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

Corn-leaved Iris

Who doesn't have some iris in bloom in May or June? Far fewer are the irises of April, which makes them all far more eye-catching. 

 

Iris bucharica overall 041116 640

 

This is a young clump of one of the corn-leaved irises. The leaves are arrayed up the lengths of the flower stems, making each look like a miniature corn stalk. The stems are taller in older clumps, and the corn-stalk effect is striking.

 

Iris bucharica showing corn like habit 041116 640

 

This young clump is so short-stemmed that the arching foliage seems more like that of torch lilies. For its first weeks above ground, the plant's identity taunted me. Had I planted something in the genus Kniphofia or Zea? Many plants go in the ground each season—or get shuffled from here to there. Even with the plan and spreadsheet, it can be difficult to confirm what's where. 

 

But then the unmistakable iris flowers emerged. Ah, yes: This was the spot where I had planted the starter clump of corn-leaved iris, Iris bucharica.

 

Iris bucharica overall closer 041116 640

 

For an iris, the flowers' coloring is restrained: greenish white for the flags, and chrome yellow with green veins for the falls. (There's variance in the coloring; in some clumps, the veins are brown.) Nonetheless, the colony is a full-throated presence when much of the rest of the garden is still waking up. 

 

As the plant matures through the season, the flower stems continue to elongate; when flowering is through, the leaves expand to their full size, shifting the look firmly from torch lilly to clumped corn stalks. With showy flowers first, followed by full-expanded showy foliage—this species is a standout.

 

 

Here's how to grow Iris bucharica:

 

Latin Name

Iris bucharica

Common Name

Corn-leaved iris, also known as one of the Juno irises; see "Variants," below.

Family

Iridaceae, the Iris family.

What kind of plant is it?

Bulbous ephemeral Spring-flowering perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8. 

Habit

Clumping, with above-ground presence only in Spring and early Summer. Iris bucharica, then, behaves like a typical Spring-flowering bulb. See "Where to use it" and "Plant partners," below, for tips on siting and "contexting" this bulb to finesse its lack of above-ground presence the majority of the year.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Clumps established directly in the ground mature to about sixteen inches high and twenty inches across. I'll report back if the mature size of my troughed clump differs. 

Texture

Dense.

Grown for

its channeled foliage: Iris foliage is typically flat and vertical whereas that of Iris bucharica is curved, V-profiled, and nested up the stems like the leaves of cornstalks. Until the flowers emerge, this species doesn't look like an iris at all.

 

its flowers: Immediately recognizable as those of an iris, with icy greenish-white standards and chrome-yellow falls with green veins. I can't detect any fragrance from flowers of my clump; flowers of the 'Princess' cultivar are reported to be deliciously fragrant. 

 

its early season of bloom: Who needs another iris in flower in late May and June? Everyone needs almost anything that's in bloom any time from July through April.

 

its deer resistance: Bearded and Siberian iris are never browsed, and Iris bucharica is nearly as resistant. 

 

its relative ease of establishment: Many other forms of Juno iris are extremely fussy; see "Where to use it," "How to handle it," and "Quirks," below. Iris bucharica is so easygoing—at least for a Juno—that it can sometimes be established in a normal garden bed in New England, where the rain-at-almost-any-time-of-the-year climate is drastically different than that of the species' native central Asia, where Summers are bone dry.

Flowering season

Early Spring. Here in southern New England, that means April.

Color combinations

As is the norm when thinking of colors to mix with flowers that are in themselves quite full of colors, make choices for the colors of neighboring plants from within the palette of the multicolored blooms. It's usually not necessary to introduce additional colors, even if they would otherwise be the standard choices for heightening contrast. For an iris, this isn't necessarily a limitation: It isn't unusual for all major colors to be represented in each bloom. See the red, orange, yellow, pink, and ebony-black flowers of 'Red Hawk'; flowers of bearded forms of iris with this same starter palette might also bring in bright blue!

