I THINK IT WAS Capt. Pinwill, the eminent Victorian gardener, who used to enter a manic state when he got a shipment of plants. For days nobody saw him, and I think they just set a pan of food out for him, and yet he was perfectly normal, as well as eminent, once everything was in the ground.
Bees exhibit the same energy when the weather is right for their small projects, and I flatter myself I am in good company and I shift into ninth gear until my plants are in.
Today I have been planting irises, only 32 of the 50-cent kinds.It is a great comedown from the many hundreds I used to have.
In this new garden I settled down to 100 sorts, and to my horror they all rooted in the outrageous wet summer of 1976.
The soil here is atrocious, and my view is that maples poison the earth. Even after you have chopped their revolting roots out for 100 hours and got rid of their oppressive shade, the soil is still limp and paralyzed. It is true, perhaps, that I overdid the wood ashes and 5-10-5 fertilizer, once the maples are told where to go, but at least the irises were glorious the spring before they all rottered.
Now if you are going to let Nature push you around or take her insults to heart, you may as well forget gardening.
After the dismal sight of all the rotted irises last year, I remembered the example of Job and refused to despair. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, as I said at the time along with a few other timely observations, and I hauled in trash bags of rotted leaves. Then I got several tons of sand, and commenced to dig.
There is only one bed for the irises, and it is marvelous how many hours may be spent digging in it. After more than a year, it finally is ready and has, as I say, 32 little iris fans sticking up, much like discarded candy wrappers in an empty plaza after a festival.
But once again, doubtless, they will grow and astround they eye. There will be a spring when hail and storms smash them to pieces, but I am quite prepared for that and have lived through it more than once. There will be other springs when nobody in the entire world has better irises than I do, because I am a great believer in having them magnificent, and sooner or later the combination of high culture, extreme watchfulness and perfect weather will result in splendor too heavy to be good for a mortal.
Peonies behave much better in the garden, and are better garden plants.
They do not need or accept high culture (deep digging, continual weeding, repeated scratchings of the surface, heavy feeding, careful staking, etc.) and they look far better out of bloom than irises do.
Daffodils, though they like good treatment, are far less trouble than irises, and daylilies, compared to irises, are virtually foolproof.
But once an iris garden has settled down, and once Nature gets it through her head that you are not going to give in, in this matter, then things go well indeed, and there is nothing in this world to irises in bloom.
Their season is so short - 15 days of perfection - that it's no wonder people often say they are not worth their trouble.
Even gardeners with good dispositions must often curse them. No other garden plant I can think of is so cleverly designed to extort the maximum labor from the gardener. The rhizomes have a magnetic quality (as science will some day discover) to attract certain weeds that work their way under the iris roots with disastrous consequences. Innocent gardeners think. "Oh, I will use a hoe" or "I will use a weed killer" or "I will mulch."
Good luck to them. Man and boy I have sweated over irises for more than 40 years now, and I get my best results when I am merely their slave.
If they were merely beautiful, I would never trouble myself with them, because Nature is packed with beautiful plants, and better plants for the garden than irises.
But they are more than merely beautiful, they are supremely so, and without any remote rival, even, in the lavishness of their following.
Old gardeners usually have to turn to other plants. Roses are easier for the old to manage, and no iris rivals the rose in perfume and certainly no iris blooms so faithfully and no iris is much good for cutting, in my view.
There is no need to feel sorry for gardeners who can no longer keep their irises going, however, since they have already experienced the best and have dealt for a while with such concentrated glories that the mere experience and the mere memory is enough for any gardener's lifetime.
The Chesapeake and Potomac Iris Society, headed by Joe Peterson, is exploring means of establishing a public iris garden at the National Arboretum. That is good, since there ought to be a place where everybody can see that irises are more electric than all other flowers rolled into one.
But what I started out to say was that bindweed has crept into the garden, and the plantains are lusher than I ever saw them before, and I have purs-lane with stems three-quarters of an inch thick. I have foiled the wild strawberry and snakeberries, however, and am easy master of the ground-ivy and knotweeds. The Bermuda grass is on the run, though for a while it made a few sprints at a comeback, and both pokeweed and nut grass have been smitten utterly. As of now.
My weeds have always been rather good weeds, the sort that flourish in pleasant places, and I like to see the grapes getting out of hand. They are severely pruned in the winter, of course, but on good land they go quite berserk in the growing season and get into everything. It is always agreeable to notice that plants are occupying four times the space they are supposed to, and exceeding their normal heights and girth.
It is always hard in the winter to imagine, even, the luxuriance of summer. This requires years of reassurance and more plantains than anybody else on the continent has.
The daylilies should have been here a week ago. Fortunately, I am ready for them, which is a miracle. I never hold it against them, or the lilies, or the roses or the daffodils or the chrysanthemums, that they are not irises. Some of my best plants are not irises. There is room in the world for common things.