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This is the time to plan your 2017 garden.  Seed racks will be in garden stores soon.  Nowadays there are several companies selling organically grown seeds, some of them grown right here in the Flathead area!  January is an excellent time to test the germination rate on your saved seeds.  You can get a rough estimate of percentage if you sprout some now.  Put ten seeds folded into a moist paper towel.  Place the moist towel on a plate, loosely covered with plastic wrap or waxed paper and put it in a warm place to test germ.  The top of the refrigerator is a convenient spot to do this.  If 9 out of 10 seeds germinate you can bet on about a 90% germ.  If a variety germinates poorly, you can plant extra seeds if you have them, or buy fresh seed.  Also, check past records and eliminate any varieties that you did not like, or did not do well in your garden.  Composted manure can be spread on vegetable beds, right on top of the snow if you want.  Spring melt and rains will draw nutrients down into the soil.  This month is a good time to repair garden tools, and obtain or make plant supports and cold frames.  Locate frames and hotbeds for winter/spring growing outside in sunny, protected locations.

Check stored fruits and vegetables for spoilage.  Watch cold frames; admit air on days when the temperature goes above freezing and be sure to cover them at night.  Clean and weed lettuces and other winter greens growing in cold tunnels or frames.  Use leftover Christmas tree boughs to mulch perennials, strawberries, roses, etc.

Prepare any planned garden designs.  Be sure to rotate planting locations of vegetables and flowers every season for best health and disease prevention.

Indoors, sow strawberries and perennials early.  Beginning the 15th, sow cauliflower and cabbage seed inside for growing in frames.  Sow eggplant, onions, leeks, and early peppers.  Sow perennial herbs: oregano, thyme, feverfew, Greek oregano, lavender, rosemary, chives, chamomile, hyssop, horehound, catnip, parsley, rue, lemon balm and salvia.

Harvest winter greens from frames and tunnels as well as spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, onions, parsnips, leeks and carrots.

Sow primrose and auricula seed in a cool greenhouse; protect auriculas from severe frost and rains.  Ventilate auriculas and other alpines in the greenhouse—keep plants on the dry side as they will be dormant.  Prepare to top dress containerized plants (in a cool greenhouse) with manure or compost in February.

Ventilate sweet violet frames daily; pick off dead foliage and keep the glass clean.  Transfer potted sweet violets, pansies and violas to the greenhouse to flower.  Other plants (previously potted) to force inside now include: honeysuckle, roses, jasmine, carnations, sweet William, wallflowers, stocks, narcissus, ranunculus, early dwarf tulips and lily of the valley.  Take cuttings of geraniums and fuchsias.  Force potted strawberries (potted in Sept.) in hotbeds or greenhouse.  Check winter mulches and covers; mound up snow to keep perennials and roses protected from dry cold.  Have a great gardening year in 2017!


Some Historic Bearded Iris


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These are a few historic bearded iris I grow in my garden in Corvallis, Oregon. I have over 30 varieties of historic iris, but since I just moved my garden this year, only a few bloomed in their temporary pots.

The top picture is of Iris violacea grandiflora.  The variety was discovered in the wild by D. Barry in 1856 and when in bloom is about 36 inches tall.  The standards (the upper petals of the bloom) are a rich blue, the falls (the bottom petals) are violet blue.  The flowers are considered a self in iris classification terminology, meaning all petals are the same color or of one overall color.  It is almost a bitone, meaning the standards and falls are two tones of the same color.  The flowers are fragrant.

The second picture is Iris swertii a natural hybrid collected in 1612.  In iris classification terminology it is a plicata, meaning it has a pale base color with a darker margin.  The petals of this variety curl under in an interesting way.  It is a vigorous grower to 31 inches.

The third picture is of Mrs. ‘Horace Darwin’ hybridized by Sir Michael Foster and released in 1888.  The flower is a white self meaning it has standards and falls all one color.  It has some purple veining on the falls and grows to about 20 inches tall.  The fragrance of this flower is delightful.

The last picture shows ‘Bertha Gersdorff’ hybridized by Sass and released in 1942.  When originally released, there was no classification for the unusual flowers of this variety.  It  was termed a fancy or fancy plicata.  Since 1972, this color pattern has been termed a luminata.  A true luminata has falls with paler, rather than darker veining on the petals; the hafts, the top part of the falls, where the petals connect to the rest of the flower, are unmarked.  This variety makes an excellent show in the garden.

Iris make wonderful garden plants.  Several of them are winter hardy to USDA zone 1, most to zone 3, and they can be grown in mild climates as well.  I have grown them in various climates in the western U.S., even in the low desert.  Good drainage is important, as well as full sun and an airy situation without competition from neighboring plants.  Water regularly in spring until six weeks after blooming, then watering can be reduced.  This is an advantage in the dry summers in much of the western U.S.  The best time to divide and replant is in summer after the bloom period.  Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer, mixed into the soil when planting with a top dressing applied in fall.  Bearded iris are adaptable to different kinds of soil, but prefer a neutral to alkaline pH.  Lime can be mixed into soils that are too acidic.   For more information about historic iris, visit the website of the Historic Iris Preservation Society at historiciris.org