 

By comparison, flowers of Iris bucharica are almost "Armani abstemious," with greenish-white standards and chrome-yellow styles that are ornamented only with olive-green veins. Juno iris flowers are not bearded and, so, are lacking that opportunity for yet another hue. 

Partner plants

Plants with a brief presence in the garden—and, remember, the bulbs of Iris bucharica extend stalks of foliage and flowers above ground only from early Spring to early Summer—presenting two quite different opportunities for the surrounding horticulture. Partners could be chosen either to harmonize with the clump's ephemeral foliage and flowers or to fill their space after they are done for the year. Happily, a few plants with year-round presence can also call out skillfully to the quirky seasonal charms of corn-leaved iris's foliage and flowers.  

 

With its requirement for sufficient heat and soil dryness during its Summer dormancy, this species presents a major caution: Nearby horticulture shouldn't retard the speedy evaporation of Summer precipitation, nor prevent soil near the iris from absorbing the maximum amount of sun. And, if you choose to place a panel of plexiglass over your clump for the Summer to prevent warm-season precipitation from reaching it, nearby partner plants will need to appreciate the same shelter or, at least, not impede the placement and later removal of the shield.

 

All in all, it will be easiest as well as wisest if neighbors don't ever extend stems or foliage over the area covered by those of the clump of corn-leaved iris. This means that, yes, this spot will remain fairly bare from mid-Summer to early Spring. Whether their presence is seasonal or year-round, then, stems and leaves of partner plants should keep their distance; six or eight inches from the center of the iris clump is probably far enough. 

 

In addition to these practical considerations, don't forget aesthetics. Flowers of Iris bucharica are likely to be as large or larger than those of most plants that would enjoy the same climate (dry in Summer and, often, even in Winter, with plentiful moisture only in Spring) and soil conditions. Its thick dense leaves are likely to be larger than those of most neighbors, too. Don't introduce other sword-shaped leaves nearby, but large rounded foliage would be great: No yucca, therefore, but bring on cacti with paddle-shaped pads. Even so, it's better that most of the companions have leaves and flowers that are distinctly smaller.

 

The multi-colored iris flowers need to affect your choice, too, and in two ways. Besides the colors themselves—cool white, green, and bright yellow—their complex pattern across the iris flowers' standards and falls needs to be respected. Take into account both the colors of potential neighboring plants, and any pattern to those colors. It's safest if those plants feature only the colors already in the iris and present them via leaves and flowers that are only solid-hued, not variegated.

 

Admittedly, this is quite a list of considerations. Here are some plants that, at least to my eye, handle all of them. The small yellow needles of Juniperus conferta 'All Gold' look great with both the iris foliage and flowers, and the juniper enjoys the same amount of heat, drought, sun, and early-season moisture. Further, this juniper is naturally low, and can easily be pruned to be lower still so that it will never shade the iris clump. Angelina or Tear Drop sedums have a similar look. All three of these plants will need control if they are not to extend their mat-like growth atop the root run of the iris. 

 

There are additional hardy succulents to consider. It's probably wiser to choose forms native to Central Asia or the Near East, because they will also prefer to receive their yearly allotment of moisture during the growing season. 

 

Although all prickly-pear cacti are native to the New World, they have adapted almost too well to the rest of the world. Many Opuntia species and hybrids are likely to be establishable wherever Iris bucharica thrives, and most form a spreading colony of large rounded pads that would contrast beautifully with the iris's discrete mound of narrow foliage.

 

Santolina virens is another option. Foliage of the straight species is bright green, but you could use the all-gold 'Lemon Fizz' cultivar instead. Santolina is cut back hard in early Spring—just when Iris bucharica is emerging—but will have regrown while the iris growth is still above-ground. 

Where to use it in your garden

Siting Iris bucharica can be tricky. The intended location must receive full sun and enjoy extremely good drainage, while also ensuring that the clump—sixteen inches high at best—is readily visible. Planting on a slope could be ideal for drainage, but only if the slope faces South or West and the clump can be near the front so that the flowers' details and the unusual "corn stalk" array of the foliage can be fully appreciated.

