Well! What a month it has been! The mid-Spring garden has more than compensated for its late start and even though the temperatures are cooler than usual, the days are still sunny. There was an excellent fall of snow on the mountains last week – now that all the ski lifts have closed! The photos below were taken on our trips to Canberra on the 19th (first photo) and 23rd October (last 2 photos) this past week. It was actually snowing in Nimmitabel on Sunday! The cooler weather has prolonged the flowering season of many of the early Spring blooms, including bluebells under the crab apple tree, tulips (early October), hellebores and clivias. The trees have all just about gained their new foliage for the season, the poplars being the last trees to come into leaf, and the plums have finished flowering, while the crab apples are in their final days (photos 3 to 5). The cockatoos (photos 3 and 4) and king parrots loved the blossoms- a bit crazy really, as they are depleting their future fruit source! The latter (photo 2) also love to graze the weeds in the vegie garden, as does the white-faced heron (photo 1)! The apples have luscious white blooms and are setting fruit already. Meantime, the loquat fruits are turning yellow, attracting king parrots and bowerbirds by day and possums and fruit bats at night, the latter occasionally waking us up with their skirmishes. I don’t think we humans will get much of a look in when it comes to the fruit! At least, the white mulberries are starting to ripen and the blueberries and raspberries are in flower. We have been feasting on delicious organic strawberries from our new bed, though I suspect a slug may also have been, as the wire guards preclude attack by birds or rabbits! The rhubarb has also provided delicious desserts and I have been substituting angelica leaves for the sugar, at least in the fruit part of rhubarb and apple crumble- a great success! We have been enjoying our own home-grown onions, lettuce, rainbow chard and baby spinach from the vegetable garden.I also made another batch of cumquat marmalade from the 1 kg fruit we harvested. I would strongly advise NOT to combine blogging with jam making, but I think I just got away with it. Even though the marmalade is darker than usual, it set brilliantly! Fortunately, the cumquat trees are still covered in lots of new blooms. I love their sweet scent as we walk past them. The Michelia has almost finished flowering too, but the Weigela next door has now replaced it. Initially, its blooms opened white and I was a little disappointed, as I had bought it as a pink weigela to complement the pink flowering currant on the other side of the pergola entrance. I thought that the plant must have been mislabelled, but to my great delight, the blooms then turned a soft pink, deepening in intensity as they age. This plant is so pretty with its colour variations! The second photo below is my neighbour’s pure white weigela. Unfortunately, the flowering currant did not flower this year (with all its moves!), but it is doing well and the snowball tree behind it has masses of lime-green, turning white, globular blooms. The choisya has a mass of white starry flowers, which look very similar to the blooms of the citrus trees behind it. The Carolina Allspice has a number of buds this year, as has the Philadelphus virginalis, and I am keen to see the form of the latter’s blooms, as when it first bloomed last year, the flowers were the correct double form, but I did find some single ones later on, which could be root stock. We will just have to wait and see! On our recent trip to the Southern Highlands, we bought a Belle Etoile Philadelphus, with large single very fragrant flowers, which we have planted next to the old lilac on the fence. Ross has cut an archway between the bamboos and a path behind the large stand to access this part of the garden.The blackbird has finished nesting in the bamboo, but a magpie has been very busy creating her brooding chamber high in the top of the Pepperina tree.Our new Katherine Havermeyer lilac is a delight and is growing and blooming well. The Chaenomeles are still throwing out the odd bloom and the red rhododendron and white azalea are in full bloom, though we will probably move the azalea into a less shaded situation after it has finished flowering. My Grevillea ‘Lady X’ is perpetually in flower (last photo)! Unlike the azalea, the Viburnum plicatum however appears to be thriving in full shade and we also bought two different hostas- Peter Pan and Allan P Mc Connell- from Moidart Nursery, near Bowral, to fill out this shady nook. I also discovered some Winter Aconite Eranthis hyemalis there- very expensive, as it is very difficult to source here in Australia- in fact, this is the only place I have ever seen it- and I may also let it run riot here among the snowdrops, though initially will put it in the treasure bed until I am sure it germinates next year! Here are the treasures we brought home! We also bought some blue primroses, a lovely deep blue auricula (photo 3), Pulsatilla vulgaris, Rhodohypoxis baurii (photo 4), a variegated Arabis procurrens and Azorella trifurcata to fill out the gaps in this bed as the grape hyacinth die down- I love their little seed pods (photo 2)! We planted the new plants in the treasure bed yesterday morning. The Lily of the Valley (photo 1) are also up and the Rosalie Geranium has returned. The Acanthus soldiers and blue Convovulus mauritanicus (photo 2) are on the march nearby. I love the pattern and form of the Acanthus, the photos below showing why their common name is Oyster Plant, and their colour really compliments the house walls. The Garden beds have been such a treat this Spring! The Cutting Garden is a delight with lots of clear royal blue, pale hyacinth blue, bright gold and clean white Dutch Iris and blue cornflowers, forming a backdrop to the bright intense jewel-like ranunculus. Such a treat! The beautifully-scented freesias (photo 1) have just about finished, but the nigella amongst it is in bud. I suspect they are the self-seeded progeny of last year’s lime-green variety (photo 2), rather than the new blue nigella, which we sowed last Autumn. The foxglove is in bloom again, its flowers displaying a similar habit to the weigela- white turning pink, from the base up (photos 3 and 4)! The Iceland Poppies from last year also self-seeded, producing white, gold and orange blooms. So stunning and long-lasting when cut. Here are more photos of the individual ranunculus blooms.The Soho Bed is such a picture and there is very little bare ground to be seen! I am a bit eclectic when it comes to style and colour, but somehow the jumble of colours seems to work – in my eyes anyway! The loyal wallflowers have been joined by a variety of other mauves and purples in the catmint, the wild poppies and the stunning Italian Lavender; blue forget-me-knot; pink thrift and verbena and gold highlights in the old gold bearded iris and now the geum. The bees, both honey bees and native bees, and butterflies are in heaven! Here are two Spring vases from the garden! The Moon Bed is also very beautiful with soft mauve bearded iris, rescued from the heavy shade of the cumquat trees and transplanted to the new Moon Bed, where they can recapture the glory of their flowering period. We did not know what colour they would be, so waited with baited breath as their blooms slowly opened. We were delighted with their dreamy colour, Ross’s favourite, and one which really suits the Moon Bed, while the gold bearded iris are perfect in our sunny Soho Bed! The blue salvia, yellow Paris daisies and day lilies and pink peony (1st photo below) are all growing madly and the roses all have fat buds and are just about to open! SO exciting! November is going to be heavenly! Even the roses from my cuttings last year are in bud! The second photo