Clarence, The Bearded Iris

From Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions:

“Gardeners are keen observers of what is required to grow healthy plants of all types and sizes. New strategies and solutions to the problems presented by cultivating living things are often contemplative acts. These actions will hold gardeners in good stead as we face climate change – an unprecedented phenomenon that amplifies all those conditions that can make or break our gardening success. Deep reflection on our strategies in tending our lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables will be required to manage and adapt to this latest – and biggest – challenge.”

This flower’s proper name is Clarence Bearded Iris; but we’ve known each other a long time, so I just call him Clarence.

I planted a dozen of these irises in my front yard garden about five years ago, and this year they surprised me by barely blooming. It went like this: with very warm temperatures in early January, the iris’s leaves filled out and they shot up a few blooms in a couple of weeks, about three months premature. Then we had a cold snap that lasted about a week, then it rained for days and days and days, then the chilled and soaked blooms dissolved before the photographer got a shot at them, then the plant went dormant.

I’ve noticed that certain flowering plants — lilies and lantana, for example — stick to their approximate spring bloom time regardless of winter weather conditions, whereas others — like irises and hydrangeas — seem more likely to bloom early if winter is warm and the ground never freezes, but then get knocked out if fluctuating temperatures lead to a few days near or below freezing. It’s tempting to think that lilies and lantana are more suited to global warming gardening (pdf) than irises or hydrangeas, but maybe in time the latter will make accommodations.

However!! I was looking through some archived photos the other day and found a couple dozen — including three I had posted previously — that I’d taken of Clarence in April 2016. Some day, I imagine, I’ll stop finding photos I forgot I’d taken … but that day isn’t here yet. A bit of tweaking in Lightroom got me to the proper colors for this beauty… though the original files were .jpgs (I’ve only been shooting RAW for the past year or so), and there were some challenges getting the exposure, highlights, and shadows to my liking.

I’ve been reading about proper iris care, and suspect that these plants are ready to be dug up, divided, and replanted — a task that should be undertaken in late summer or early fall. So that’s on my gardening calendar (well, I don’t really have a gardening calendar, but I’m sure I won’t forget) and maybe next spring there will be a whole new batch of Clarences standing up tall for the camera.

I’d also been looking for some good information about gardens and their history — not the history of specific gardens or of garden design, but histories of the plants we use in our gardens. Whenever I plant something new, or photograph something I’ve planted, or post about it here, I always wonder where that plant came from, how far back in human history it’s been in gardens, how it’s changed over time, and so on. It’s not as easy to sort that out as you might think; though we may try to rely on search engines to splash such details onto our screens, searching for specific plants usually yields more about the plant’s growing characteristics or its relationship to other plants in the same family. And, more often than not, the commercialization of search engines means that research takes a back seat to brand marketing, and many sites simply repeat — with slight variations — the same information available on other sites that want you to be aware of their brands.

But then I found this fine book…

… which provides concise ecological and cultural histories for each of 133 plants and flowers that are commonly used in gardens. I learned, for example, that Clarence is a member of the iris germanica family of bearded irises and his ancestors often grew in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages; that bearded irises were bred systematically in Germany beginning in the 1800s; and that these irises were popularized in America by immigrants of German origin that imported them or brought them across the Atlantic. As an entry typical of all the plants covered in the book, the author devotes four pages to irises generally, their historical usage, cultural significance, and descriptions of variants that are unique to specific geographic regions. So far I’ve found references to about twenty plants currently in my garden, and I can now use this book as the starting point for additional research (and writing).

Click for larger pics; thanks for reading a taking a look!

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