THE FIRST FULLY opened rose for me this year was "Madame Alfred Carriere" on May 15, on a fence facing east.
Some gardeners like flowers to dawdle out - a few things in bloom now, a few things later, and so on through the years. Others prefer a big gang approach, in which the garden is full of bloom all over and all at once, though for a short time.
I prefer things to be in bloom all over the place and throughout the year as well; and the character of any garden depends a good bit on how the gardener reconciles the common desire for the impossible.
This year, since the spring is late, many flowers have been held back, while the later-blooming spring beauties have come along about as usual.
Thus for me the peonies, roses and irises will coincide more than usually, which is just as well, since my irises will not look like much this first year after planting.
In case there are any gaudy gardeners who are not sure how to be as gaudy as they really would like, I can suggest a couple of minor spring vices that may have been overlooked.
First, the gardener may safely plant any of the tall bearded irises, and most of these will turn out to be midseason varieties (say May 20). I personally would avoid late irises, since I get no pleasure from occasional stalks blooming freshly amid a forest of withered stems of early varietis. If you want late bearded irises, try planting them in a separate place by themselves, so they can be enjoyed without a sea of corruption around them.
With the irises let me suggest you concentrate on clear pastels (pastels in the sense merely that they are tints of yellow, white, lavender, blue, pink) and avoid dark blues, deep purples, reds in general, browns, blacks, all of which give a heavy, dull effect.
Now I know some of the finest of all irises, the deep purple "Matinata" for example, are to be found in these darks. I also know that if the gardener plans only for clear pastels, he will somehow find himself with a few purples, browns and reds that he cannot resist.
But by saing "I will not grow any dark ones" you will hit it about right, as a few irresistible darks infiltrate. While if you say "I will have a balance of lights and darks," you will almost certainly wind up with too many darks.
This may be the place to say that red irises are a great snare. Seen on the right day in a brilliant morning light, they are glorious , and many an innocent gardner has fallen into error because of them.
Very well, go on and plant all the reds and rich purples and deep mahoganies and lustrous blacks you like. After several years, it will occur to you something is wrong, and what is wrong is that you refused to take my advice to avoid the darks on general principles, allowing only a few to sneak in. Then you will conclude, most likely, that the whole thing needs "brightening up."
The first symptom is usually a vague notion that you could use "a few more yellows." So you add yellows and it looks better, but it still does not cause you to go out of your head. The years pass, and more and more whites, canaries, mauves, lavenders, salmon pinks, straw primroses, lemons and sky blues are added. Behold, some year you will quite lose your mind and say to yourself, "At last, I have it right."
You could save yourself a lot of time by concentrating on the pastels to begin with, avoiding blends and plicatas (sunset and art tones, and the ones stitched around the edges with contrasting colors) and darks. But what gardener is able to profit from anything except experience?
Forty years ago I was told about iris colors, but no, I went my own way and acquired God's own plenty of sumptuous mulberry purples, etc. It was years before I grudgingly admitted my mentors had been correct all along - nto because there is anything wrong with the irises I warn you against, but because they produce heavy effects that you are probably not going to admire, no matter how much you think you will.
Very well. You now have great quantities of pastel irises in the clearest sunniest tones you can fine. What else?
Peonies. Needless to say, the scarlet and crimson of the early blooming hybrid peonies do not consort very well (or at least very tastefully) with the lemon and mauve irises. But I am telling you how to be as gaudy as you like, so let us go even further.
In addition to the hybridgs, any of the early (marked Early and Early Midseaton in the catalogues) double peonies will bloom with the irises. Things like "Festiva Maxima," "Edulis Superba," "Monsieur Jules Elie," and a great many more modern peonies, will make rather a slow. "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt," pink, and "Big Ben," "Chippewa" and "Cherry Hill," all reds, will add considerably to the uproar.
Nothing, fortunately, is more flamboyant than some of the single (like big saucers or salad plates rather than cabbages) Japanese peonies, and any of them that bloom no later than M (mid-season, in the catalogues) will do. You are too innocent, most of you, too bear hearing about "Do Tell," pink with reddish centers and "Dragon's Nest," red with yellow centers, and other violent contrasts to be found among this type of peony. They can be much too much, and you will therefore wish to acquire as many as you can possibly accommodate.
As for roses, two vigorous and reliable climbers with bloom with the irises, among others, "Mme. Alfred," as mentioned, and the glorious pink "Mme. Grogoire Staechelin."
Most of the climbing hybrid tea roses can be counted on also. "Sutter's Gold," in yellow touched red, fading to buff, and intensely fragrant (like the two climbers already cited) is a favorite of mine. The climbing form of "Mrs. Sam McGredy's" is astonishing, in a muted cinnamon rose, quite indescribable but likely to be the center of attention in any garden where it backs soft yellow and wisteria-colored irises.
Both the snowball bushes (Viburnum), the European and the Japanese, bloom with irises and to my mind are beautiful when allowed to grow up to 12 feet or so like small trees with drooping branches full of snowballs. If given a good mulch of manure, the snowballs get the szie of cantaloupes.
Both the single and doubel kerria, (K. japonica) provide piercing medium-dark yellow coins strung along arching branches at the very beginning of the iris season, and there is much to be said for the ruby-purple leaves of the smokebush, Coccygria atropurpurescens "Notcutt's Purple" especially if you like its contrast with pink roses such as the hard pink "Zephyrine Drouhin." That rose is admirable over gates or along walks where you will appreciate its absence of thorns. One other climbing rose, later in the iris season, is "Violette," which I menting because of its unique coloring, a deep maroon that turns to bluish violet; virtually thornless and remarkable with yellow meadow rues, etc.
Columbines, bleeding heargs, coral bells (splendid for edging long rose beds) and pansies are among the easiest herbaceuous plants for a brilliant show with these other flowers, and you could add early strains of Shasta daisies.
As the mouth of the iris and peony gets farther along, there are foxgloves and even hollyhocks, and early daylilies. The first water lilies open before the last peonies close.
Now what you are supposed to do when all this is over, in four weeks, I am not sure. You may conclude you should have saved a little space for dahlias or chrysanthemums, and in the winter you will say it's too bad you ignored hollies and box and yew, but never mind all that.
You want gaud? You can have it. And even restrained gardeners, firmly committed to the joys of green-flowered hellebores, find their pressures rising a bit when the great trio of iris, peony and rose start trumpeting together.