 

Unless you are gardening where extended Summer droughts are the norm, and in soil that is naturally free-draining, you'll need to amend your soil to lower its ability to retain moisture while also ensuring that precipitation that does penetrate the soil doesn't just collect there. Replacing half the soil volume with a mixture of small gravel and sand would be very helpful. Note that an otherwise ideal planting pocket in a steep rocky slope would not work if there were insufficient drainage from within the cavity into the deeper reaches of the rock or back out onto the slope below.

 

Unless your site's soil and drainage provide sufficient Summer dryness, you might need to achieve it by shielding your clump's area from rain July through the Winter by placing a sheet of plexiglass over it. To a degree, you won't know if the plexiglass is needed until it has become clear that your clump rots in that location. Because both tasks—initial preparation and seasonal shielding—could be necessary forever, not just at the beginning, the site for your Iris bucharica will always need to be easily accessible.  

 

It might be easier to supply the necessary drainage by keeping your Iris bucharica in a container that can be moved into a hot and sunny "rain shadow" spot for the Summer, then placed where it will receive regular water as growth resumes in Spring.

 

I planted my clump at the front corner of one of my large troughs. There, it receives sun dawn to dusk, experiences soil that tends to become dry in Summer and is never more than briefly saturated from Fall through Spring and, if needed, would be easy to fit with a plexiglass rain shield.

 

Given this species' relatively small size and its demands for a sunny exposure as well as easy access for maintenance and viewing, Iris bucharica is most readily established directly in the garden if the bed in question is hot and sunny, with soil that provides quick drainage year-round. If ever there were a plant for near the front of a rock garden bordered at the bottom by paving, this iris is it.

Culture

Absolutely full sun, in soil and at a site that maximizes Summer drainage and, if possible, baking dryness. In contrast to the usual dictum of achieving maximal hardiness by maximizing drainage in Winter, Iris bucharica is tolerant of normal soil moisture (but never saturated soil) during the cool and cold months. 

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring or Fall, watering sufficiently for establishment. If planting in Fall, just one watering is likely to be needed. If planting in Spring, water enough so that the emerging crop of foliage matures fully; stop watering when the foliage shows signs of yellowing as the clump goes dormant. Supplemental watering is not normally needed after establishment.

 

Do not mulch with typical organic material (shredded leaves or bark, or cocoa hulls), because this will keep the soil cooler and also retain moisture. Both goals are counterindicated: In Summer, Iris bucharica wants the soil to be dry and hot. Do consider mulching with inorganic material such as crushed gravel or river stones. These will help control weeds, but will—beneficially—absorb heat and radiate it into the soil. They can also provide a degree of aesthetic interest during the Summer, when the clump itself will not be visible.

 

Remove foliage after it has yellowed when the clump goes dormant in Summer; usually no other periodic maintenance is needed.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

You might want to see whether a rainshield against Summer precipitation enhances the chances of establishment and long-term vigor. Start with a large peony hoop, and insert its legs as deeply as possible into the soil such that the hoop itself is just a few inches above ground. If you can, have the hoop tilt gently to whatever the downhill side of the colony's location is, no matter how small this slant will be. To complete the shield, set a piece of plexiglass or glass atop it, tying it onto the hoop with fishing line. You can leave the rainshield in place until late Winter, then removing it so that the increase in soil moisture helps the clump enter its active Spring growth phase.

Quirks and special cases

Iris bucharica can also be grown permanently in containers. If they are large enough and weather-resistant—such as my concrete troughs—it isn't practical to move them into shelter from Summer rains. Instead, if shelter is needed, bring it to the container by creating a rainshield, as in the second "How to handle it," above. If the container is small enough to be portable, then each Summer move it to a location that is protected from rain, but still hot and sunny. This could on a bench in a greenhouse, most or all of whose other plants will have been moved into the garden for the Summer, or in a south or west windowsill, or under an overhang on the south side of your house. Early the next Spring, place the container back out in your garden to receive ambient precipitation.

