in rows in shallow, domed seed starting trays. After the seedlings have their first true leaves (the first pair of leaves are cotyledons, or “nurse leaves”), they are potted up into individual pots or cell packs. For plants with a naturally branching or clumping habit such as basil or lobelia, I use a method that herb guru Tom DeBaggio calls “clump transplanting.”

You can purchase official “seed starting trays,” often with vented domes to hold a little extra humidity around the

Thrills and ills of seed trading

I’ve mentioned how I got into the DG-fold in my DG homepage and also a bit of seed trading there. But as years pass, I’ve learnt a few lessons on the way esp. about seed trading, sowing, growing and waiting.


When I was new to DG, I used to read about the word ‘trade’ in discussion forums [there were hardly 20 then!]. I used to wonder what it could be. Gradually, I came to know that it was the same thing what we called in my stamp-collecting hobby before as “stamps-exchange”. I had initially thought that trading meant ‘with payment’. But I was pleased to know that exchanging seeds was really possible across continents and I visualized it as a great new chapter in my gardening. I’m no specialist in gardening having not followed any stringent methods that I read in articles and posts in DG due to lack of spare time, but I saw a really new possibility of having a colourful garden! But alas! that was not to be! Read on.

My first trade was with

Gardeners Anonymous

1. You watch 10 or more forums.

Not that you post in all these forums, but you keep lurking in the shadows. You keep lists and dream shop every time you read a new posting. The normal tell-tell forums are the Daylily, Iris, Rose, and Tropical. If you have one or more of these forums in your viewer and read each and every posting, you might be in trouble. The more serious addiction comes from those in the Brugmansia, Passiflora, and Hosta forums that almost always leads to carpal tunnel due to the typing needed to reply to the wealth of postings.

2. You keep a spread sheet.

You keep a spread sheet of the cultivars you have of one plant. These plants might look the same to the naked human eye but you have each and every one in a place of honor. You not only record the day you got the plant and number of leaves it had, but when it moved up pots, the day it bloomed (each time it blooms), and possible breeding partners. You dream of your special plants in your sleep and try to grow thousands of seedlings in hopes of growing something new and wonderful.


Make a Dooryard Garden

The entryway garden is typically the most visible of a homeowner’s gardens. This garden should capture the attention of the visitor, and passerby alike, as it draws one’s attention to the main entrance of the home. The front door is the focal point of the entryway garden hence the name dooryard garden. The goal of a dooryard garden is, not only to add curb appeal, but also to guide the steps of the visitor to the front door. Keep this in mind as you plan the dooryard garden and frame it so it will conduct the visitor along a direct, but enjoyable path, toward the door rather than sending them along a meandering tour of the front yard. Notice the photos below. This is a perfect example of a dooryard garden which frames the pathway to the front door of the home. This garden is obviously planned as a multiple season garden. The Autumn garden is truly colorful and draws the eye up and along the path in an enjoyable walk to the front door. The warm season garden is more muted, but still adequately frames the path to the front door. Also note that the design of the

Bed Bugs, Plantago and Aunt Bett

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” I have no idea who said that, and have no inclination to research the words, but I use them because that is as close as I ever came to a bedbug. My dear Aunt Bett thought bedbugs were surely alien creatures out to get us. She believed the same thing about head lice (and I almost agree with her because the mere mention of either creature makes my skin crawl).

Being a Mountain Medicine Woman, Aunt Bett had a big responsibility. It was not easy to get to the doctor during the middle part of the twentieth century, even the houses were few and far between. There was very little money available at that time. WWII had taken many lives, most of them male, and women in particular were struggling to make a living for their families by the grit of their teeth and whatever they could pull from the mountain that would sustain them. And those widows did not know how to drive; the fact is they could never have afforded a car. When there was a medical crisis within a family, many times the family

Let Your Garden Tell You When to Plant

When that first spell of warm weather with above-freezing temperatures at night comes along in spring, it’s sometimes difficult to resist the temptation to get everything into the ground: plants, seeds, bulbs, rhizomes, and corms. Every year I wrestle with that impulse, especially when spring comes early to our zone 5a Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, as it has for the past several years.

Many gardeners have their favorite methods for determining when those magic dates for planting finally arrive: In the region where I garden it’s Good Friday for potatoes, after the Drei Kalte Männer* in May for plants especially susceptible to frost damage, specific dates on the calendar, and the various phases of the moon. For the more scientifically-minded, a soil thermometer does the trick.

