Friday, June 27, 2008

Annual Poppies

The season is over for the great perennial Oriental poppies but it is not the end of the poppies this year. There are many wonderful annual and biennial poppies that flower later in the summer.
Papaver Rhoeas, the common annual poppy is a great favorite of mine. In its natural state it is flaming red but has been hybridized into many soft colors as well (Shirley poppies) in both singles and doubles. My photographs feature this poppy in its red and softer pink manifestations.
Another lovely annual poppy is papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. This poppy is the source of both opium and poppy seeds. Its big seed heads are often dried for winter arrangements. I believe this poppy also started out red but there is an army of hybrids including huge, fluffy mop heads in white, purple, pink. A particular favorite of mine is called Flemish poppy, a soft off white streaked with red that belongs in an old Flemish oil painting.
Papaver nudicaule, the Iceland poppy, is usually classified as a biennial but in cooler areas like my New Hampshire hillside it is more or less perennial It has the look of crepe paper and comes in warmer colors than Shirley poppies, soft oranges, yellows and whites.

Growing Annual Poppies
Poppies are easy to grow. They can be started by scattering seed over prepared garden soil in early spring: since they are quite hardy they can withstand mild frosts. I usually start mine inside under lights in March to plant out in early May. They don’t like transplanting so they should be started in individual peat pots or plastic pots. They reseed readily so plants emerge all over the garden adding little touches of color.

I love this shirt and its name, the Hippy, Trippy, Butterfly and Poppy Shirt. What a joy to wear these poppies and butterflies. It is made by Vigilante Labs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Iris Again

I have been experimenting with scanning flowers directly into the computer on my flat bed scanner rather than photographing them with a camera. I am seeking an ethereal, transparent effect, almost like an x-ray of a flower.
The little yellow iris I am using here has been with me all of my life, it grew in my grandmother’s and my mother’s gardens. One of the easiest iris to grow, it is not as showy as the big hybrids but also less susceptible to borers and wind.

I love the little iris pendant. It is a real iris petal preserved and embellished with crystals to make a unique necklace. The pendant and other flower petal jewelry can be seen (and purchased of course) at .

Another incredible iris find is Iris, the dress, from Barcelona, Spain. Expensive ($285) but it is silk and so elegant. Many products have flower names but this one actually has the look and feel of its namesake. Imagine wearing a silk iris. The dress and other creations is at .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grape Kool-Aid Iris

I think today is officially the end of this year’s bearded iris season, torrential downpours have flattened the last stragglers, along with the late peonies and oriental poppies. I always mourn the passing of these magnificent plants.
I am fond of all iris and even have an iris tattoo on my leg. But one of my favorites is my Grape Kool-Aid Iris, a simple purple iris with a strong and lovely aroma, reminiscent of grape Kool-Aid. About fifteen years ago, maybe more, there was a flurry of letters in Organic Gardening Magazine, describing this iris and trying to track it down. A few years later I found an offer for Grape Kool-Aid Iris in the Flower and Herb Seed Savers Exchange from a gardener in upstate New York. He sent me some fat rhizomes and they have become a major feature in my early summer garden.

The photographs here are my grape iris, including a Polaroid Manipulation. This was taken with an old Polaroid SX-70 Land camera from the 1970’s using Time Zero film. The emulsion of this film does not set immediately and I move it around with knitting needles to create a painterly effect.

Growing Iris:

Bearded iris are simple to grow. The rhizomes are usually shipped in late summer and are planted flat just below the soil surface in ordinary garden soil, not too rich. I transplant them at any time after they flower, they can even be left to bake in the sun with roots bare for a few days without harm. The only problem I have with iris is weeds which seem to love to grow around them, under them, all over them. I have a lot of garden and weeds tend to get ahead of me so I just dig the iris out every other year or so and pull the weeds off the roots and then put them back into the ground. They don’t mind at all. Iris need to be divided every few years anyway. The dead, withered parts of the rhizomes can be cut off and each piece that has leaf growth can be planted as a new plant.

Garden Resource:

The Seed Savers Exchange and the Flower and Herb Exchange
Seed Savers is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. They publish two fat catalogues each year full of member’s offers of seeds and plants, One is dedicated to vegetables and the other to flowers and herbs. This is a wonderful source for seeds, many handed down in families over generations, and also a great way to meet and share with other gardeners.

Grape Kool-Aid Iris

Friday, June 20, 2008


What better flower than the beautiful peony for my first blog entry? On my hillside in Southwest New Hampshire they are at the height of bloom now in mid-June. I grow dozens of varieties from big saucer singles to the voluptuous doubles that can barely hold up their huge blooms.

I find them beautiful in every way. An elegant garden plant with foliage that remains green and healthy long after the flowers are gone. Extraordinary bouquets. And beautiful even in the tiny details.

Growing Information:

Peonies are very easy to grow, at least in cold climates. The crown needs to freeze a bit to produce flowers so don’t plant them too deeply. The crown should be just below the soil level, too deep and there will be no flowers.
Peonies seem to last forever with very little care and can be seen blooming away on abandoned New England farmsteads .
They do take a few years to become established and put on a good show. Being impatient I usually buy plants in sets of three and plant them together in a small triangle. This way I get a big plant in a year or two.
Traditional advice is to plant peonies after their growth has died back in the fall but I have had great luck planting potted peonies in full growth in the spring. Similarly I have ignored advice to only transplant in the fall. I transplant throughout the summer without problem.

I don’t cut back old growth in the fall but leave it til the next spring. This is probably a very bad idea if your peonies tend to get diseased but mine never have. I reason that the old foliage gives them some winter protection but it is probably just laziness. Tree peonies which are shrubs, not herbaceous perennials, should, of course, never be cut back unless there are dead branches.