Iris on parade…

Bearded irises are among the choicest perennials for borders and cutting. Although only one of hundreds of species in the genus Iris, they are perhaps the most widely grown and certainly the most widely recognized. Amongst the rhizomatous irises, the tall bearded irises have routinely stolen the stage from their shorter or beardless cousins. More than 100 years of breeding has produced all manner of colors, ruffles and fragrance.

Bearded irises are best planted mid-summer to fall (for bloom the next year) in soil with good drainage. They will adapt to a variety of soils from sandy to clay if the drainage is adequate. I commonly plant groups of three rhizomes. Because the growth is from one end of the rhizome, plant two parallel to each other about 12″ apart with non growth end facing you. Then add a a third to make a triangle with its growth end facing the first two. That last rhizome’s growth will fill in the space giving you a nice clump. Plant the rhizomes root side down with the top barely at the soil’s surface–do not bury! Iris will benefit from a light application of bone meal, superphosphate or any 6-10-10 fertilizer about a month before bloom and again a month after. Plan to divide every 3 or 4 years. Your iris will tell you when they are too crowded with smaller and fewer blooms. In my climate I trim the bloom stalks back after the flowers are finished but wait to trim the foliage back to about 6″ in the late fall.

Mild winters and early springs here in Central California result in iris blooming far earlier than the printed catalog material indicates. My iris start in late February and are virtually done (except for a few rebloomers) by late May. In other zones, iris may not even start blooming until mine are almost finished!

Here are a few blooming now in my garden. IMG_2024If you have been reading Queen of the Dirt from the beginning you’ll recognize ‘Night Ruler’ as the iris that started my fascination with plants I used to think were too old fashioned and ordinary for me. I saw this one in bloom when I lived in Georgia and thought it was pretty spectacular. Although it never flourished in my Macon garden, I dug a few rhizomes up when I moved and found it likes California’s dry heat. The 3 rhizomes grew to about a 3 foot diameter colony after only a couple of years and they bloomed prolifically. The growth of an ash tree eventually totally shaded out the colony and after several years of decline I dug, divided and replanted the healthy rhizomes to sunnier areas in both my front and back gardens. ‘Night Ruler’ returns to the throne!

Because the development of high shade is a focus for many Central Valley gardeners, a natural consequence is the reduction of full sun for those plants needing it. Almost all of my original iris plantings have been moved at least once as various trees matured. The lawn area we call the driveway circle had 8 different iris cultivars in its interior bed. The crape myrtles had almost doubled in size since the iris were planted in 2009 and all these colonies had been in decline for a couple of years. In our recent lawn removal and replanting project in this area I dug all the iris up and potted up the best of the rhizomes for replanting this fall. The seemingly constant moving around of iris due to division or the need for a sunnier site has resulted in some cultivar name confusion for me. I keep really good records of what is planted where but my map now looks like a jigsaw puzzle with arrows, rhizomes names and numbers pointing everywhere!

Another iris whose original site proved problematic is Iris ‘Riverboat Blues’. Vigorous perennials ended up covering these rhizomes every year with foliage and they just never did much. Last fall I dug the few viable rhizomes and moved them to a sunnier, less competitive site and ‘Riverboat Blues’ has rewarded me with multiple bloom stalks and dozens of huge sapphire flowers.



This is a tall selection which can sometimes need staking with the weight of triple socketed buds and 8-9 flowers per stalk.


Small but mighty Iris ‘Full Impact’ lives up to its name. This dark blue-violet bicolor is beautifully ruffled , has glacial white markings and a  white beard. The beard is the group of fuzzy hairs at the top of the lower three petals of the flower. These three petals are called the falls. ‘Full Impact’ will open 3 flowers at one time, producing a very full and rounded look. I have groups of these 30″ tall stunners on either side of my front walk, blooming amid a lot of pink and lavender perennials and roses and they never disappoint. Although these colonies have multiplied and been divided several times they seem to snap back a little faster than some of the taller selections. AND they are a favored by regular hummingbirds!

Who doesn’t love a plicata? So you say “Just what is a plicata?” In iris terms, a plicata is a flower which has a  stippled or stitched margin color on white.