I, on the other hand, prefer to let plants themselves tell me when it’s safe to plant. Here is a list of plants I consult when I begin gardening each year:

When forsythia blooms, it’s time to plant the seeds of alyssum, carrots, cornflower, peas, poppies, and radishes.

· When cherry trees and flowering quince bloom, it’s time to plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, larkspur, onion, pansy, and snapdragon.

· When lilacs are in full

20 great and overlooked palms for marginal Mediterranean climates

Palms that are commonly grown in such climates include Chamaerops (Mediterranean Fan palm), Trachycarpus fortunei (Chinese Windmill palm), Butia capitata (Pindo or Jelly palm), Syagrus romanzoffiana (Queen palm), Washingtonias (Mexican and California Fan Palms), Phoenix species (many), Archontophoenix cunninghamiana (King Palm), Brahea armata (Mexican Blue Fan Palm) and many of the other Braheas, Dypsis decaryi (Triangle Palm), Howea forsteriana (Kentia Palm), Livistona chinensis (Chinese Fan Palm), Rhapis palms (Lady palms), Sabal palmetto, Ravenea rivularis (Majesty Palm), Jubaea (Chilean Wine Palm) and now even Bismarckias and Wodyetias (Foxtail palms) are becoming common place. The following will be a discussion of some OTHER good but less well known choices for a marginal Mediterranean climate, such as that found in southern California. These palms will be listed in alphabetical order, not order of excellence, though my own personal opinions will show through, I’m sure.

Archontophoenix myolensis may at first look just like another King Palm, but it’s not. It has shorter, brighter green leaves, a bright green ringed trunk (while young) and a nearly turquoise crownshaft. It is less cold hardy and slower than a king palm, but still hardy enough to survive most

Master Gardeners, Who they are, What they do

Since being certified as a Master Gardener in 1997 I’ve met hundreds of gardeners, many of them Master Gardeners so I think I have a pretty good idea of what exactly makes these folks “tick”.

Here on DG and elsewhere I’ve heard folks refer to Master Gardeners as “know it alls”, “uppity”, “they talk down to me”, “ they think they are better than me”, and so forth. I want to proclaim that these statements couldn’t be farther from the truth. Needless to say as in any national organization there are a few bad apples. The majority of Master Gardeners are friendly, generous, helpful and passionate about gardening.

We never stop learning, and believe me we don’t think we know more than anyone else about horticulture.

I want to familiarize you with the program and what a MG does to receive that title and how they use the knowledge gleaned to aid their community.

The Master Gardener program was started back in the 1970’s; it was established to aid the local extension offices to serve the public in the area of horticulture.

All of the 50 states have Master Gardener programs and they

Edible Landscaping Basil Varieties for Containers, Beds, and Borders

Basil varieties go far beyond basic green “Sweet Basil,” Ocimum basilicum, to offer a myriad of different scents, colors, flowers, and textures. Whether you’d like to add a citrus fragrance to a patio garden, to border a landscape bed with tidy mounds of green, or to accent a container with ruffled purple leaves, basil could be just the plant you need. Not only is it a versatile, fragrant annual for your beds and containers, it also has a flavorful bonus of edible leaves!

If you start sniffing different basil varieties, you’ll notice they don’t all smell the same. Some distinctions are more subtle – does ‘Spicy Globe’ really smell more peppery than ‘Fino Verde’? Even “ordinary” culinary basils add a wonderful fragrance to landscape beds. There’s blooming stems of a potted ‘Lime Basil’no reason to limit them to your vegetable garden!

Other basil varieties have wonderful, pungent fragrances that go far beyond that basic herbal scent from your spice cabinet.

seed pods forming on stems of ‘Cinnamon Basil’, planted by a boulder at the edge of my patioLemon Basil and ‘Lime’ Basil varieties have strong citrus scents, especially if you brush up against the foliage.

Dwarf ‘Needled’ Conifers

Evergreens are the back bone of any garden, providing a permanent skeleton for the garden while at the same time, providing year-round interest. Huge park setting with drifts of Austrian pine, Colorado spruce or Douglas fir can look beautiful in summer or winter. However, most of us gardeners (myself included) garden on a postage stamp! Conifers reaching 30 m plus is not an option. However, thankfully, there are a multitude of dwarf conifers, many which grow less than 8 cm per year and rarely exceed 1 m. Such conifers are ideal for foundation plantings, as stand-alone specimens or for rock gardens.

