June – Laburnum and iris

The Iris Border has really started to bloom this week, the peonies are opening up and (the bit I am most proud of), after a prodigious prune through the winter, the Laburnum Arch is looking beautiful.

It’s not quite in the full shape I want, but I can admit, now that it is in bloom, that I was really quite nervous how it would look. I was terrified I had taken too much off and that I’d given it too much to do in growing and blossoming.

Plants of all sizes are balancing acts. Like icebergs, there is as much beneath the surface as there is above. If you put the plant out of balance by taking too much off the top, it will throw out a lot of growth to ensure it has the leaf coverage to ensure it is capable of photosynthesising enough light to generate the plant sugars it needs.

So it will bloom for a few weeks (probably till mid-June) and then it will become a leafy shade tunnel providing welcome shade from the summer sun. Then it will be time to think about starting the next round of pruning. I’ll be making it a family affair this time as June has told my husband who volunteers at the garden that he will be helping me. Not that she mentioned it to me beforehand!

But he is a dab hand at pruning so it will be good to have him on the team. He reminded me the other day that at one point last summer he was pruning some of the apple trees in the orchard whilst I was working on the laburnum.

The summer prune for apple trees is quite light and involves looking carefully at the tree and taking back some of that year’s growth to promote fruit spurs to encourage fruit production. So in something of a role reversal, he was snipping off small twigs with secateurs and I was up a ladder with a hefty pruning saw taking off large limbs. How we laughed!

This year I’ll be wanting to take off the rest of the really hefty upright growth and tie in all the new growth so that it really hugs the framework and creates that wonderful tunnel feel. If it drips with blossom like it did this year, I will be very happy indeed.

My other task that comes out of the plants of this month is to correctly identify all the irises we have so that we can label them. This is particularly important as we are now able to lift and divide them to grow plants on for sale. They are clearly so happy in their border that they are proliferating at a rate of knots.

Our main collection is of bearded irises. I confess I did not realise that there were so many. I think the name, bearded iris rather put me off. But I have no need to fear overly hirsute irises, the beard is simply a small run of hairs growing on the fall or downward facing petal and come in all colours from pure white to deepest sable.

We have quite a range of these including some Benton iris. These are irises raised by artist and plantsman Sir Cedric Morris at his home Benton End. Known primarily as an artist who founded the East Anglian School, he was a keen iris grower, raising many from seed and creating a whole range including Benton Menace named after his cat and Benton Rubeo after his pet macaw.

Sadly we have neither of these gems but we have a number of others including Benton Strathmore, Primrose, Apollo and Susan. We are looking to develop our iris collection so Menace and Rubeo may yet be gracing our Iris Border. I’ll keep you posted.

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