On the left is Iris ‘Loop the Loop’–a huge selection almost 4′ tall in bloom. IMG00158-20120423-1420In a previous post you saw this photo of a large group of ‘Loop the Loop’ exploding in bloom. This one too has now been divided a good bit and I have smaller colonies in several garden spots. I let the original planting go too long before the first dividing was done and I saw first hand what happens–I think I only had 3 stalks in 2014 compared to over 40 when the photo on the right was taken. Above right is Iris ‘Got the Melody’. The white on this cultivar is much muddier than on ‘Loop the Loop’ so they would not be attractive planted in proximity of one another. This double and triple socketed stem yields 10-12 buds per stalk and is tall enough to stand above its neighbors.

I’ll close with with the splendid lavender bloom of Iris ‘No Count Blues’. The eye-catching falls are overlaid with a darker purple and it bears a yellow throat. Amazing, don’t you think?


Iris are the perfect pass a long plants. Even in  barely adequate conditions they will multiply rapidly, giving you many to share with family and friends. I kind of like knowing that someone I care for has a little piece of my garden to enjoy every day.

In the pinks…

Blooms of the genus Dianthus are perhaps some of the most widely known flowers to both gardeners and non-gardeners alike. While the family has over 300 species and many hybrids a much smaller number are commonly offered by retail sources for the home garden. The genus contains annuals, biennials and perennials however, many are treated as annuals regardless of their botanical nature. Dianthus of all sorts are classic cottage garden flowers whose foliage forms grey-blue or grey-green mats with the flower stems rising in early spring. They are commonly called pinks by UK gardeners but almost always referred to by their genus name in the US.

Dianthus barbatus or sweet william is a staple of our spring gardens. Although biennials, sweet williams are often treated as annuals in California and replaced from 6 packs each year. I cut mine back every year after they go to seed and accept with grace whatever hangs on til the next year. Once the biennial/seed cycle is established I pretty much always have some in the foliage only state and others bloom ready. There are tons of named hybrids, so many so that they often are not even marked with their variety but only bear a color designation.



I am sure these are very familiar to everyone! I place them to serve as low edging material in the very front of my beds. They come as go as they please so every few years I may add in another 6 pack or two.

A few years ago I started buying every different dianthus species I came across just to see how the ones less familiar to me could be used in my beds. These included named varieties of Dianthus deltoides (maiden pink), Dianthus gratianopolitanus (cheddar pink) and Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation or clove pink.) For the most part they have stayed in the front of the borders and beds and they have been carefree with the exception of an occasional hard cut back to stimulate new foliage.

Two of my favorite clove pink selections are from the Devon Cottage Series of Dianthus caryophyllus bred by Whetman Pinks of the United Kingdom. After a few years in the ground they have formed nice big clumps of foliage with lots of flowers. This series is a great cutting selection and if they have any fault, it is that they are floppers once the flowers open. Even though the flowers are only about 12-14″ tall my plants end up with alot of props! As the common name suggests, the flowers have a wonderful clove scent.


This is Devon Cottage ‘Fancy Knickers’. You can see that the size in bloom rivals the erect foliage of the iris they neighbor. This clump is about 18″ in diameter.


The bloom is bright white with just a hint of a pinky red eye. Every stem has multiple buds which bloom in succession. Deadheading is a must to keep the bloom vigorous and the plants neat looking–I find this to be true of all dianthus.

I also love the clear pink Devon Cottage ‘Rosy Cheeks’. In the ground a few less years, the overall plant size is smaller but the blooms still hover at the foot tall mark.



Another Whetman Pinks hybrid which has done well in my garden is Dianthus ‘Starburst’, sometimes labeled Dianthus ‘Clavel’s Starburst’. A smaller, tighter foliage mat and correspondingly small, shorter flowers of raspberry, pink and white grace this early bloomer.



Here are a few others blooming now!

TPFNPGT Sunday, one garden unifies two homes…

ANOTHER NEIGHBORHOOD, ANOTHER HILL–the Stirton garden in Silver Lake

A very narrow and winding lane took me to my next Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour garden. This street is unusual because in its original state every lot had two homes on it. On one side of the street the lots are at street level and on the other they are mountain goat territory. Of course the next tour garden was on the mountain goat side!


This is the lower part of the front slope which is held back from the side walk with a block retaining wall. This is one of only a few homes I saw which had what we always referred to as a “parking strip” between the city street and sidewalk. This parking strip was chock full of reseeding wild flowers and water wise shrubs, including several varieties of ceanothus and buckwheat. A very prominent player was the annual Lupinus succulentis, California native arroyo lupine.