below shows the blooms of a white tree paeony Paeonia suffruticosa, which we saw at Red Cow Farm on our recent trip to the Southern Highlands , promptly purchasing a seedling, which we will plant at the bottom of the steps next to the pergola and the Philadelphus next Autumn! I will be describing this trip in more detail in my Favourite Gardens post in December. The highlight of the October roses has been the Yellow Banksia, R. banksia lutea, over the outdoor eating area. I can safely report it has now fully recovered from its drastic initial haircut and has been a mass of bright gold and softer lemon blooms! The Spirea on the fence nearby has also been a mass of blooms, but is now finishing off, while the honeysuckle is set to take over. The white banksia rose, R.banksiae alba plena, on the bottom future chook fence, has also been in full bloom, as has its partner, the Jasmine, Jasminium polyanthum. I think both of them are vigorous enough to compete with each other, as I have seen two instances out and about this Spring- a wall covered in yellow banksia and potato vine and an old pergola obliterated by a white banksia, a jasmine and a snail creeper! The Rugosas have also been beautiful, scenting the air round the vegie garden: in order, Frau Dagmar Hastrup, Mme Georges Bruant and Roseraie de L’Hay.Mutabilis and Stanwell Perpetual have also had their first blooms.My birthday Souvenir de la Malmaison appears to like her position in the middle of the pergola and her first blooms have been dreamy, though this particular lady does not like wet weather and has a tendency to ball, which is why she is in the middle rather than the more prominent ends of the pergola! Here are some other early starters in order: Just Jude (2 photos); Viridiflora; Lamarque; Alister Stella Grey; Adam; Evelyn; Paul’s Himalayan Musk rose (2 photos); Countess Bertha; and Château de Clos Vougeot (2 photos). My climbing Cécile Brünner (1st photo) on the front arch is just starting to bloom, a late small camellia beside her mirroring her form and colour (2nd photo).Spring is such a wonderful season! It’s hard dividing my time between the garden, blogging, cooking and sewing! I did finally finish assembling the small Spring cushions, helped my daughter make a bag and baked a delicious sponge for my husband’s birthday in mid-October.And we have had visitors: Oliver and his son, Fagan, who miss the budgies (who have moved to my daughter’s flat) or probably more accurately, their bird seed! A brush-tailed possum, who wants to set up residence in the roof of the shed; And finally, some Shetland ponies, who give rides to kids at the monthly markets and who are currently doing the rounds of Candelo, mowing lawns and paddocks in exchange for free feed! It’s such a great idea!
We are very lucky to live close to this wonderful national park, which encompasses a wide range of habitats from swamp and grassland to old growth forests and escarpment and gorge country and a variety of wildlife, including 48 mammal and 33 reptile species. The 115, 177 ha park was formed in 1997, amalgamating earlier national parks and state forest reserves including : Genoa, Tantawangalo, Bemboka, Yowaka and Coolangubra National Parks, which were all formed in 1994, after a major campaign to protect the last of the old growth forests in South-East New South Wales from woodchipping, which began in 1969 and continued for 25 years, despite increasing opposition. It is part of less than 10 percent of the old growth forest, which survives in Australia after 200 years of clearing. These old growth forest are incredibly important, as they provide nesting hollows for birds and arboreal marsupials. The South East Forest campaign has been documented in a film called ‘Understorey’ by David Gallant. See: https://www.facebook.com/Understorey-a-film-on-the-south-east-forest-campaigns-940034452718427/.
Last April, we spent a wonderful day exploring some of the local landmarks, including Alexander’s Hut, one of the few remaining cattleman’s mountain huts; Nunnock Swamp and Grasslands; Woolingubrah Inn; and finally Myanba Gorge. A few days later, we searched out ‘Fernleigh’, the original farm of Alexander Robinson, and tried to determine the ridge, up which he used to drive his cattle to their Summer pastures.
During our search, we photographed a pair of beautiful Wedge-Tailed Eagles, sitting high in a dead tree, looking back to the heavily forested escarpment. If this majestic bird was travelling inland from the coastal fringe, she would fly over the fertile pastures and undulating hills of ‘Fernleigh’, ‘Tantawangalo’ and Mogilla to the heavily forested 400 Million year old granite escarpment of the South Coast Range (also known as the Bega Batholith), which lies between the Victorian border in the south and Bungendore and Braidwood in the north.
Travelling west, she would cross steep-sided gorges, a myriad of swamps and rolling forest country to the open grasslands and volcanic basalt of the Monaro Tableland.
‘Fernleigh’ was the original home of the Robinson family. Every Spring, they would take 40-60 head of cattle up into the mountains to reduce the pressure of stock grazing on their lower holdings during Summer. Using dogs and an experienced beast as a leader, they would take a full day to herd their animals up this gentle ridge into the dense escarpment forests along old bridle trails : the Postman’s Track and then onto the Cattleman’s Link Trail to their Summer pastures at Alexander’s Hut, seen here in the National Parks map at the hut. For the rest of this post, I will be referring to National Parks and Wildlife Service by its acronym, NPWS. The farmers would let their heifers and poddy calves loose in the bush for a few years. Cattle moved freely between different escarpment properties, so all the cattle grazing families would muster the cattle together and shared each other’s huts. Alexander’s Hut is one of the few remaining mountain huts left. Originally, the property was owned from 1898 to 1922 by Charlie and Ethel Soloman, who ran the General Store in Cathcart.Their original hut was on the site of the current pear tree (photo below), but it burnt down and was replaced by a one-room slab hut, built by George Summerell and his sons Norm and Harry of Cathcart, who incidentally built many of the mountain huts. Local trees were felled, the logs were cut into lengths and split into slabs with broad axes, mauls and frocs, then they were dragged to the site by bullock teams. Slabs were fitted closely together into grooved timber plates at the top and bottom, then the gaps between slabs covered with thinner timber boards to reduce draughts. The roof was corrugated iron, under laid with a hessian ceiling, glued with flour paste (see photo below). There was a fireplace on the right wall, but on the later addition of a second room, the fireplace was relocated and the old fireplace wall was patched up. The property was sold to Alexander Robinson in 1922 and used by three generations of the family, until it was sold in 1990 to the Wilkinsons, who replaced the patched wall with a window and looked after the property until it came under the control of NPWS. It is possible to stay there – both camping and in the hut- a great way for absorbing the atmosphere of the early days!It is such a peaceful beautiful spot now, though it would have been very different back in the early days. Apparently, there was a rabbit plague between the 1920s and 1950s and the Robinsons would often stay up here for a fortnight to dry the skins of the trapped rabbits, before giving them to their Nimmitabel agent, who sold the skins in Melbourne and Sydney. They would often trap 60 rabbits in a night. Rabbit fur was used to make felt hats, worn by the soldiers during the world wars, and the rabbit carcasses were exported to Post War Europe during food shortages.