First, a little background on conifers and their dwarf forms. Conifers, as a group, fall into three main families; cypress (Cupressaceae), pine (Pinaceae) and yew (Taxaceae). For simplicity, we’ll say the cypress family have mostly scale-like leaves and small cones or berry-like cones, the pine family has typical needles and cones while the yews have needles but fleshy fruit rather than cones. Dwarf forms of false cypress (Chamaecyparis spp.) and junipers (Juniperus spp.) are probably more numerous than any other conifer group and will be the subject of a separate article. In this particular article I

One Technique for Painting Succulents with Watercolors

This article is an introduction on how to do some watercolor paintings of some of the simpler succulents (Aloes, Agaves etc.). Some painting tips will be mentioned and some sample paintings will be shown as they develop from the start to finish.

To me painting is no substitute for photography, either in terms of accuracy, or even color or form. But sometimes painting can add things impossible to create with simple photography. And though photographs themselves can certainly be art, there is something satisfyingly ‘artistic’ about making a painting of a plant, even if it’s directly from a photograph, no matter how formulaic this might sound. One can add a lot or take away a lot from the original image by painting, exaggerate or alter the colors, blur or simplify the background, simplify or alter the form, add objects (I usually add lizards) and basically change a ‘factual’ photograph into one’s own interpretation of the ‘facts’. Paintings do not have to be accurate, or even duplicate reality in the least. In fact, one has nearly infinite freedom when painting. But in this article I use traced images to simplify the process, speed things up a great deal

The Many and Varied Uses of Rosemary

Out of all of the herbs I grow, rosemary is the easiest to propagate and care for. I begin with a 3 inch cutting, pull off the bottom leaves, and stick it in my root trainers. These are small but deep containers with ridges on the side to train the roots to grow downward. After a few months, I notice new growth and eventually transplant them into pots. I start the cuttings throughout most of the year so that I have different sizes available for sale in late April. I am trying my hand at topiaries, so those will need a longer growing season to fill in. In my zone 8 garden, rosemary is an evergreen bush. The ‘ARP’ cultivar is said to be the hardiest in zones 6 to 7.

Cuttings in root trainers Rooted cutting

Rosemary is very useful in the bath. It can be used straight or mixed with other herbs for an aromatic bath. It is used as a sore muscle soak or to relieve cold symptoms. You can make an infusion of 2 tablespoons dried rosemary to 1 cup boiling water. Cover and steep for at least 10 minutes and strain.

The Jewel Alocasias – Spotlight on Alocasia reginula ‘Black Velvet’

The Little Queen

Alocasia reginula is, literally, the Little Queen Alocasia. One look at the plant and you know why. Pictures really do not do this plant justice because when you are face to face with a specimen, you just want to marvel at it and touch it softly. The leaves have a regal velvety look, and they feel somewhat velvety, but with an added ripply texture, as though the leaf veins were embossed. With silvery-white main veins that have a hint of sparkle to them, you know this Little Queen is in full royal regalia. As you study the plant more closely, you find additional little surprises, from the reddish patches on the undersides of the leaves, to the pale cast of the petioles and the small occasional spots on them. You’ll notice that the leaves are unexpectedly thick in substance, almost succulent. Everything about this plant screams, “Love Me, Baby Me, Care for Me!”, until you try to do just that.

What She doesn’t need!

You went out of your way, waiting hand and foot on your Little Queen. You’ve been treating her like the tropical rainforest monarch that she is, right? So

Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show

The perfume in the air is the first thing I noticed as I entered the room hosting the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Annual Orchid Show. Then the bright colors and sun shining through the glass ceiling overwhem me, blending all together. It took a moment for my senses to recover from the shock after such a dreary winter; snow is still melting in the shadows outside.

My first trip around the paths was just to wander and enjoy all of the sights. The displays were based on children’s stories, so orchids and whimsy were blended together in a fun way for the enjoyment of children and adults alike. Jack in the Beanstalk, The Secret Garden, and Johnny Appleseed were a few of the features.

The second time around, I started focusing on individual plants, their color, shape, large or small and how they stood up from the plant or draped gracefully. Some were so small their structure was hard to see without putting your face right up to them, others were large and seemed to yell, “Hey, look at me!”

