June is the month for irises, but there are so many of the large- flowered June irises that it is difficult to know when to stop. Every year more and more are produced, each one lovelier than anything we had imagined, so what are we to do? I, for one, can’t scrap all my old friends, but I usually end by buying several new ones each season and then don’t know where to put them. The first move is to scrap all duplicates and reduce large dumps so that I can grow three kinds where I had a big patch of one before. Then I weed out those that are very similar and keep the best. And what happens next? I have been told that there are many better irises than the old-fashioned Iris pallida, with its delicate colour and haunting scent, but I still want it and its variegated forms, one with golden variegations and the other with silver stripes on the leaves, so lovely and so very slow to increase.
It is a good thing that the species irises don’t take up much room and are content, for the most part, to grow in odd corners and in narrow slits between stones. Two yellow ones, L kerneri and L fortes/u, look fragile but are quite tough. L kerneri likes a hot, dry position and I grow it in the open surface of an old wall. Lforrestii can stand a little shade but it won’t flower without some sun. The American irises seem to do better in shade. I have various members of the douglasiana group under the willow trees in the ditch and they bloom quite well in shades of lavender, pinky-mauve and purple. Their informal way of growing makes them ideal for growing in the ditch, but they take time to settle down as they hate disturbance. Here too I grow Iris chrysofar, a hybrid of chg.rographes and forte stii. It is a curious mixture of yellow and purple, with not very big flowers, and is not as good as either of its parents.
Iris grandma, with its exquisite little flowers hidden in its leaves and rich scent of greengage, is happy anywhere but takes a little time to settle down after division. Are there two forms of this I wonder? One I have is bigger in every way but identical otherwise.
Among the damp-loving irises L setosa seems easy enough, and the red form particularly so. I have too much lime to please laevigata and L kaempferi, but all the forms of L ribirka increase almost too fast. My favourite is still Snow Queen, with the crimson Eric the Red as a close second.
The tall Iris ocbroleuca flowers towards the end of June and is useful when the June irises are almost over. The yellow variety is very striking but less beautiful than the one with white flowers and yellow markings. Both are useful for picking as the flowers go on opening down the stalk after they have been put in water, and they can be kept attractive for over a week with a daily grooming, in the same way as our native pseudacorus. I used to grow the ordinary yellow flag but it gets too luxuriant and seeds itself everywhere, so now I harden my heart to the ordinary type but encourage the one with pale primrose flowers and the form with golden variegated leaves. I wonder if other gardeners suffered a shock as I did the first year I grew this. I did not know that it lost its variegation in the middle of the summer and went back to green, and thought I must have dug it up by mistake.
June is the month when veratrums flower—if they are going to. I haven’t yet discovered what they really like. The best flower spikes I have ever had were one damp summer on Vera- /rum album which was growing on a shady bank. It was so magnificent that I put a dark-flowered V. nigrum nearby, and V. viride, which has green flowers. But I do not think it matters if V. album grows in shade or in full sun, which, of course, is where it grows in its native Austria. There the great ribbed leaves do not get ruined by slugs and snails as ours d6. We grow veratrums for the handsome clumps they make, with broad leaves and towering spires of dark velvety brown, white or grey- green, but it is worth looking into the individual flowers which are exquisitely formed. Though veratrums are so common in other countries they are scarce in gardens, probably because they are usually grown from seed and develop slowly.
It always comes as a surprise when I see big buds swelling on the dwarf Iris chamaeiris, buds almost as tall as the leaves. These little irises grow well in gaps in paving and are a lovely sight when the flowers in blue, purple, primrose or gold open among the 3″ leaves. The white Bride is a little taller and a little later. It looks lovely thrusting up its grey leaves at the edge of a stone path. Two others about the same size are Green Spot, which has blotches of green on its white flowers, and another green and white dwarf called Green Eyes.
Plants that flower in March sometimes need careful placing. By the time they come they have a right to expect a little warmth and sunshine, but March can be a beast when it catches all the trusting things that have been making growth in February. I sometimes wonder if Bergenia eiliata ought to have a little protection in the bad years. The flowers are lovely when they grow as they should, with delicate apple-pink flowers, little round buds and red stems and calyces When things go well the flat, hairy leaves, green with a reddish tinge, are a wonderful background for the pink and white blossom, but I have known seasons when the poor flowers have to struggle to open without a scrap of leaf behind them, and the flowers instead of being delicate pink are seared and browned by frost. Some bad years there is hardly a flower on any of the bergenias except the easy, ordinary B. sehmidtil and B. cords:filth, both of which flower well and give no trouble. I certainly don’t despise those chubby pink flowers, but I would like to see what some of the others can do. After collecting bergenias busily for a long time it is heartbreaking to have the flowering season pass by without a single flower and to know that one has to wait another year to see what they are like. I have the white B. milesii but I haven’t yet seen its face; one that is supposed to grow very tall has never flowered, nor a miniature I have grown for twenty years. But really, I suppose we collect bergenias for the beauty of their leaves, and the flowers are an added delight when we get them. All the same, I should like to know how to make my reluctant plants produce flowers.
The ordinary kingcup, Caltha palustris, is one of the most perfect spring flowers, with its lacquered globes of gold on thick stems, and magnificent glossy leaves Each stem, with its flowers, buds and wonderful foliage, is a work of art, but unfortunately it grows rather big and is better in a damp meadow unless one has a very big garden. But the double marsh marigold, C. p. fiore pleno, is a much neater plant, and when a clump is fully out makes a dazzling display. After the flowers are over the leaves get big and make good ground cover. The white king- cup is even neater and so unusual that not everyone realises what it is. I have never seen a double version of this plant; it would be a beautiful addition to the early garden if it should exist. Although these plants delight in moisture they will grow in an ordinary bed if it is not too dry, and like other plants that really need moisture will get on without it if they are grown in the shade.
Forsythias come into their own in March—the rich F. inter- media spettabilis and the slightly less strident F. sir:pen:a, which I have trained against the seat wall of the malthouse, and which would be just as good against a north wall. The dwarf Forsythia viridissima bronxensis is a useful little shrub for the rock garden, with lemon-colored flowers. I have it in the front of one of my terraced beds where it makes a welcome splash of color early in the year and 18″ of useful foliage for the rest of the season. F. ovate is dwarf and bushy and can be used to bring early color to a mixed border.
The searing winds and bitter frosts that can wreck the March garden don’t bother the forsythias much, but in many places the birds do. Devonshire seems to be unlucky in this respect. I have heard the sad tale from Sidmouth and Tiverton, and friends near Chudleigh are so tired of losing every forsythia bud every year by ravaging tits and bullfinches that they have admitted defeat and removed most of the forsythias and put in other trees.
The cream flowers of Osmanthus delavayi are small but very sweet, and to get the best from them I think the bush should be planted in not too exposed a position. My, osmanthus is in rather a bleak place and sometimes those delicate flowers at the top of the bush are seared by frost or wind I recently saw a very tall bush in a Worcestershire garden planted against a summerhouse and with taller shrubs behind it, and I was told that each year it produces a crop of perfect flowers.