Since the introduction of myxamatosis, rabbit numbers are now under control, but unfortunately feral deer and pigs are still a major problem and cause considerable damage to the fragile Nunnock Grasslands and Swamp, which are both endangered ecological communities. Other threats include: the introduction of weeds; the spread of Phytophthora (dieback); climate change and illegal hunting.Nunnock Swamp (seen in the NPWS map above) was formed in a shallow depression, perched on the edge of the escarpment of the South-East Ranges (part of the Great Dividing Range), at the headwaters of several creeks. Covering more than 100 ha, this subalpine bog is comprised of a complex array of basins and arms, which reflect the underlying valleys, cut into the impervious granite rock by ancient small streamlets and which vary in degrees of saturation, according to seasonally fluctuating water levels and the particular section of the swamp. The northern part (photo above) is permanently saturated , with a large body of surface water, fringed with sedges and sphagnum moss beds (Sphagnum cristatum), and underlain with a deep layer of peat, formed over many centuries, and which acts like a huge sponge, holding lots of water.
The central and southern part of the swamp is drier and dominated by seasonally saturated shrub and grass communities with fringing woodland. Occasionally, it dries out with periodic droughts. One arm of the swamp drains to the east into the Bega River, but most of the swamp drains south-west into the tributaries of Bombala River and thence to the Snowy River in Victoria.
We had a lovely 4 km walk around the edge of the swamp, allowing us to appreciate the wide diversity of habitats:
Tall Wet Forest: Moist slopes and gullies: Brown Barrel Eucalyptus fastigata; Monkey Gum (also known as Mountain Grey Gum) E. cypellocarpa; Ribbon Gum E. viminalis; and Messmate E. obliqua; with an understorey of tall shrubs of Blanket Bush Bedfordia arborescens; Olearia; Pomaderis; Ferns and herbs.
Dry Forest: Granite ridges, exposed to the sun: Narrow-Leafed Peppermint E. radiata; Mountain Gum E. dalrympleana and Snow Gum E. pauciflora; with an understorey of Silver Banksia B. marginata and Snow Grass Poa species.Grassy Woodlands (Endangered): Fertile soils, derived from basalt and past volcanic activity: Snow Gum E. pauciflora and Ribbon Gum E. viminalis, with a sparse shrub layer of Snow Grass Poa sp.; Kangaroo Grass Themeda australis; and forbs (broad-leafed herbaceous wild flowers).
Natural Temperate Grasslands: Patches along the escarpment on exposed basalt or low lying areas, where the cold air pools or the soils are periodically water-logged, preventing the growth of tree seedlings. In October and November, they are filled with wildflowers: Granite Buttercup Ranunculus graniticola; Grass Trigger Plant Stylidium graminifolium; and Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre (see first 2 photos above).Forest-Grassland Ecotone: Transitional area between snowgum woodland and grassland: Rich diversity of plants and wildlife including: Eastern Grey Kangaroos; Red-Necked Wallabies; Swamp Wallabies; Koalas; Yellow-bellied Gliders; Greater Gliders; Powerful Owls and Masked Owls eg Nunnock Camping Ground.
Swamp: Sphagnum cristatum; Eastern Banjo Frog (Pobblebonk); Whistling Tree Frog; Dendy’s Toadlet; White Lipped Snake; Copperhead; Migratory Latham’s Snipe and many other birds, including these Grey Teal in the first photo below.The wide variety of vegetation types supplied a variety of food, fibre and shelter resources for the local aboriginal people, the Maneroo, who lived here for over 20 000 years. In Winter, they would follow well-worn bridle trails down to the coast for trade, large inter-tribal ceremonies and feasting, enjoying whale meat, fish and shellfish like mussels. In the Summer, the coastal Yuins would follow these same trails up into the mountains to the Monaro Tablelands to feast on the Bogong Moth.
Later, early European settlers would also follow these trails, and they still exist today as part of a network of 4WD roads like the steep rugged Postman’s Track (the main route for the weekly packhorse mail service for the Monaro, from Cooma to the coast, from 1851 to 1875) and bushwalking tracks, including the 2.5 km Cattleman’s Walking Track, which retraces the old stock route and the 4.8 km Wilkinsons Walking Track and 2 km Keys Track between Alexander’s Hut and Nunnock Campground. Here are the NPWS maps of the walking tracks. Camping is also available at Six Mile Creek, which has a 300 metre walking track along Tantawangalo Creek and is a popular swimming hole in Summer.Further south, the aborigines used to follow an old bridle trail from Towamba up Myanba Creek to Myanba Gorge and the Monaro Tablelands. Here is a NPWS map of its location. Myanba Gorge is perched on the granite escarpment in the Coolangubbra section of the South East Forest National Park. We accessed it via Coolangubra Forest Way and Kanoonah Road, a long dry dusty road through clear-felled forest, but it was worth it for the end destination! The 2 km walk (takes 1 hour return) follows the banks of the Myanba Creek, as it flows over granite boulders into the steep-sided gorge, then off the escarpment into the Towamba River, which opens out into the sea at Twofold Bay, Eden. This is a photo of the NPWS interpretive board. There are three lookouts: Myanba Creek Lookout; Pulpit Rock Lookout and finally, Myanba Gorge Lookout with very impressive views over the gorge to the Towamba Valley below. The Coolangubra section of the park has a number of unusual plant communities and rare and endangered animals. Vegetation communities include:
Dry Rainforest (Endangered): Dry open forest on rocky north–facing slopes and heads of gullies: Rusty Fig, Ficus rubiginosa, is at the southernmost limit of its geographical range.
Escarpment Dry Grassy Forest: Blue-Leafed Stringybark E. maidenii.
Escarpment Tall Wet Forest: Brown Barrel E. fastigata ; Messmate E. obliqua; Monkey Gum or Mountain Grey Gum E. cypellocarpa ; Narrow-Leafed Peppermint E. radiata: Possums, gliders and owls.
Hinterland Dry Grassy Forest
Hinterland Dry Shrub Forest: White Stringybark E. globoidea; Yellow Stringybark E. muelleriana; ; Peppermint Gum E. nicholii; Brown Barrel E. fastigata; Silvertop Ash E. sieberii; Messmate E. obliqua ; Monkey Gum or Mountain Grey Gum E. cypellocarpa.
