Tuesday, November 3, 2009

divide and conquer

This fall, I’ve decided to finally divide the iris. I’ve been growing different varieties of iris here for ten years, and I am chagrined to say this is the first year I have set out to dig up, thin, replant. But it is such an arduous job…I hate it and love it.

An old friend who also happened to be a incredible gardener gave me a gift of iris when I first started my garden. She was digging up and thinning out too and I was in sore need of plants. We had tilled a large area in a wild field next to the house, blithely forging ahead without knowing all the mistakes we were making , and there was a lot of space to fill. Since patience has never been one of my virtues—one of my faults as a gardener as I’m always looking for instant visual gratification—I was happy to take as many plants from friends and family that I could that would go forth and multiply, and quickly. Blithely forging ahead. I took gifts of mint, veronica, scented geranium, phlox, and gooseneck loosestrife. My mother gave me tansy (looking back at what is now the scourge of my garden as it snakes everywhere, I wander if she was mad at me…), and my friend Robin gave me both Siberian and bearded iris.

About five years ago, these iris were the showpiece of my garden. They bloomed in June, right before and then continued on at the same time as the blue-flowered veronica and the magenta peonies—another gift from another gardener. Things went along roughly the same for another four years, this always being my favorite time in my garden. Every fall though, I could see that the iris were getting denser, and their foliage and mat of roots encroaching on other plants, hiding the sedum and small plants of catmint, even encroaching on themselves.

This June barely any iris bloomed. Too thick and congested, they had no room to gather enough energy to flower. I bolstered myself to dig up and divide.

The worst part of this job is finding the time. The garden has grown to such an extent now, and there are other gardens—vegetable, orchard, vineyard and now a new plot for a new varietal rose garden—that need tending too, that this whole gardening concern could be my fulltime job. I have a lot of iris, and to dig, divide, and separate is a meditative and lengthy process. But this is also the best part of the job, the satisifaction of freeing each bulb from the confines of our thick, clay soil and the other roots of its brethren, to take the time to look at how different each of the iris are in their bulb form, and then to plant them back in loose, well-composted soil, knowing that next June they will burst forth on their slightly exotic stalks and color the garden in all their shades of blues and purples, the gardener’s prized color like the cobalt blue paint of the Renaissance painters.


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