I could stay for hours and luckily, small benches are scattered around. Shutting my eyes, I

Make-over Your Old Flowerpots A Face-lift For Weathered Plastic

As many gardeners do, I have a growing collection of less than beautiful plastic flowerpots. The sun and weather has beaten these containers to a point that each season, a few more of them get pushed to the back of the garage or greenhouse. They sit empty and unplanted, simply because they are no longer attractive enough to welcome visitors to my front door. Many of them have never been used, but are gifts from well-meaning friends who show up with a stack of pots left over from their attempts to become a gardener. Many still have the unfortunate victims of their efforts enshrined in moldy potting soil. As the stacks grow taller each season, my determination to do something about the situation finally has reached the critical point.

There is a product on the market now made by Krylon that gave me the inspiration to give these unsightly, unfortunates an extreme makeover. This spray paint actually bonds with plastic, and will not chip or peel.

Visions of lovely matching containers, sitting full of bright blossoms filled my head, so I went and purchased a couple of cans of this wonder paint and went to the

Add a Little Leprechaun Magic to Your Houseplants Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a GREEN blooming African Violet

When we think of African violet blooms, we think of first of purple. We might be familiar with pink, white, or even multicolor flowers with stripes, edges, or fantasy markings. closeup of double pink bloom of African violet ‘Wrangler’s Green Pastures’, faintly edged with greenAmong all these more usual colors, a growing number of green-tinged hybrids have captured our hearts. Some enthusiasts make a point of collecting African violets with green-accented blooms.

Green is an uncommon color for African violet blooms. More than 800 of the well over 3000 registered cultivars have some green in their bloom description. For many of these, however, the green is only an occasional hint of color accenting the edge of the petals. Like fantasy markings, green can come and go, being more present during one bloom cycle and entirely absent in the next.

shows frilled green edges of clusters pale buds on African violet ‘Irish Laughter’Light may play a role in the amount of green in the blooms. I’ve seen suggestions that less light promotes green blooms, as the plant tries to increase its chlorophyll content in order to make the most of the light available. I’ve also seen suggestions

There are Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun By the Pigs Who Search for… Truffles

I have never eaten nor even seen or smelled a truffle, nor am I likely to do so at their exorbitant cost. However, truffles fascinate me by their mystique, their cultivation, and the delightful sounding dishes prepared with a touch of truffles. Another reason for my consideration of truffles is as a possible cash crop for the small family farm. Inoculated tree stock can now be purchased from several places in the US, and will bear harvests in as little as 5 years. The harvests will increase with the maturity of the trees and can continue for decades.

Truffles belong to the fungal genus Tuber. “Truffles are the ‘fruit’ of fungi that live in mutually beneficial (ectomycorrhizal) symbioses with the roots of host trees. The truffle fungus explores the soil for water and mineral nutrients, which it passes along to the tree. In exchange, the tree provides sugars produced through photosynthesis to the fungus.” [1]

In France and much of Europe, truffles are found mainly in the roots of oaks. There is reported success in North Carolina of growing truffles in the common European hazelnut (Corylus avellana) inoculated with the fungus. In the Pacific northwest, they

The Story of Iris Part 10 – Breeding Iris

Why Breed Iris?

Why even try? With all the world of iris out there the chances of you ever getting something really worth selling on the market today are slim. I have heard estimates from some breeders of up to 100 plants are culled out just to find one that might, in time, be named and sold on the market. So why do it? Why spend so much time, effort, garden space, and resources just to have a sub par plant that will end up compost for the next batch of iris you try to raise? The answer, of course, is the joy of finding one great iris to call your own. It is the wonder and spell casting power in the first bud of a plant you raised up from a little seed. It is the waiting, hoping, and praying that the little seed you planted a few years back will now open up into the stunning flower you just knew it had inside. So what do you have to lose? Give it a try!

How to Breed.

Long story short is to play the part of a bee and take a little pollen

The Story of Iris Part 4- What is in a name

The newbie trying to trade any plant soon learns the importance of knowing the name of the flower they are trying to trade. But in the world of iris with so many places having their iris misnamed, or passed along from friend and family, or gathered from out of the way places – what is an iris name really worth?


There is nothing about not knowing the name of a plant that will make you love it less or more. It will not smell better, it will not stand out better in the garden, and it will not change into anything less than the plant it was born to be. Most gardens have one or two plants without their names and, while some people fight to figure out the names of their little flowers, the question is why? There is a simple pleasure to be had with just enjoying a flower for the flower’s sake and not for the name, breeder, or pedigree of the plant.


Without knowing the name of a plant, it is next to impossible to get many people to trade with you. It is hard to list, and,