Wet Gully Fern Forest
Rainforest: Small pockets along Myanba Creek: Cool Temperate rainforest restricted to gullies with steep slopes eg Olive Berry Elaeocarpus holopetalus; Warm Temperate rainforest on rocky sites in the gorge, where they are protected from fires eg Pittosporum undulatum; Streaked Rock Orchids Dendrobium striolatum; and Victorian Christmas Bush Prostanthera lasianthos. The photos below are in order: Epacris impressa and Correa reflexa.The old growth forests homes and nesting hollows to a wide variety of animal life:
Wombats; Swamp Wallabies ; Parma Wallabies; Tiger Quolls; Platypus; the threatened Southern Brown Bandicoot; Endangered Long-Footed Potoroos, the only known population in NSW; White-Footed Dunnarts; Smoky Mouse ; Eastern Pygmy Possum, Brush-Tailed Possums; Feather-Tailed Gliders; Sugar Gliders; Greater Gliders; and Yellow-Bellied Gliders.
The possums and gliders are the main food source for the threatened Powerful Owls, Sooty Owls and Southern Boobooks. Other birds include: Square-Tailed Kite; Peregrine Falcon; Gang Gang Cockatoos; Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos; Superb Lyrebird; and Honeyeaters. Other animals include: Diamond Python; Eastern Water Dragon; Giant Burrowing Frog and Australian Grayling, an endangered freshwater fish, which lives further downstream and which migrates from the coastal streams to the ocean.If you are in the area, it is also worth visiting Woolingubrah Inn in the Coolangubra State Forest, 20 km from Bombala. Woolingubrah is an aboriginal word meaning ‘windy place’, an apt description for its location on the exposed peak of Big Jack Mountain. Before the construction of the Tantawangalo Mountain Road, the Big Jack Mountain Bridle Trail was the only track from Eden to the Monaro and the goldfields at Kiandra. The inn was imported as a prefabricated building from the USA to provide a halfway house for emigrants travelling to the goldfields during the goldrush of the 1860s. Only one of three such buildings still existing in Australia, it arrived at Eden by coastal steamer in October 1860 and was transported by bullock wagon to Woolingubrah, where the sections were assembled together to make a dwelling with six bedrooms, a bar and a kitchen and dining room. From 1871, it became the family home of HA Nicholson for the next 15 years. It was purchased by the Forestry Corporation in 1986 and was restored in 2001.The old roof shingles were replaced by a corrugated iron roof, but can still be seen under the verandah.At the end of April, we drove up Wolumla Peak, also in South East Forests National Park.
Once we finally found the start, the signs all having been removed(!), it was a really long slow road, 15 km at 20 km per hour, along corrugated 4WD forestry roads and at times, we wondered if it was worth it, but the 360 degree view at the top from the fire-spotting tower was magnificent !
We could see Merimbula (photos 1-4) and Pambula (photo 5) and the coast to the east and south; the escarpment behind to the west and to the north, our own little village of Candelo. The vegetation was lovely- Fireweed Grounsel Senecio linearifolius, white and golden everlasting daisies, red heath, wattle…On the way down, we spotted our first Glossy Black Cockatoos, feeding in the casuarinas (1st photo)- a very exciting event, as we knew they were in the area, but had not seen them yet. We also saw Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, a pair of Spotted Quail Thrush (also new to us – photo below) and Swamp Wallabies and listened to the entire repertoire of a Superb Lyrebird, mimicking the calls of Grey Thrush, Butcherbirds, Eastern Whipbirds, Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, Kookaburras and White-Browed Scrub Wrens. We discovered a huge velvety-brown moth, with a 16 cm wing span and camouflaged well against the brown and grey pebbles of the beautiful Pambula Creek, later identified as a White-Stemmed Gum Moth, Chelepteryx collesi. This is what I love about our amazing natural world- there are always new things to be discovered and new places to explore!There is so much more to do in South-East Forest National Park, as can be seen in: http://www.eden.nsw.au/~edennswa/images/stories/BushWalks/SouthEastForestNationalPark_region.pdf. There is also much more information on the National Parks Management Plan : www.environment.nsw.gov.au/parkmanagement/SoutheastforestMgmtplan.htm (map) and click on the Download Now button on the right hand side of the page for the plan.
Here are some photos of the beautiful Pambula Creek:
Over the next two months, I am featuring specialist private gardens, which I have divided into 4 categories : Artists’ Gardens (October); Dry Climate and Mediterranean Gardens (November) ; Sustainable Gardens (November); and Small Gardens (November). It’s a very eclectic mix, but we were impressed by every one of them. Some of them cross over categories. For example, the gardens of Meanderings and Barwon Heads are both included in Dry Climate Gardens, but are also Small Gardens, while the Markos Garden, a part of Sustainable Gardens, is very much a Mediterranean Garden and a Small Garden. Hendrik’s Garden is also both sustainable and small, while Art Rocks is both a Dry Climate Garden and an Artists’ Retreat and Tickle Tank is an Artist’s Garden, which is only small- a mere 20m by 20m. I will begin with Artists’ Gardens, looking firstly at mosaics, then progressing onto painters. Again, this is only a very small selection of the wonderful gardens in Australia and the choice was often dictated by the availability of good photographs in my collection. I have covered other art-related gardens in my posts on Carrick Hill, Werribee and Heide and Sculpture Gardens: https://candeloblooms.com/2016/02/09/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-historic-homes-and-gardens/ and https://candeloblooms.com/2016/06/14/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-sculpture-gardens/.
I have always loved mosaics in the garden- they add colour and interest, especially in Winter, and can compliment plants when in flower. And they are really fun to make! No doubt through my posts, you have already seen my stepping-stones, my Mothers’ Day Bird Plate and my two bird sticks, the latter two made in workshops at the Geelong Community Garden with Helen Millar of Flock of Birds. See: http://www.flockofbirdsmosaics.org and https://candeloblooms.com/2016/05/10/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-education-gardens/. During the 40th Kyneton Daffodil Arts festival in Spring 2012, we visited:
Geraldine Phelan’s Studio and Garden
60 Dettman’s Lane, Kyneton, VIC Ph: (03)5422 7154 and 0478605540
Geraldine is a mosaic artist, who moved to Central Victoria in 2010. This is her studio. She does beautiful work and also teaches mosaic classes. Here are some photos of her gypsy caravan (above) and the mosaic work of competition entrants during the festival (above and below).The Flying Teapot
111 Inglis St, Ballan, VIC, 3342
A prominent and highly imaginative landmark in the main street of Ballan, this wonderful mosaic fence was created by Lou Callow, a local artist and teacher. There is so much in this wall, that I will let the photos tell their story.Tickle Tank
24 Hill Street, Mt Barker, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 450 m2
An AMAZING house and garden, built by Irene Pearce, a sculptor and professional potter for 27 years, which thoroughly merits the two videos made about it. See:
http://www.salife7.com.au/south-australia/gardening/open-gardens/tickle-tank and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ68CwYzKt0In 1998, Irene bought a 50,000 gallon concrete water tank, which was built in 1944 and was the old town water storage. She siphoned the water out and excavated 20 truckloads of soil, as three quarters of the tank was buried underground. The tank is 10m across and 4m tall and became her kitchen, dining and family room.