Even where not in bloom this reseeder’s lush green foliage fills the need for an erosion control ground cover. I was especially interested because this is not traditionally a drought tolerant plant. Although somewhat adaptable it generally requires ample water. This entire slope is hand watered so the homeowner has the opportunity to give the lupine extra water without jeopardizing the plantings which resent wet feet, i.e., ceanothus.

In that first photo you saw one of the two small homes on the property in its original state. It is now used as a rental. The homeowner has extensively remodeled the other home to sleek modernity and you would never believe they were once twins.


Looking up from the street you get just a peek of the clean lines and industrial materials used in the remodeled unit occupied by the property owner! The stairs leading to the homes sit pretty much in the middle and although both homes have small back gardens (only about 6 feet of flat area, then steep slope up), the front garden takes up most of the property. At various point on the concrete steps there are opportunities to step to the side and into terraced areas.

There was so much to look at–7 species of buckwheat (Erigonum), 4 species of manzanita (Arctostaphylos), 5 kinds of salvia, 3 cultivars of Mimulus (monkey flower). Oh my!


This healthy stand of Trichostema lanatum, common name woolly blue curls, was a testament to the care this gardener takes with his water. If there ever was a zero water/perfect drainage plant once established, this is it. The wide range of water requirements for these hillside plantings simply could not be met with a one size fits all irrigation scheme. Bravo to a man and his garden hose!


Many of the native landscapes lean heavily to the purple, blue and orange palette. This bright pink island mallow, Lavatera assurgentiflora, is native to California’s Channel Islands and grows quickly to a 12 ft. erect shrub with maple like leaves.

As this garden was a designated rest stop we had the opportunity to step into the more modern bungalow and take in the view this gardener enjoys every morning when he has his coffee on the balcony! Having once struggled with a garden which had several steep hillsides and not experienced success even close to this—I tip my broad brimmed gardening hat to this labor of love.


My take away on this Silver Lake hillside garden–not all natives are drought tolerant and not all low water users are natives. Mixing in natives and non-natives with high moisture requirements is do-able if you can commit to hand watering them. Cohesive landscape design can unite even the most diverse architecture!

LAST STOP ON THE TPFNPGT 2017 will be a tiny cottage garden in Jefferson, only a few hundred feet from I-10. I saw 19 of the 32 gardens on this year’s tour and will have given you a peek at 13. Time for us all to move on to new adventures. In less than a week I will head north for the Gamble Garden 2017 Gather in the Garden tour and in 2 weeks I’ll be back in SoCal for the Mary Lou Heard tour and Garden Conservancy’s Los Angeles Open Day.

P.S. I am experimenting with the resolution on my photos to try to free up additional space  in my WordPress media library. Let me know if you feel the quality of the photos had diminished to the point that it is not good for you. Thanks!!

Hello ‘Little Rev’…



The genus Dianella, also called flax lily, are interesting architectural plants originating in Australia and Tasmania. The upright habit and grasslike strappy leaves of Dianella revoluta ‘Little Rev’ and its cousin Dianella caerulea make them especially suited to modern drought tolerant gardens. ‘Little Rev’ is a bit smaller than other selections and will reach 18″ in full sun and 24″ in partial shade as mine is planted. The 3/4″ sparse star- shaped blue flowers are followed by metallic blue berries. We have been inundated with ornamental grasses and grasslike plants in the last few years and most seem pretty scruffy to me in a traditional mixed border. ‘Little Rev’ is well-behaved in the ground or containers, requires little to no care and looks attractive year around. Put this one on your garden center shopping list!

TPFNPGT Sunday, a new neighborhood…

The gardens of the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour have opened my eyes to new groups of plants to explore. My challenge will be to do the research on their adaptability to a colder winter and how to integrate the ones I like best into all ready established garden areas. I’ve pick just a few more to share in this post and one more and then we can move on to other topics and tours!

A GARDEN IN TOTAL HARMONY WITH ITS HOME–the Kramer garden in Atwater Village

California native gardens are designed to complement many home styles from starkly modern to Craftsman post and beam but no architectural style seems to be as well suited as the quintessential Spanish bungalow.


