All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing the Many Different Types of Iris"

Iris comprises a large group of plants. There are many different types including dwarf bearded, bearded, reblooming bearded, Louisiana, Siberian, and Japanese. Their bloom season begins in early spring and continues into summer.

Dwarf bearded iris is the first iris to bloom in my garden. They are in bloom nearly a month before their taller cousins and bloom alongside daffodils and early tulips. Although dwarf, the size of the flowers is almost as large as the full-sized bearded iris. Dwarf bearded iris 'Boo' bears white flowers that have a large splotch of violet on the falls (the lower petals). This variety is very small, reaching just 10 inches tall. 

Bearded iris bloom in mid to late spring and bear some of the showiest flowers of any plant in the garden. There are hundreds of different varieties of bearded iris with flowers in just about every color of the rainbow. One of my favorites is the variety 'Edith Wolford.' This bearded iris bears stunning, bi-colored flowers. The standards (the upper petals) are creamy yellow and the falls are azure blue. The color combination is striking. The variety 'Rare Treat' also has two-toned flowers. The petals on the standards and falls are white edged with lavender blue. The lavender-blue edging looks like it was painted on with a paint brush for a very delicate effect. Iris 'So Fine' is another bicolored bearded iris. The standards are pale lavender with rich, deep-purple falls. The beard is bright orange, creating a distinct contrast.

One of my favorite bearded iris I grow as much for its flowers as for its foliage. It's a variegated bearded iris that bears fragrant, lavender-blue flowers set against foliage that is green striped with creamy yellow. In my own garden, the foliage is attractive all year long. It doesn't even die down in winter.

Believe it or not, spring is the not the only season that bearded iris bloom. There are certain varieties that are considered rebloomers because in addition to their spring flowers, they also bear flowers again in early autumn. Two outstanding reblooming bearded iris varieties I grow are 'Champagne Elegance' and 'Summer Olympics.' 'Champagne Elegance' has pure-white standards and peachy apricot falls reminiscent of the color of champagne. 'Summer Olympics' bears large flowers that have soft-yellow standards atop bright-yellow falls with a white center.

Siberian iris blooms in early summer. It bears upright flowers on tall flower stems. Its foliage is rather grasslike and forms a wide clump. There are many different varieties of Siberian iris, but one of my favorites is 'Butter and Sugar.' The name refers to its two-toned flowers. The standards are white and the falls are lemony yellow, just like butter and sugar.

Japanese iris is another summer-blooming iris with stunning flowers. The flowers on this type of iris are enormous, easily six inches across or more. Like all iris, Japanese iris flowers have both standards and falls, but the falls are much larger than on other types of iris.


Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"African Gardenia Easier to Grow"

Q. As a reader of your column, I noted your willingness to answer questions from your readers. I need your help. I'd hate to lose this plant.

Our son gave me a gardenia for my birthday last September. It was blooming when I received it in its six-inch pot and the leaves were a deep, glossy green. There were dozens of buds on so small a plant. I was delighted.

The flowers became yellow and after a few weeks, the buds turned brown and dropped. The flower buds didn't develop after a certain size. I resigned myself into having a lovely, healthy green plant.

Realizing that the gardenia was pot bound, I purchased potting soil and an unglazed ceramic pot. Since repotting, I've noticed that leaves are yellowing from the bottom of the plant up. Please help. Thank you.

A. I get a lot of questions about problems with gardenias. Common complaints include flower buds falling off, no flowering, leaves yellowing, leaves shriveling, or the entire plant dying. Many a gardenia has died on me over the years despite my careful attention to its special needs.

The problem is the common gardenia is a fussy plant and it is not suited to the growing conditions found in the average home.

I love the fragrance of gardenia, but I don't grow the common gardenia anymore because of all its problems. Instead, I grow an easy-to-grow, lesser-known relative of the common gardenia called African gardenia. I like it so much I just started more so I can have one in every room to enjoy its fragrance throughout my home. It is one of my favorite plants.

African GardeniaAfrican gardenia has the same wonderful gardenia fragrance, but on a dependable plant that is not fussy. It blooms reliably in the home blooming almost continuously all year long with no extra effort. It bears small, star-shaped flowers that are pink in bud and open creamy white. The flowers are carried in clusters all up and down its stems and even the smallest stem will have a few flowers on it. There are dozens and dozens of flowers in bloom at any one time. The fragrance easily carries on the breeze, perfuming a room.

It's a shrubby plant that looks similar to gardenia, but on a smaller scale. It has short, slender leaves that are carried on woody stems. It tends to grow rather flat and rarely grows larger than a couple o