She bought three more tanks (3000 and 5000 gallons), which were lowered into position by cranes and became the bathroom, laundry and a small bedroom for her grandchildren. She hired a concrete cutting contractor to cut holes in the concrete tanks for doors and windows and used recycled jarrah from the original tank to make the doors. Irene has a very quirky, eclectic style and the dwelling has both a Greek (blue and white colours) and nautical feel (blue and white colours again; sail sun shelter; life buoys; ropes; shells; driftwood, sea horses, portholes).
It’s a wonderful place and so inspirational. Everything has been done on a very low budget and made by hand out of recycled materials, both in the house and the garden. I loved her driftwood handles on the cupboard doors, her hidden bath under the floor, the fungi lamps and all her collections.The multilevel garden is 450 square metres and is low maintenance, organic and water-wise. It has a series of open air rooms for relaxation, meditation, eating and adventures for kids. All the materials used in the garden are recycled or were salvaged from the site. The retaining walls became garden seats and the excess water runoff became a small creek, crossed by a recycled timber bridge. Irene sculpted a mermaid out of a stone wall and a dragon out of cement. Broken tiles were used to make a mosaic wall in the rose arbour (covered with Lorraine Lee), as well as a white wisteria mural outside the kitchen, mosaic window edges and tables and mosaic floors in the kitchen and shower recess. Apparently, since our visit in 2008, there is a new mosaic driveway. There is an old pot-bellied stove outside for cooking and heat, as well as a fire pit out of rendered concrete. The rendered stone walls maintain moisture and keep the plants cool in Summer.
The garden has a wonderful, blowsy, overgrown feel and is a mixture of exotics and natives, all so densely planted that it is difficult for weeds to get going. Plants include : Hardenbergia and purple Native Mint Bush; fruit trees and crab apples; roses; hardy native grasses; herbs; self-seeding annuals; hardy cottage perennials; Spring bulbs and lots of succulents in pots. There is so much to this garden- we actually went round twice, taking a million photos for future ideas! Here are a few of Irene’s delightful sculptures:Painters:
Heysen Rd, Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, 5245 60 acres
10am-4.30pm Tuesday-Sunday and Public Holidays; Closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Good Friday $10 Adult; $8 Concession; $5 Garden only
While we were in South Australia in October 2008, we also visited the home of two of South Australia’s most famous artists, Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora.Hans Heysen bought the 1878 colonial villa in August 1912, where he lived with his wife Sallie and 8 children until his death in 1968, aged 90. He renovated and updated the house from 1912-1920, decorating it in a Federation Arts-and-Crafts style. It is still privately owned by the Heysen grandchildren and very little has changed since the days when Hans was still alive. The comfortable old furniture and textiles, Hans’ paintings and Nora’s portraits and all the old books and magazines give the house a very welcoming warm feel. There is a wonderful light throughout the house and a beautiful window overlooking the garden. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful old house and its equally lovely garden!Hans loved his garden, laying out all the garden beds and building the stone paths, walls and steps out of sandstone and quartz. He planted mainly exotic species : Himalayan Cedar trees, after which the property was named; Crab Apple Malus spectabilis; Chaenomeles japonica; Bourbon roses including one of my favourite roses, Souvenir de la Malmaison, painted by both Hans and Nora; Tea roses (Duchess de Brabant) and Hybrid Teas (Queen Elizabeth); lilacs; iris; massed zinnias; Spring bulbs and old-fashioned perennials.We also walked around the property, stopping at 11 viewing boxes, where we could compare prints of Hans’ landscapes with the exact location of each work. Winner of the Wynne Prize (the landscape equivalent of the Archibald Prize) nine times, Hans was most famous for his portraits of gum trees, the 600 year old River Red Gums Eucalyptus camaldulensis and White Gums Eucalyptus rubida. He was such a keen conservationist, that he bought neighbouring properties to prevent the trees from being cut down.The entrance price also includes a tour of the studios of both Hans (photos 1 and 2) and Nora (photo 3). Nora was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize in 1938, as well as being Australia’s first female war artist. It was wonderful to see all their charcoal and pencil sketches; lithographs of agricultural scenes, sheds and draughthorses; the paintings of gum trees with the play of light on their trunks; and the paintings of still life and floral arrangements.When we visited ‘The Cedars’ back in 2008, because the property was still privately owned, it was impossible to get public funding for it and the money from sales and entrance fees only covered insurance. The potential cost of upkeep of the house was a barrier to future National Trust involvement, so it was with great delight that I discovered that in April 2016, the property was granted $1 Million from the Federal Government for its upkeep. It is a beautiful historic property and well worth visiting if you get a chance.
Wentworth Falls Art Gallery
161 Falls Rd, Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW 2782 PH (02) 4757 1139 Just under 1 acre
10am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday and Public Holidays
Established in 1990 by Anne and Ian Smith, the gallery is housed in an early 1900s weatherboard cottage in a large mountain garden, a two minute walk to the Falls Reserve Picnic area and lookouts. Anne paints luscious females and Ian is a ceramic artist, so they both have workspaces at the back – a studio for Anne and a pottery workshop for Ian. Both their work is on sale, as well as art work by Garry Shead, Wendy Sharpe, Bernard Ollis, Max Miller, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman and John Olsen.I loved their beautifully landscaped mountain garden with its Japanese Maples, conifers and native vegetation, huge tree ferns, azaleas and rhododendrons, chaenomeles, box hedging and topiary, hellebores and lots of outdoor statues. It had such a peaceful relaxing feel and was so green, unlike my final artist’s garden, a complete contrast :
199 Teesdale-Inverleigh Rd, Inverleigh, VIC 3321 Ph (03) 5265 1370; 0417522010
4km from Inverleigh; 20 minutes from Geelong and 1 hour from Melbourne
Owned by artist and teacher, Adé Loe, and environmentalist, Bronte Payne, Art Rocks is a studio gallery and Bed & Breakfast accommodation. They run workshops and weekend retreats for sculpture, mosaics, ceramics, drawing, painting, glasswork and making glass beads.We visited this property as part of the annual Golden Plains Art Trail in March 2012 and were blown away by its dramatic use of colour and contrast; its amazing cacti and succulent garden and dry climate plants;
its sculpture park; its use of recycled material and its panoramic views.
