Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iris bucharica: treasure from Bokhara

I believe I obtained my first Iris bucharica from Cruickshank Nursery (do they still operate I wonder?) in Canada nearly a half century ago. Even back then I was a little nutty about irises and grew many well I no longer do (not everything progresses!), although I have to confess that in most spheres of my life, reality has far outpaced my fondest expectations. My first few irises prospered in Boulder and formed clumps--eventually about like what you see above (although I just took that yesterday in the Rock Alpine Garden).

Above is one of many incredible plantings of Iris bucharica throughout Denver Botanic Gardens: this one in the Lilac garden (a bit of an understatement that name: it contains lavish collections of daffodils, irises of all sorts, peonies, daylilies, phloxes and all the garden classics grown to amazing perfection by Ann Montague, one of the most talented horticulturists I've ever had the privilege to know: and I get to work with her every day!)...there are similar super plantings of this iris in the Rock Alpine Garden and Plantasia. These all derive from the even more lavish and remarkable plantings of this iris made almost ten years ago at Centennial Gardens, once under the aegis of DBG. They persist there, although could use some dividing (hint hint).

I have rhapsodied elsewhere and repeatedly about Juno Iris, including quite recently. Obviously I like them. More to the point, they are very well adapted to Colorado's amazing climate (don't get me going). Much of the genus Iris can be grown very well in Colorado, but I suspect most of the section Juno could actually be adapted to gardens here without water. And since they have such an astonishing range of colors, form and habit, what a great group to pursue.

And if you do, begin with this one. I have not been to Bokhara, nor to Samarkand, Chimkent, Herat, Tashkent nor many of the other mythical cities of Central Asia (with the notable exception of some places in Kazakhstan and Pakistan)...they are near the top of my list however.

Growing plants named for these cities and places may seem a bit lame, but so be it!

I remember digging my four or five big clumps if Iris bucharica from my private garden in 1980 and dividing them into a few dozen pieces and planting them on the steep, hot south facing slope of the Moraine Mound in the Rock Alpine Garden. The next year each division produced a stem or maybe two, and within a few years I had a modest show that I was inordinateloyo proud of. The site was not optimal, however, and gradually these petered out. I never dreamed that a few decades later there would be lavish plantings throughout Denver Botanic Gardens and that we would be dividing our own clumps and making divisions available fresh at our autumn bulb sale!

This is just one example of how my dreams and expectations have been repeatedly outstripped by the wonderful reality of a career I happened to stumble into. Although there have been the occasional setbacks and disappointments (I still rue the fantastic Spuria collection that we bulldozed to create a mediocre garden that itself is now long gone): the net gains have been astronomical. And come to think of it, I may yet help resurrect those Spuria!

And I imagine an early morning, after breakfast, going out to the car and driving through the bustling morning crowds of Bokhara (a distant mosque glinting gold over there, and blue tiles shining)...the neighborhoods thin out and soon we are on the sage-green steppe on the hills not far from town, already speckled with early bloom. A half hour later or so I stop the car: there they are, scattered in groups here and there, butter yellow and cream irises, still dewy from a light rain the night before glinting in the early morning light.

1 comment:

  1. FYI Cruickshank's mail-order nursery in Toronto was bought out by another business many years ago, which subsequently closed it down.


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