Category: Iris

Iris on Irises

Iris on Irises

Not Just Irises 003
Iris and her props at the ready

Drawing on her 30 years of experience in operating a local nursery, the Club’s recent guest speaker Iris Burke provided a wide-range of tips on better ways to treat our garden treasures and to protect them from their foes (we’re talking slugs and deer!).

As proprietor of “Not Just Iris’s Greenhouses Inc”, Iris grows a wide selection of annuals, perennials and shrubbery, and has a wealth of  knowledge about their care and nurture. She has, for example, a strong belief in using a little slow-release fertilizer for perennials from spring through to at least mid-summer. She has observed that many gardeners neglect their perennials once they have given them a spring dose to get started.  She also noted that perennials often become stressed during August’s dry spells and that they need to be given water just as the annuals do.

Iris bloom (cultivar unknown)

As her name implies, she is also partial to irises and she reminded her listeners of the need to divide these plants about every three years, when the centre of the clump has stopped producing new blooms.  She suggested that irises are easy to grow in almost any kind of soil and that they should not be over-fertilized.

In a discussion of pruning methods and timing, she was adamant about the need to cut back certain shrubs to promote more growth and blooms, but cautioned listeners to be sure of the particular characteristics of each bush or tree. A smokebush, for example, blooms on old wood so should not be pruned until after it has “produced” its smoke, whereas a butterfly bush blooms on new wood and should be cut back to about 15 cms above ground in early spring to ensure healthy growth and blooms for the coming season. (our post of August 27, 2012, shows butterflies enjoying the nectar on a butterfly bush).

A Cotinus (smokebush) in full “smoke” mode

In addition to advice on pruning fruit trees, lilacs and flowering vines, Iris gave a few tips on dealing with slugs (broken eggshells spread around the base of hostas, for example), deer (blood meal, urine, or soap shavings in pantyhose), and earwigs (her own recipe of dish soap and a hose-spray bottle).  In keeping with the  slogan of her greenhouse – “Where things are budding out!”, Iris branched out into a vast array of garden topics and also answered questions from the audience.

Cultivating Japanese Irises

Cultivating Japanese Irises

Members of the Chester Garden Club were introduced to a relatively new plant at their March meeting this week. Allan Banks, of Harbour Breezes Daylilies nursery, opted to switch his presentation from his signature speciality – daylilies – to a less-known speciality – Japanese Irises. Illustrating his talk with photos from his large collection of plants, Allan talked about the various hybrids that he grows on his three-acre property on a sheltered coastal property on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore.

 He mentioned that although the Japanese iris was popular in the 1800s, it fell from favour over the years and has only recently been making a come-back with gardeners.  He pointed out that, although the plant is similar to the Siberian iris, it differs in that its foliage is wider and taller. The cultivars come in single, double or multi-petal forms and their large blooms appear in July.  The colours tend to be in shades of white or blue, which serve as an excellent foil for the yellows so often associated with daylilies.  Unlike the old relaible daylilies, these irises will suffer if neglected.  Although they do well by the sea, they prefer acidic soil and therefore should not be subjected to seaweed fertilizer because it tends to act like lime. The plants should be set  in the soil about 10 cm (4 inches) deep and provided with lots of moisture. They can even be planted in a pond as long as they are lifted for the winter.  Because their roots tend to move up toward the surface of the ground, they should be divided every three to four years and should be moved to a different area of the garden.

Along with tending to his gardens, which is open to the public daily from early May to Labour Day, Allan produces products such as those shown above – jellies, mugs, coasters and trivets, all imprinted with images of his daylilies.   For more information or to view his plant catalogue online, you can contact Allan at

And now, for something completely different… the photo of the colourful Hamamelis above was taken by Sandy on March 17, St Patrick’s Day. The native variety, Hamamelis virginiana (commonly known as witch hazel) blooms in the fall but hybrids from China and Japan bloom in the spring. The plant above is a hybrid (possibly Diane). The white background is the result of a thin layer of snow that was deposited the night before and gone by the evening of the 17th. Such is Nova Scotia’s weather this year.

The photo below shows a Hamamelis Jelena,  with its coppery-reddish blooms lighting up  a woodland corner and snowy background. These shrubs do well in acidic soil and in shady areas.