Ah me! the very mention of this flower calls up endless visions of beauty. Iris - the flower of mythology, history, and one might almost say science as well, since its outline points to the north on the face of the mariner's compass; the flower that in the dawn of recorded beauty antedates the rose, the fragments of the scattered rainbow of creation that rests upon the garden, not for a single hour or day or week, but for a long season. The early bulbous Iris his-triodes begins the season in March, and the Persian Iris follows in April. In May comes the sturdy German Iris of old gardens, of few species but every one worthy, and to be relied upon in mass of bloom and sturdy leafage to rival even the peony in decorative effect. Next the meadows are ribboned by our own blue flags; and the English Iris follows and in June and July meets the sumptuous Iris of Japan at its blooming season, for there seems to be no country so poor as to be without an Iris.
There are joyous flowers of gold and royal blue, the Flower de Luce (Flower of Louis) of regal France, and sombre flowers draped in deep green and black and dusky purple, "The widow" (Iris tuberosa) and the Chalcedonian Iris (Iris Susiana), taking its name from the Persian Susa. Iris Florentine, by its powdered root yields the delicate violet perfume orris, a corruption doubtless of Iris.
Many forms of root as well as blossom has the Iris, tuberous, bulbous, fibrous, and if the rose may have a garden to itself, why may not the Iris in combination with its sister lilies have one also? And when my eyes rest upon a bed of these flowers or upon a single blossom, I long to be a poet.
Now to begin: will your shady place yield you a bed four feet in width by at least twenty in length? If so, set Barney to work with pick and spade. The top, I take it, is old turf not good enough to use for edgiagj so after removing this have it broken into bits and put in a heap by itself. When the earth beneath is loosened, examine it carefully. If it is good old mellow loam without the pale yellow colour that denotes the sterile, undigested soil unworked by roots or earthworms, have it taken out to eighteen inches in depth and shovelled to one side. When the bad soil is reached, which will be soon, have it removed so that the pit will be three feet below the level.
Next, let Barney collect any old broken bits of flower-pots, cobbles, or small stones of any kind, and fill up the hole for a foot, and let the broken turf come on top of this. If possible, beg or buy of Amos Opie a couple of good loads of the soil from the meadow bottom where the red bell-lilies grow, and mix this with the good loam, together with a scattering of bone, before replacing it. The bed should not only be full, but well rounded. Grade it nicely with a rake and wait a week or until rain has settled it before planting. When setting these lilies, let there be six inches of soil above the bulb, and sprinkle the hole into which it goes with fresh-water sand mixed with powdered sulphur.
This bed will be quite large enough for a beginning and will allow you four rows of twenty bulbs in a row, with room for them to spread naturally into a close mass, if so desired. Or better yet, do not put them in stiff rows, but in groups, alternating the early-flowering with the late varieties. A row of German Iris at the back of this bed will give solidity and the sturdy foliage make an excellent windbreak in the blooming season. If your friendly woman in the back country will give you two dozen of the Madonna lily bulbs, group them in fours, leaving a short stake in the middle of each group that you may know its exact location, for the other lilies you cannot obtain before October, unless you chance to find them in the garden of some near-by florist or friend. These are -
Lilium speciosum album - white recurved.
Lilium speciosum rubrum - spotted with ruby-red.
Lilium speciosum roseum - spotted with rose-pink. All three flower in August and September, rubrum being the latest, and barring accidents increase in size and beauty with each year.
In spite of the fact of their fickleness, I would buy a dozen or two of the auratum lilies, for even if they last but for a single year, they are so splendid that we can almost afford to treat them as a fleeting spectacle. As the speciosum lilies (I wish some one would give them a more gracious name - we call them curved-shell lilies here among ourselves) do not finish flowering sometimes until late in September, the bulbs are not ripe in time to be sold through the stores, until there is danger of the ground being frozen at night.
Speciosum Lilies in the Shade.
On the other hand, if purchased in spring, unless the bulbs have been wintered with the greatest care in damp, not wet, peat moss, or sand, they become so withered that their vitality is seriously impaired. There are several dealers who make a specialty of thus wintering lily bulbs,1 and if you buy from one of these, I advise spring planting.
If, however, for any reason you wish to finish your bed this fall, after planting and covering each bulb, press a four or five inch flower-pot lightly into the soil above it. This will act as a partial watershed to keep the drip of rain or snow water from settling in the crown of the bulb and decaying the bud. Or if you have plenty of old boards about the place, they may be put on the bed and slightly raised in the centre, like a pitched roof, so as to form a more complete watershed, and the winter covering of leaves, salt, hay, or litter, free of manure, can be built upon this. Crocuses, snowdrops, and scillas make a charming border for a lily bed and may be also put between the lilies themselves to lend colour early in the season.
To cover your bed thoroughly, so that it will keep out cold and damp and not shut it in, is a must be of successful lily culture. Have you ever tried to grow our hardiest native lilies like the red-wood, Turk's cap, and Canada bell-lily in an open border where the porous earth, filled by ice crystal, was raised by the frost to the consistency of bread sponge? I did this not many years ago and the poor dears looked pinched and woebegone and wholly unlike their sturdy sisters of meadow and upland wood edges. Afterward, in trying to dig some of these lilies from their native soil, I discovered why they were uncomfortable in the open borders; the Garden, You, and I would have to work mighty hard to find a winter blanket for the lily bed to match the turf of wild grasses sometimes half a century old.