• People in Helmsley Walled Garden

June 2019 – Iris germanica

I got a lovely surprise when I went into the Physic Garden the other day. Iris germanica, otherwise known as Orris Root in physic was flowering. Now that may not sound very exciting or unusual. It is the time for iris to flower after all but what was exciting was that it is hasn’t flowered in years.

Now the reason for that is it had got congested and needed a bit of TLC. Over time irises spread outward through their rhizomes, a bulbous sometimes fleshy storage organ providing energy for growth and storing that same energy over winter ready for next year. Over time the central rhizomes die and the plant spreads outwards with a unsightly hole developing in the middle of the clump.

This is easily dealt with by digging the whole thing up after the plants have flowered and selecting the newest rhizomes (those on the outside of the clump) to replant. Generally this is done mid- to late-summer when gardeners have the time to attend to such a task.

In an act of rashness, the sort of thing that makes television presenters say “do not try this at home” I dug them up and replanted in the lovely warm spell we had in April. This really is not recommended but I was desperate. I never (and I mean NEVER) have the time in summer to go back to what can be quite a labour intensive task in July or August. I’m either deadheading, weeding or pruning in my role as assistant head gardener or as marketing manager I’m writing, talking to journalists, editing our website or a host of other things that need doing in the promotion of the garden to our visitors.

As a result poor old Iris germanica had become very congested and sad looking. So, armed with a spade and determination I jumped into the bed (it’s a raised bed at the back of the Physic Garden) and prepared for battle. I dug and chopped and sweated – not a pretty sight – and slowly got the whole plant out and selected my rhizomes for replanting.

By this stage I was working more in hope than expectation that the plant would recover. This is Yorkshire and Iris is a plant that has its origins on the plains of central Asia, very hot and dry in summer and very cold in winter. Also the soil is rocky and not that fertile, hence the rhizome. So by giving it such serious punishment I was shall we say, a bit on the anxious side.

Anyway, the job was done, the rhizomes back in with just the very top of them showing above the surface and I crossed my fingers and said a fervent prayer to the gardening gods to look favourably on my labours.

Well, clearly they must have heard because when I went to look the other day there was one beautiful yellow flower in bud. I danced with joy round the garden. I’ve been away a few days at a funeral so I need to go back today to see if any more have come out but I was thrilled that my gamble had paid off.

Now you might say, why didn’t you just buy another? Well, I could but a) I’m a professional gardener and I’m supposed to be able to grow things and b) plants cost money and we are perennially cash-strapped here. It costs £700 a day to keep the garden running before we so much as move a muscle so if I don’t have to spend money replacing plants I’ve managed to murder then that can only be a good thing.

So really all I can say is that calculated gambles can pay off but I’ll be trying not to make a habit of it. Enjoy your garden.

Tricia Harris June 2019