 

If you have the space and temperament, you could grow this and any other Juno iris in a container that is kept in a greenhouse year-round. There you can fully control the amount of moisture it receives. Iris bucharica should receive frosts during the Winter, so would be best in a greenhouse that is unheated in Zone 7 and warmer or, in Zone 6 and 5, only lightly heated.

 

Yet another way to handle too much Summer moisture is to remember that Iris bucharica is a true bulb that, like tulips, appreciates a dry Summer any way it can get it—even by being dug up after the leaves have died off and being stored above-ground, unpotted, until it's time to replant in the Fall. The bulbs have unusually thick and persistent roots, and the received wisdom is that it's better not to damage them unnecessarily. So, dig vertically around the entire clump, lift it up gently, and shake off excess soil while still holding it aloft securely. Lay it on its side in direct warm sun for a day or two to facilitate drying, then store the clump in a dry location that provides heat, at least some sun, and plenty of air circulation. Replant in early Fall while, once again, taking care not to damage the bulbs' roots.

Downsides

Juno irises are prone to rotting if they receive excess water when dormant. Depending on the particular Juno and how free-draining you've been able to make its planting area, "excess" could mean just one or two Summer showers. 

 

Iris bucharica is reported to be the most forgiving of the Junos when growing in soil that is less than bone dry in Summer. As long as its location experiences at least normal drainage and the soil isn't too rich and, therefore, moisture-retentive, this species might be established directly in the garden.

 

See, above, the "Where to to use it," "Culture," "Quirks," and both "How to handle it" boxes for tactics that can help all Junos experience conditions of drought and warmth in Summer that sufficiently approximate their native conditions in near-desert mountains of Central Asia.

Variants

Iris bucharica is a bulbous iris, in contrast to the rhizomatous forms (bearded and Japanese iris among them) and fibrous forms (such as Siberian iris) that are ubiquitous in Western horticulture. Iris being iris—a genus with complexity and diversity (about 280 species that have led to more than 100,000 cultivars) to rival that of orchids—there's variety even among bulbous ones. The biggest difference is whether the skin of the bulb is smooth or rough. I. bucharica is one of about sixty smooth-skinned species. They are all in the Scorpiris subgenus and, because they used to be in a separate Juno genus, are commonly known as Juno irises. The corn-stalk-like foliage of the taller ones—and, in this diminutive group, even I. bucharica is tall—is striking.

 

Only a few in this large group are practical for gardens in climates where precipitation is likely year-round, in that the species are native to climates where Summers are hot and dry. The roots and bulbs of all Junos can rot in soil that isn't sufficiently free-draining, especially where Summer rain is likely. Further, some forms are tender even in Zone 8, making them exclusively greenhouse plants here in New England.

 

Along with Iris magnifica, which at two feet is the tallest and most corn-like Juno, I. bucharica is the most easy-going species when it comes to drainage and decent hardiness and, so, should be the first to try. There are a few forms of I. bucharica besides the straight species: The all-dark-yellow form is often listed as I. orchioides, while flowers of I. bucharica 'Princess' (a white-and-yellow bicolor) are reported to be particularly fragrant; I can detect no fragrance at all from the blooms of my colony of the straight species. Forms of other Juno species that tempt me include I. aucheri 'Olof', whose flowers are indigo-dark, and I. willmottiana 'Alba', whose flowers are pure white.

Availability

Scarce, whether online or at retail nurseries. I was fortunate to stumble upon mine at this peerless nursery in north-central Connecticut. Here's an online source.

Propagation

By division in mid-Summer, or whenever the leaves have just finished dying down.

Native habitat

Iris bucharica is native to some of "the stans" of central Asia: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The species is believed to have been identified first in the Uzbek city of Bukhara, from which it was introduced to British gardens in 1902.

 
 
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