Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Walking Iris

 

This tropical member of iris family blooms so quickly I missed the flowering completely even though I was home every day. Although flowering is reported to occur in waves, my happy clump doesn't seem to realize it. Or—just as likely—I've missed more than one wave of bloom. Easy to do, in that Neomarica northiana is downright stealthy in its flowering: The blooming stems look just like leaves until—surprise!—a few buds emerge. And then, apparently, if you so much as go out for coffee, you miss the flowers entirely.

 

Thank goodness, the real excitement is the large, origami-like plantlets that develop at the tips of the flowering stems. Normally, the plantlets grow large enough to weigh the stems down to the ground, where the plantlets then root: Hence the common name of "walking" iris.

 

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l elevate my colony so the plantlets never touch ground no matter how large and heavy they grow, and how strongly they pull their stems downward.

 

 

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The plantlets have the crisp geometry of the pattern of bamboo leaves seen against shoji screens. 

 

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As a walking iris that's permitted only to dangle, not stroll, the clump remains in perpetual but attractive frustration.

 

 

Here's how to grow this unusual tender iris:

Latin Name

Neomarica northiana

Common Name

Walking iris

Family

Iridaceae, the Iris family.

What kind of plant is it?

Tender herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 9 - 11.

Habit

Dense upright clumps of foliage from creeping shallow rhizomes, clearly that of an iris, with Yup-it's-an-iris flowers at the tip of tall talks. For reasons of their own, the flowering stalks look no different than a leaf until the buds emerge. Plantlets emerge from the base of spent flowers, eventually becoming large and heavy enough to bend the flowering stem outward and to the ground, giving the young plants opportunity to root.

 

Flowering stems can be two to four feet tall, and are numerous, enabling the colony to walk outward two or three three feet in all directions. Because plants can mature to flowering size in a year, whether from seed or from plantlets, last year's "walkers" would likely flower this year. Expect another concentric ring of outward walk annually, while plants in the established rings would keep producing new flowers and new plantlets, and so would fill in already "claimed" territory more densely than ever. Hypothetically, one clump of Neomarica planted in the center of an acre-sized circle of rich weed-free ground will have trudged all the way out to the circle's edge in fifty years.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Where hardy, three to four feet tall and three feet wide if a colony is not permitted to walk outward. If walking is allowed, spread can be indefinite. Smaller in containers.

Texture

Iris-like, duh.

Grown for

its flowers: The standards are tipped in cerulean blue, while the falls are white. Unlike typical garden iris, whose three upright-curving petals, known as standards, are festively erect, inward-curving, comma-like shapes, the standards of Neomarica kink outward after only a short distance, with the balance of the petal curving farther outward and then downward. Although you can't prove it by me, flowers are reported to occur in waves of four to six weeks. The flowers are notable for their cruelly short length of display, typically less than a day. Worse—or, if you can entertain that the intensity of an experience is increased by its brevity, better—all the flowers of a given wave tend to flower on the same day. Until you've had your fill of the flowering waves of your Neomarica, time your travels accordingly.  

 

its talent for "walking"; see "Habit," above. Walking iris is capable of spreading quickly, and could be allowed to form a large-scale groundcover. On the other hand, its talent for outward spread via the walking stems, plus ready germination from seed and a quick maturity from seed, could make Neomarica a formidable foe in any garden where the plants and their seeds are both hardy and a restricted garden presence is desired. See "Where to use it in your garden," and "Downsides."

Flowering season

Spring into Summer; February into August when fully established in the mild climates it prefers.

Color combinations

No matter how pale or dark the blue of the flowers of your colony of Neomarica may be, they'll sing next to other shades of blue. Don't hesitate to bring in burgundy, pink, rose, or white, too.

Plant Partners

It's only practical to partner Neomarica with other colors if they are comparatively long-lasting. Given that there could be a month between waves of Neomarica flowers, only partners whose season of bloom is long or exquisitely timed would coincide. Underplanting Jacaranda mimosifolia with Neomarica is, I'm told, as stunning as it is foolproof: One of the Spring waves of Neomarica will always coincide with the Spring flowering of Jacaranda.