It is a great example of dry climate gardening and leads very neatly into the next category: Dry Climate and Mediterranean Gardens, which I will discuss next month, along with Small and Sustainable Gardens.
My feature plant for October is the Iris and our first Dutch Iris bloom has just opened, right on time! They are such beautiful regal flowers and definite confirmation that Spring is here to stay and the long cold Winter is over!Irises, commonly known as ‘flags’, belong to the family Iridaceae and the genus Iris, which contains 260 to 300 species, many of which are natural hybrids. The number of different types be quite confusing, but the first and major difference is whether they are rhizomatous or bulbous. Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems that strike new roots out of their nodes down into the soil, and that shoot new stems out of their nodes up to the surface. Most iris in this group are evergreen, but some go dormant, usually in late Summer/Autumn. Rhizomatous iris are either bearded or beardless. Bearded Iris have a tuft of short upright filaments down the centre of the blade, while beardless iris usually have a flash of colour, mostly yellow, at the top of the lower petals (known as falls), called a ‘signal’. Beardless iris include: Pacific Coast, Louisiana Iris, Siberian Iris and Japanese Iris. Bulbous iris have a small bulb like an onion and are dormant and lose their leaves for part of the year. They include Dutch, English and Spanish Iris, as well as Iris reticulata. The photo above is a Dutch Iris. There is an excellent diagram on the Iris Society of Australia (http://www.irises.org.au/TypesIris.htm), which clarifies the situation in a simple form. I will discuss some of the major groups in more detail later in this post. The photo below shows my Dutch Iris in the cutting garden last year.Habitat: Temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere from Europe to Asia and across North America. They are found in a variety of habitats from dry semi-desert to colder, rocky, mountainous areas, grassy slopes and meadows and even bogs, swamps and riverbanks.History:
Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, referring to its wide colour range. It is also the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who was the messenger of love, thus iris are symbols of communication and messages. In the language of flowers, iris generally means ‘eloquence’, after which its meaning depends on its colour : purple iris represent wisdom and compliments; blue iris symbolize faith and love; a yellow iris means passion and a white iris represents purity. The photo below is a bed of Bearded Iris of mixed colours.The iris first appeared in artwork in the frescoes at King Minos’s palace on Crete and date from 2100 BC. It became the symbol of King Clovis of France (466-511 AD) on his conversion to Christianity, the iris being known as one of the Virgin’s flower. The fleur-de-lis, a stylized representation of the iris, was the emblem of the House of Capet, which ruled the Kingdom of France from 911-1328 AD, and was also adopted as a symbol by King Louis VII in 12th century France. A red fleur-de-lis is found on the coat of arms of Florence, Italy, where it has been their symbol since 1251, as well as that of the Medici family, while yellow irises are depicted on the Quebec flag. The iris is also one of the state flowers of Tennessee. It is even found on Japanese banknotes! The back of the 5000 yen banknote depicts “Kakitsubata-zu”, the most renowned painting of irises in Japan. It was painted by Ogata Kouri, one of the most famous Japanese painters . See : http://jpninfo.com/17450. Another famous artwork ‘Irises’ was painted in 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh and was sold at auction in 1987 to Alan Bond for a record $53.9 Million. It was resold in 1990 to the Getty Museum for an undisclosed amount. Iris flowers have also been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, Durer, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin and Monet, as well as my daughter Caroline, especially for this post!Garden cultivars were found in Europe by the 16th century. There was a big boom in breeding from 1830 on and by 1930, the American Iris Society listed 19 000 iris species and hybrids. There are now literally thousands of cultivars of Bearded Iris – over 30,000 Tall Bearded Iris alone! Compare the following photos to see the difference between the old (1st photo) and new (2nd photo) iris blooms.
Unfortunately, like many other plant species, hybridization to produce increasingly large, dramatic frilled blooms of a huge colour range has been at the expense of fragrance, but there are conservation groups, for example : the Historic Iris Preservation Society ( http://www.historiciris.org/ ) in America, which specializes in the preservation of heritage iris varieties, which are over 30 years old and are tougher plants with less frills, but more fragrance. New Zealand also has a Heritage Irises blog with links to Iris gardens and growers throughout the world. See : http://historiciris.blogspot.com.au/. The Presby Memorial Garden (http://presbyirisgardens.org/wordpress/) in New Jersey is a living iris museum with over 10 000 iris plants, while the largest garden in Europe is the Giardino dell’ Iris in Florence, Italy, (http://www.intoflorence.com/giardino-dell-iris/), which has 1500 varieties in its two acre garden and hosts an annual international iris festival in late May.
In Australia, irises are best seen in October/ November at specialised iris nurseries like:
Yarrabee Water Garden and Iris Nursery, One Tree Hill, South Australia : Tall Bearded Iris and Louisiana Iris : http://www.yarrabeegardenandiris.com
Sunshine Iris, Lockhart, west of Wagga Wagga, NSW in the Riverina : 300 varieties and specializes in older vintage Bearded Iris: http://www.sunshineiris.com.au/.
Riverina Iris Farm, Lake Albert, is another Iris nursery, just south of Wagga Wagga, which specializes in Tall Bearded Iris : http://www.riverinairisfarm.com/. It has open gardens on the weekends from the 8th of October 2016 to the 6th of November 2016 from 10 am to 5 pm. They are also open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and other times by appointment.
Rainbow Ridge, Burnt Yards, west of Carcoar, NSW : Tall Bearded and Median Iris, Louisiana and Californian Iris: http://www.rainbowridgenursery.com.au/
Iris Splendor, Railton, Tasmania : Tall Bearded Iris: http://iris-splendor.com
Tempo Two, Pearcedale, Victoria : Specialist Iris nursery : http://www.tempotwo.com.au
Tesselaars, Monbulk, Victoria also sells Dutch , Bearded, Siberian and Japanese Iris: https://www.tesselaar.net.au/.
Iris are handsome, herbaceous, evergreen perennial plants, which grow from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous iris) or bulbs (bulbous iris).
They have long, erect flowering stems, which are simple or branched, solid or hollow and flattened or with a circular cross-section, depending on the species. The photo below of my gold Bearded Iris shows the basic structure of the plant.
