The Inconstant Gardener's Hardy Friend

(By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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By Kathleen M. Huber
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 17, 2008

My husband is the gardener in our marriage. The circannual rhythms of the Earth beat intensely in his Ohio farm-boy blood, leading him to action in each season: prepare in the fall, protect in the winter, plant in the spring, foster growth in the summer, and take pleasure in the harvest. He's good at gardening because he's persistent.

And he has a strong back.

Early in our marriage I attempted gardening in small spots in our yard: a corner bed of zinnias, tea roses in large containers. But once I gave my plants a place to live, I rarely checked back on them.

My husband accused me of laziness. I don't want to dote on plants, I explained -- it's a plant, why can't it live with sunshine and rain?

After those few failures, I discovered irises. Loving their variety of color, texture and scent, I selected my favorites from an elderly woman whose iris hobby metastasized from passion to obsession.

Her half-acre iris garden was full each spring with rows and rows of exotic varieties she sold to local enthusiasts.

Spice yellow, Grape Orbit, Edith Wolford, lacy yellow and peach frill were my selections. My iris plot would transform the side of our cul-de-sac driveway where an enormous blue-rug juniper, the size of two queen beds, took up precious space -- and took a full afternoon for me to remove.

My husband bought a cherry tree to anchor the new garden bed and I carefully planted my irises.

For a few years they gave me enormous pleasure, blooming after the first year and multiplying happily each successive year.

Then we moved. I took as many plants as I could without creating bald spots in the garden. I selected a plot at our new home that seemed ideal for irises. I transplanted them and hoped.

Spice yellow and Grape Orbit thrived. Peach frill appeared once and then never returned. Lacy yellow never showed her dainty face. Edith Wolford, with her muted purple apron, her curly yellow head, bloomed on a single plant, year after year, never reproducing, but hanging on for dear life to the small claim she held in the iris bed.

When I planted seeds I collected from a Siberian iris cultivar, I threatened the fragile balance of the iris bed. The seeds produced an iris weed, aggressively invasive, blossoming into a gangly bloom, an ugly cousin to the original, upright flower I hoped to introduce to my other iris beauties.

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