 

Because Neomarica is in bloom for only a few days a year, it's wiser to combine on the basis of cultural needs, foliage size and texture, and its eager outward-bound tendencies. Jacaranda couldn't be a better partner, because its foliage is exceptionally feathery. Ferns that are large enough not to be "walked over" would be exciting colleagues, and enjoy the same dappled sun that Neomarica does. Neomarica could underplant tree ferns, but you'd need to keep the plantlets from walking up the ferns' trunks. As long as the rich soil they prefer was also well-draining, the larger forms of elephant ears—especially those in the Alocasia genus, because their leaves point up and, so, are held maximally above the fray—could be interplanted with Neomarica. Unless trained up a trunk of the tree shading the Neomarica colony, even the larger forms of philodendron are likely to have formed too much of their growth too low to the ground, and would look like they were being walked over.

 

Site a colony of Neomarica high enough that its walking stems can't touch ground even at maximal droop, by setting a containered colony atop a plinth. Or, if you have a strong enough support and a big enough basket, hang a colony from a tree limb. Next season, I'll try suspending my clump of Neomarica from one of the limbs of my contorted beech.

Where to use it in your garden

Even on a scorching Summer day with temperatures in the nineties, the sun in my New England garden could never be credited as truly tropical. And so my container of Neomarica sits in full sun, atop a high plinth so that the "walking" stems never touch ground but, rather, weep somewhat like stems of a spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. A position in the shade would probaby suit the colony, too. Where hardy, Neomarica can be used as a large-scale groundcover under deciduous trees, which will provide the necessary shade. Plants with an iris-like habit for subtropical and tropical locations with full sun include the more tender forms of Kniphofia, as well as all forms of Phormium, Agapanthus, and Hesperaloe

Culture

Filtered sun or part to full shade where the climate is mild enough for Neomarica to grow directly in the garden, and with low enough humidity for the sun to be unrelievedly strong. In too much sun the foliage is liable to be pale, but not literally scorched. When grown as a container plant in more northerly gardens, where the sun is less strong, Neomarica also enjoys full sun. Good soil with decent drainage produces the fastest growth, but as long as it's not stressed by too much sun, Neomarica is tolerant of leaner soil. Good drainage is important in all circumstances.

How to handle it: The Basics.

Where hardy, plant almost anytime that sufficient water can be provided to ensure establishment. If outward spread is a concern, dead-head flowering stems to remove both developing seeds and developing plantlets.

How to handle: Another option—or two!

Neomarica is a good subject for containers because it values drainage more than attentive watering. Keep potted plants in a cool but frost-free greenhouse, and if you don't have room to encourage a lot of new growth, just hold off on the watering. As day length increases in February, divide clumps and repot only a portion in fresh soil.

 

If you don't have the patience to get rid of faded leaves or dead tips by going over the entire plant leaf by leaf before the new season begins, cut all growth back to an inch or two. Water and fertilize, and move the container into your greenhouse's brightest light—which will still seem dim and dappled to this denizen of the tropics of Brazil—so that a new crop of foliage can emerge.

Quirks and special cases

None in addition to the already considerable eccentricities of brief flowering and the "walking around" capability made possible by the plantlet-laden stem tips.

Downsides

If Neomarica is hardy where you garden, be prepared to control its enthusiasm to prevent it from walking right across your garden. Clip off flowering stems as soon as flowers fade, and be alert for young plantlets that are attempting to escape from the mother colony.

Variants

All sixteen species of Neomarica are tropical; the majority are native to Brazil. The flowers of most seem to be (to me) a rather ho-hum bicolor scheme, with the standards brown-spotted blue and the falls (which remain flat instead of curving downward) white. One exception is Neomarica caerulea, whose falls are blue to violet: A colony in bloom would be glorious, indeed.

 

The standards of flowers of N. longifolia are yellow; the falls are white. Forms of so-called "N. longifolia" whose standards and falls are both yellow—a great improvement—are, actually, a species in a related genus, Trimezia stayermarkii; this plant needs the same handling as Neomarica.

Availability

On-line and, where hardy, at retailers.

Propagation

By seed; by division; by digging up rooted-in plantlets and, if necessary, cutting them free from the mother colony; and by pegging still-attached plantlets down to pots of soil, so youngsters will take root right in new containers. Seedlings and plantlets grow so quickly that they can reach blooming size in a year. 

Native habitat

Neomarica caerulea is native to Brazil.

 
 
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