My first experience with TB addicts was in May 2004, when I chased a group of them more than 100 miles across Southern New Jersey on a tour. Standing under the scorching noontime sun for more than an hour on a day when it was 95-degrees in the shade, they peered at hundreds of Tall Bearded Irises, trying to improve their skill as judges. As I waited under the shade of a nearby tree I thought, “These people are nuts!” Now I’m one of them.
These fascinating flowers have a short but spectacular season at the end of May, after many of the spring bloomers have finished, but before most summer perennials have gotten started. When planted in full sun (and even quite a bit of shade) they are pretty much carefree. The tall beardeds come in a rainbow of colors, all except true red, which breeders have taken on as a challenge.
Like any other addiction, mine began with just a small taste. We have a difficult spot in a very visible place in the backyard. It was just wet enough that nothing would grow there, not even grass. One day, I decided that the solution was to make it even wetter and create a bog garden. To fill it up, my friend, Diane, offered to dig up some irises for me. Just a few. The caveat was that she had no idea what color they were, since her own iris garden had become too shady over the years and just grew leaves. But, even the leaves were lovely.
I also decided to intersperse a few plants in my lavender border, as well as here and there among other perennials. The bog planting looked scrawny, but I thought, “It will grow.” Well, those of you who are already hooked can probably guess the rest of the story. After only three years, the rhizomes are the size of Idaho potatoes and their number seems to have tripled.
Lucky for me that Diane cut down a couple of trees this year and asked for some back. After digging up armloads of irises, I still seem to have more than plenty. (I’ve heard tales of distraught gardeners sitting by the roadside giving away rhizomes to anyone willing to take them.)
But that, of course will not keep me from acquiring more. I saw a particularly lovely color blue one in Gray’s Iris Garden two years ago that is still calling to me. Then there was that reddish-purpley one with the orange center. And the purple and cream one, and …..
Iris afficianados who live within driving distance of Montvale, NJ will want to visit Gray’s Iris Garden on Labor Day for Stan Gray’s fabulous iris sale, which begins promptly at high noon. For directions, visit Stan’s web page, http://www.tbisonline.com/nj/gray.html