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E-Garden Almanac: February 2007

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Irises in Indianola

I had the good fortune of addressing a hardy group of south central Iowa gardeners this morning on the campus of Simpson College. Thank you for making the experience enjoyable and enriching with your questions and inquisitiveness. As promised, I have uploaded the handout from this morning which is available at this link.

Some of you had asked me afterwards about beardless irises. I would refer you to my previous post entitled "How do your irises grow?" for links that contain more information. Our Rainbow Iris Farm website contains information about our festivals and about anything you would want to know about our business (including online shopping cart and catalog request form).

Stay safe and warm this winter weekend!

Friday, February 16, 2007


Recently I have found myself defending my liking of the Galanthus or the snowdrops to my horticulture major friends. They balk at the minuscule nature of this darling spring ephemeral, dismissing it with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Though not a "galanthophile", I have come to admire these vestiges of spring really out of a general adoration for anything to offset the doldrums of winter.

Snowdrops certainly are not denizens of color like the crocus of the reticulate irises who follow their display. But snowdrops' persistant, do-or-die attitude says to me that this is a geophyte worth appreciating. In snow or ice, they charge updwards into the sun only to find themselves the first form of plant life in the barren garden. My friends couldn't imagine how something like this would ever be noticed in the garden at such an early time of year. For me, they are a lighted billboard with neon arrows. I abhor snow and winter and come late February am on a careful watch of the soil for anything that will hinder the prolonging of cabin fever. Simple they are with two ranks of modified tepals ("petals" that can't be distinguished and called as "petals", so the botanists play anagrams and create...tepals) coming only in cream and white. But the coolest part is the stains of green that blush to varying degrees the lobes of the tepals. Such intricacy and detail reminds me of hand painted china.

Plus, their diminutive nature forces the gardener to view the world from another perspective. I've found a vignette in my garden that is best viewed lying on my stomach looking at ground level. Can you guess where my snowdrops are?

New Ideas on Garden Making

I would like to first start off with a thank you to the attentive audience of the Ames Garden Club last evening. I hope you were able to take away some ideas about making gardens from last night's presentation. As an addendum to that lecture I decided to put together a short essay on my Heinz-57 concept of garden making, complete with spices!

When discussing new naturalism or this so-called new movement in making gardens (notice how I stray from potentially pretentious terms like garden or landscape design), I think it is important to distill the discussion into a few salient points.

First, garden making should employ a sense of sustainability. Notice that as a precursor to the defining noun I use the word sense. I do so to avoid sounding absolute and principalian which would exclude the peripheries where certain actions might not fall into a discrete category. I am not a purist. I don't believe in prescribing to a single anecdote to solve a problem or a situation that might arise in my garden. When making gardens I am conscious of how the life form that I'm creating will persist into the future. Will these plant materials continue to thrive as they have been sited? Will these plant materials contribute different attributes throughout their life to the overall scheme of the garden? Will that structure I erected withstand the blizzards and the storms? A garden should be sustainable but doesn't necessarily have to have a lifespan. Many of the finest gardens of the world stand as relics to their creators who have long since left us for a more bountiful garden, I hope. Many though have not been gems to behold through their entire life, often falling into and out of neglect depending on who the steward is. The bottom line here is that gardening is simply a form of tending the small patch of soil we call our own. That small patch of soil is part of a much larger globe that we have to take care in order for our race to survive. Obviously I have explored this bullet a little more than what the normal gardener would (be glad your normal). Remember, a sense of sustainability is most important.

In the last bullet I started to segway into the second point of discussion, a sense environmental awareness. Despite all of the scare tactic pieces you might have read in leading horticulture publications, gardens, lawns, golf courses, and any other large expanse of "managed" landscape (broad definition I know) do not pollute the groundwater or do dire harm to aspects of our planet. Research from notable public universities says it's not true. If you want to know more, email me and I'll guide you to some insightful articles. However, if not managed properly gardens and landscapes can work against the processes of functional ecosystems. They should be complementary to the world around them, not superimposed. Did you know, gardens are ecosystems too? Think of all the life that abounds in your backyard. Insects, birds, and maybe even small mammals (or deer in the Midwest) function in and around the garden you've made. Don't forget though that in our history of tending the Earth, we've created scenarios that can't always be solved "organically" (I hate that term...another story) or in the absolute best way possible. Yet if we don't counteract these situations we might do further harm to the environment. A small risk comes with many things in life. If you have to spray for some nasty pest in your garden, don't wince in pain as you do so. A sense of environmentalism is important but don't become a zealot for the sake of purity.

Third and finally is experimentation. Put plants together that wouldn't normally grow together. It's fun! That's what gardening is about is concocting ideas and manipulating plants into a way that further ornaments the world we live in. While natural areas can offer endless ideas and suggestions (such as going against the grain and breaking the rules) it doesn't have to be the only template we use. A garden should be expressive of its creator and often is without any additional effort on the creator's part. We are who we are and it tends to come out in the gardens we create. Take in ideas and don't worry about originality. Gardening is selfish and personal. Those of us gifted with a green thumb are in the minority in this world. Don't feel the need to justify yourself to the latest author or the traditions of old.

Be mindful, be smart, and more importantly be creative and free-spirited in the garden. No restriction can be placed on the realm of imagination and innovation. The great gardeners of this world, who are too numerous to mention, all have something in common. They weren't afraid to stand up against the paradigms of the modern day. Sure there is often a right way to do something, but how did it come to be the right way? Find a place in the world of gardening that makes you comfortable and allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

How's that for salience?