This homeowner redesigned her back garden using many natives in 2010. The front garden was installed in 2013 and mixes meadow and coastal sage scrub elements with some carefully designed topographical changes, adding lots of interest to a small and originally flat lot. The large mounding plant front and left is a nice stand of Salvia clevelandii  ‘Allen Chickering’.


This railroad tie and compacted earth walkway leads you up and through the garden in a meandering fashion allowing you to see a wide variety of color, texture and form on the relatively short walk to the front porch. The grasses left and right are Aristida purpurea, common name purple three-awn. The lavender pops on either side are Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’. The darker purple mound to the right of the path is Penstemon spectabilis var. spectabilis or royal penstemon.


As the narrow path takes you to the porch steps by way of the small driveway you pass the phenomenal salvia which is almost as tall as the home’s roofline (look at the previous photo for a better perspective). The plant is marked Salvia ‘Vicki Romo’ but the Theodore Payne docent on site believed it was mismarked and actually was Salvia ‘Desperado’. My references list ‘Vicki Romo’ at a compact 3 ft. and this whopper is at least 10 feet tall.  Another interesting specimen is the Artemisia californica ‘Canyon Gray’ seen in the front left and again just behind the clump of orange poppies on the right. The grayish foliage provided a pleasing midpoint between the greens and the grayish white foliage of many of the garden’s selections. This artemisia is finely textured and very soft to the touch. I saw this in others gardens later in the day in large mounds 4-6 ft. wide. As with all artemisias, good drainage in a must. Repeated in this garden were many of what I now know are staples in the Southern California native garden: dwarf coyote bush ‘Pigeon Point’, red-flowered buckwheat (foreground above) and saffron or Conejo buckwheat.

The Kramer home has a deceptively large back garden–probably 3 times the depth of the front. The narrow, deep lot lends itself perfectly to a series of garden rooms. This is clearly the homeowner’s garden playground with a less restrained palette and lots of variety, including some of the finds you just pick up and dig in because you thought they looked interesting!


Galvezia speciosa–showy island snapdragon


MATURE TREES AND WOODLAND SHADE–the Miller-Coon garden in Atwater Village

Just a short ride passing through the “village” part of this community led me to another wide flat street of small, neat homes. Parking was at a premium and I ended up about 2 blocks from the next tour garden. The short walk yielded several great yards so just imagine you are walking down the street with me and take a look!




A side note–as I got out of my car I fell in step behind this couple walking home from their grocery trip to the little village area about 3 blocks away. They had their bags and their Starbucks cups in hand and were strolling home on a great day to be outside. The couple turned into their driveway just across the street from the garden which was my goal and I was momentarily jealous of the walkable, small city within a big city lifestyle they were obviously enjoying!


The Miller-Coon garden has been on tour every year since 2003. It is somewhat more relaxed and relies heavily on a mix of mature trees and shrubs and lots of reseeding annual wild flowers.


It is a diminutive front garden dominated by a large Torrey pine and 6 different native oak  species. In this photo you see the pine in the background, our native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, and one of several species of manzanita on the property. The violet blooms in the foreground are elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) which returns each year from seed.

My take away from the Atwater Village gardens–you can pack a lot of gifts in very small packages! Although both of these streets are definitely in the “flatlands”, you don’t always have to play the hand you are dealt. Both homeowners added dimension, interest and additional planting space to their gardens by altering their topography with very gentle mounds and curves.

NEXT UP–I travel to a unique neighborhood in Silver Lake where the historical standard is to have two homes on a single lot.


Spring is here…

Although I still have several more gardens to share with you from my recent visit to Southern California on the Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour and given that I have two more big garden tours coming up in the next two or three weeks, I thought I hit pause on other folks’ gardens and let you see that I DO actually garden.


We have had an abnormally wet spring and everything in the front garden has benefited from the extra water. At mid-April, to not have turned on the irrigation systems by now is phenomenal. Last year I added pops of rosy red in the form of the Double Knock-Out  roses and a few of the perennial salvias–you can see the Salvia ‘Killer Cranberry’ in the mid righthand side of the photo. I think they really wake up the predominantly purple, lavender, pink scheme and will provide strength when the paler colors wash out in the heat of the summer. The earliest of the iris are blooming with others ready to come on. The perennial dianthus I have been adding over the last few years are nice big blue green clumps this year with the first few pink or white flowers open.