Rhizomatous iris have 3-10 basal sword-shaped leaves, which form dense clumps, while bulbous iris have cylindrical basal leaves.Iris have 6 symmetrical lobed flowers, which grow on a pedicel or peduncle. The 3 sepals drooping downwards are called ‘falls’ and have a narrow base (haft), which widens into a blade, which may be covered in dots, lines or veins. In Bearded Iris, the centre of the blade has a tuft of short upright filaments to guide the pollinating insects down to the ovary. The blades of the iris act as a landing stage for flying pollinators. There are also 3 upright petals called ‘standards’, which stand behind the base of the falls. All petals and sepals are united at the base into a floral tube above the inferior ovary and the style divide towards the apex into petaloid branches. The Bearded Iris in the photo below is much frillier and larger than my gold Bearded Iris, shown above.
Flowering occurs from late Winter through to late Summer, depending on the species. There is a good diagram on: http://gardendesignforliving.com/a-guide-to-growing-iris-blooms-all-season/ , giving a guide to flowering times for the Northern Hemisphere. Basically, Iris reticulata starts the iris flowering season in late March to mid April, followed by Iris pumila for 2 weeks in early May; then Crested Iris for 1 week in mid to late May. Tall Bearded Iris also bloom in mid to late May for 2-3 weeks, overlapping with Siberian Iris, which are slightly later and have a shorter blooming period. Japanese Iris bloom in late June to mid July, then the iris season closes with reblooming Bearded Iris in August and September. In Australia, Dutch Iris flower in early Spring (September) and Bearded Iris bloom in October/ November.
The fruit is a capsule, which opens into 3 parts, revealing many seeds. In the desert dwelling Aril Iris, the seed bears an aril.
Iris are divided into 6 subgenera, which are then divided into a number of sections, but I will mainly focus on the more common garden iris, including the varieties I grow in our garden. All of the subgenera are from the Old World, except for Limniris, which has a holarctic distribution. The largest subgenera are marked with an asterisk *. Here are the names of the 6 subgenera:
*1. Bearded Rhizomatous Iris:
eg Table or Stool Iris: Iris aphylla
eg Bearded Iris : Iris germanica
eg Sweet Iris: Iris pallida
eg Hungarian Iris: Iris variegata
*2. Limniris: Beardless Iris:
eg Pacific Coast Iris
eg Louisiana Iris
eg Siberian Iris: Iris sibirica
eg Japanese Iris: Iris ensata
eg Large Blue Flag: Iris versicolour
eg Yellow Flag: Iris pseudacorus
eg Blue Iris: Iris spuria
eg Yellow-banded iris: Iris orientalis
eg Crested Iris: Iris cristata
3.Xiphium: Smooth Bulbed Bulbous: formerly Xiphion
eg Spanish and Dutch Iris: Iris xiphium, though Dutch iris also known as Iris x hollandica
eg English Iris: Iris latifolia
4.Nepalensis: Bulbous Iris: formerly Junopsis
5.Scorpiris: Smooth Bulbed Bulbous: formerly Juno
eg Iris persica
6.Hermodactyloides: Reticulate Bulbed Bulbous: formerly Iridodictyum:
eg Iris reticulata: white, blue and violet: see photo below from the Portland Botanic Garden.Bearded Iris
The most common iris in the garden, which is a result of a cross between an early German hybrid, Iris 5 germanica and other naturally occurring European hybrids of Iris pallida and Iris variegata, as well as wild species like Iris aphylla. There are so many hybrid cultivars, but they are divided into groups based on size:
Tall Bearded Iris Over 71cm: Largest iris and the last to bloom.
Border Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall: Similar size flowers to Tall Bearded Iris, but shorter stems.
Miniature Tall Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall; Smaller flowers to Border Bearded Iris; Also called Table Iris, because they are very dainty and suitable for small arrangements. Similar growing conditions to other Bearded Iris.
Intermediate Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall. Very prolific. Cross between Dwarf and Tall Bearded Iris and require a bit more cooling and a bit more watering than the latter.
Standard Dwarf Bearded 20-38 cm tall and the shortest Bearded Iris; Suitable for borders. Dwarf Bearded Iris are easy to grow, but do require full sun and frosty Winters and loose, well-drained soil. Do not allow to dry out totally over Summer.
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Up to 20 cm. Suitable for rockeries only.
Aril Bred Iris: Arilmeds: 45-75 cm. Cross between Tall Bearded Iris and desert Aril Iris. They like very well drained soil and may die down in Summer.
A good site for more information on Bearded Iris is: https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/blog/types-of-bearded-irises.
For a description of the many different species, see: http://www.irises.org.au/TypesIris.htm and follow the underlined links.
Siberian Iris: Iris sibirica
Hybrids of Iris orientalis and Iris sibirica.
Native to Asia and Europe.
Beardless flowers in blue, lavender, yellow and white in late Spring/early Summer. The flowers are smaller than those of Bearded Iris and the foliage is very decorative. They do not grow in water and are not bog plants, but are very tough and can be planted in Spring and Autumn. They need a frosty Winter to flower well. Flowering time is usually November in Australia. The best situation is a damp, sunny spot and they are dormant in Autumn to early Winter.
Japanese Iris: Iris ensata
Once called Kaempferi Iris, they have been cultivated in Japan for more than 500 years and were once grown exclusively for royalty. Flowers are purple, pink and bicolours and both the sepals and petals are flat. They do not actually live in water, but like the same moist conditions as ferns. Flowering in November to December, they like damp, acid soil with cold Winters and will be dormant from Autumn to Winter.
Large Blue Flag: Iris versicolour
Grows in boggy areas and swamps in North-Eastern USA and comes in blue, violet and white.
Yellow Flag: Iris pseudocorus
Native to Europe, where it grows in swamps and boggy ground, but naturalized all over the world. Very invasive and aggressive growth, so should not be planted near waterways. Much safer contained within a walled garden like this one at Dalvui, Noorat, Victoria!
Pacific Coast Iris
From west coast of USA, they are low growing, extremely drought-hardy irises, that need a sunny spot with acid soil. They must only be moved in late Autumn to early Winter .
From the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River area of USA. They are evergreen and one of the few irises that like tropical areas, although they will grow in most of Australia. Has flatter flowers 4 to 6 inches across and bloom in October to November in Australia. Likes similar conditions to Japanese Iris: moist rich acid soil and partial shade.
Spuria Iris :
Come from Central Europe. They usually go dormant for a while in Autumn. They grow in a wide range of soils (especially alkaline), but need a cool Winter and dislike extreme Summer humidity. Flowering in Australia is in October to November.