This foundation bed by one of the front sidewalks is looking especially good! The pair of tree roses (‘Renae’) has exploded into bloom. Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ and Salvia fruticosa add a little violet and blue relief from all the pink. I featured this salvia in a post last spring when I added it to the bed. I love the blue gray foliage against all the other clearer greens. It has tripled in size from last year and is covered in blooms. The ‘Pink Dancer’ Indian hawthorn (lower left) has finally come into its own after several years of very few  flowers. I told you that 2017 was going to be the best garden year ever!


TPFNPGT Sunday, fresh legs and new batteries…

Here we go again! My schedule for the second day of the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour is ambitious so I do my eating and driving on my own time and arrive and my first garden of the day just at the 10 am opening bell.

A CHALLENGING HILLSIDE–the Rice-Siwolop garden in Beachwood Canyon

This recently renovated Mid-Century Modern home had perhaps the smallest front yard I have ever seen!

This massive 7 ft. retaining wall rose from the narrow public sidewalk to enable these gardeners to have a small strip of level ground which you see in the photo below. This very narrow bed, anchored by the broken concrete walkway, was planted in California fuchsia (Epilobium ‘Silver Select’) and Silver Carpet aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia  ‘Silver Carpet’). And yes…those are the tops of the car parked on the street that you can see in that photo! The similarly narrow bed to the left of the steep steps held other silver green and gray native plantings and the superb non-native specimens of Euphorbia bourgeana  and  Agave parryi in the center photo.


So I am thinking–having spent more time locking up the car than I did in this garden that I will be way ahead on my schedule! The next garden is about 100 yds. uphill on the same street and as I pass by the street level garage I see the back yard is open also. An extremely narrow sidewalk flanked by the house on one side and another very high retaining wall on the uphill side leads to a funky two level wood staircase which takes me up into the back garden.


Holy slope! The back yard melds a wild and untamed slope with the man made elements required to make it accessible. The hillside is stabilized by a gabion wall, hemp and wattle erosion netting and large drifts of native plants.


The gabion, which you can see at the bottom of the photo, has its own story. Neither side of this lot has enough room for any mechanical digging apparatus access to this back slope. The terraces on the hillside were hand dug and the dirt hand carried down to the very narrow flatland. It was then screened and mixed with cement for stability and formed into the square blocks which fill the wire cages to form the gabion running the width of the yard. So…the slope is actually retaining itself!


Thoughtful placement of the timbers forms a set of steps which allow access to the upper levels for planting and maintenance. Natives anchoring the hillside included my new favorite Erigonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat), Pigeon Point dwarf coyote bush, Hearst’s ceanothus, Salvia leucophylla (purple sage), several types of manzanita and in summer, a wide variety of reseeding annual wild flowers.


A small lawn of common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is home to  native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, and offers a soft contrast to the more industrial feel of the hardscape. This property was truly an example of taking what you have and adapting your garden style to fit the site. Bravo!

As I walked up the hill to my second garden I passed several really well done landscapes, all using their steeply sloped lots to best advantage. Take a look…





Another Mid-Century Modern, another orange door! A standout feature of this front garden was the immense stand of lavender which occupied almost half of the slope. The combination of the lavender and the succulents seemed a bit of a disconnect for me up close but when you stood back and took in the home’s landscape in the context of the hillside it sort of worked itself out.


The back garden was planted in 2013 and offers a laid back style with naturalized scenery year round-interest. The homeowner reports lots of wildlife from the surrounding hills.


There is definitely a sunny side and a shady side to this back garden. This beautiful Palo Verde (Cercidium) tree anchors the sunny corner. You can get just a peek at the river rock wash descending the hill. The bed area behind the retaining wall incorporates additional drainage mechanics to direct water rushing off the slope in a rainstorm.


The Salvia sonomensis was a bee magnet and I think its season is just getting started. More creeping and mat forming than upright this species spreads to about 4 ft. wide and needs exceptional drainage, preferring gritty soil.


A mature pine provides a shaded spot just outside the home’s kitchen. Just as in the previous garden, the flat area is quite narrow but used really well, offering places to eat outside, rest and read a book or just observe the nature surrounding you.

My takeaway from the Beachwood Canyon gardens–steep slopes front and back presented challenges for these gardeners. A combination of good planning, thoughtful use of a variety of hardscape options and erosion control deep rooting plantings can tame the wild while preserving the expansive views offered by slopes on small lots.

NEXT UP–heading to Atwater Village