Dutch Iris: Iris x xiphium 70 to 90 cm tall
Beardless bulbous iris, with royal blue, white and gold flowers in Spring. A favourite with the florists. The blooms last 5 to 7 days.
Growing Conditions and Propagation:
Basically, iris like a well-drained soil, with at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full sun all day is even better, but darker-coloured varieties are probably better with protection from the hot afternoon sun. Because of the wide geographical distribution, cultivation requirements vary greatly and there is an iris for every situation.
Most Iris like to be chilled in Winter, in fact some Dwarf Bearded iris actually require frost to bloom. Bearded Iris are grown in Zones 3-9, while Dutch Iris can be grown in Zones 5-9.
Bearded Iris likes dry Summers and cool to cold Winters and a neutral to alkaline soil, which is moist during their active growth and flowering, but dry after that. Siberian Iris like damp boggy soil, shade and a frosty Winter. Pacific Coast Iris like a dry Summer, a cool damp Winter and an acidic soil, while Louisiana Iris also like a damp, wet, acidic soil. Rockery Iris like moist, perfectly-drained gritty soil. Iris reticulata likes a good porous soil in a sunny or shady spot with leaf mulch in Winter. None of them like too much nitrogen.
Plant Dutch Iris bulbs in the Autumn for Spring flowering. Last year, we ordered and planted 5 bulbs each of Discovery (Royal Blue); Hildegard (pale blue); Lilac Beauty (violet); Casablanca (white); and Golden Beauty (gold) from Tesselaars. Plant bulbs 10-15 cm deep and 10-15cm apart, pointed end up. Lift and divide every few years to avoid overcrowding. I planted them with cornflowers to hide their dying foliage after blooming.
Propagation is usually by division, more rarely seed. In the following paragraph, I will describe the cultivation of Bearded Iris:
Divide the clumps in Summer every 2to 3 years, when they become congested. Separate the rhizomes by hand or with a sharp sterile knife if necessary. Check the rhizomes for borer attack, to which they are susceptible, and discard any infested ones. A good rhizome will be the thickness of a thumb with healthy roots and 1-2 leaf blades. Plant bare-rooted in late Summer in an open sunny position. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rhizome should still be visible on the surface of the soil, where it can absorb the sun’s warmth, but in Australia, they can be covered with 1.5 cm soil to avoid scorching. My gold Bearded Iris came from our rental place and last year, we discovered some forgotten Bearded Iris clumps growing under the shade of the cumquat trees, so we divided the clumps and replanted the rhizomes singly along the edge of the Moon Bed. Already, they have multiplied profusely and I cannot wait for them to flower this Spring, so that I can discover their colours!Uses:
Highly ornamental plant, which is fragrant, low maintenance and multiplies readily. Good as a feature plant, in a border or in a rockery. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love them!
Floristry: Buy when the colour is visible beneath the sheath, but before the petals have started to unfurl (see photo below). They do not like preservative, as iris do not like sugar, so only use a few drops of chlorine bleach in the vase water. Do not arrange with daffodils unless the latter have been conditioned, as the daffodils’ toxic sap will affect the iris stems.
Perfume Industry and Medicine:
Grown for the production of irone, orris oil and orris root. Irone is a methylione odorant, used in perfumery, which is derived from orris oil and has a sweet floral, woody, ionone odour. Orris root is used in perfumery, potpourri and medicine and is actually the rhizome of Iris germanica and Iris pallida. The rhizomes are harvested, dried and aged for up to 5 years, during which time the fats and oils degrade and oxidize, producing fragrant violet-scented compounds, which are valuable in perfumery. Aged rhizomes are stem-distilled to produce iris butter or orris oil. This essential oil is used as a sedative in aromatherapy. The dried rhizome has also been given to teething babies to soothe their gums. Orris root and iris flowers are also used in Bombay Sapphire Gin and Magellan Gin for its flavour and colour. In the past, iris has been used to treat skin infections, syphilis, dropsy and stomach problems, as well as being used as a liver purge, however it should only be used by a qualified practitioner, as the rhizomes can be toxic. Iris contain terpenes and organic acids, including ascorbic acid, myrsistic acid, tridecylenic acid and undecylenic acid. The Large Blue Flag, Iris versicolour, and other common garden hybrids, contains elevated amounts of toxic glycoside iridin, which cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritation, though it is not normally fatal.
The Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudocorus, used to be grown in reed bed substrates for water purification, as they consumed nutrient pollutants and agricultural runoff, but they are extremely invasive and have become a noxious weed, clogging up waterways.
Finally, a brief description of some other types of iris in the Iridaceae family:
Peacock Iris: Moraea aristata: Endemic to Cape Town, South Africa
Rare Winter-flowering bulb, with large white blooms (5 to 7cm across) with a deep, iridescent blue eye on each petal. Their undersides are also white, but covered in decorative blue freckles. They have no scent. Easy to grow, they are best left in the ground to naturalize. The foliage and flowers emerge Winter to Spring and they are dormant through Summer. The flower stems grow 20to 35cm tall and the narrow foliage grows to 40cm. Can easily be cultivated in sunny gardens with sandy or clay soils , but prefers well-drained, humus-rich soil. Grow in full sun to light afternoon shade. Water in and keep moist during active growth and keep relatively dry during dormancy. Critically endangered in the wild.
Dietes, also called Wild Iris, Butterfly Grass or African Iris: Dietes iridioides
A clump-forming, rhizomatous perennial, also from South Africa. Dietes have dark green, strappy foliage and white (marked with yellow) and mauve, iris-like flowers on tall stems in Spring. The flowers have six free tepals, that are not joined into a tube at their bases and only last one day. The flowers are followed by 3-celled capsules, containing numerous seeds, on stalks, which bend right down to the ground for easy propagation. Grow in full sun or part shade. Although tolerant of tough conditions, Dietes will perform best in well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Fertilize occasionally and water during dry spells. Do not remove flower stems, as they continue to flower for several years. Propagate by seed or by division of established clumps.
Native Iris or Silky Purple Flag: Patersonia sericea
Densely-tufted, perennial herb with short rhizomes. Endemic to the east coast of Australia and first described in 1807, Patersonia grows in dry sclerophyll forests, woodland and heath, preferring sandy, well-drained soil on the coast and ranges. Up to 60cm tall, with stiff grass-like grey-green leaves and three-petalled, blue-violet flowers in terminal clusters, enclosed in two large papery bracts, in Spring and Summer, which last less than a day. Frost-tolerant and thrives in hot, dry situations. There are 6 other species in the Patersonia genus.