Monday, May 9, 2011

Care for Crostata or Cristata?

How many love those kinds of parties when wait-staff mix with the crowd in their starched, pristine white shirts and little black bow ties, carrying trays of delightfully displayed hors d'oeuvres asking if you'd care to sample pâte à choux or bruschetta topped with wild harvested porcinis and wilted arugla drizzled with a Port reduction?

Or am I one of the few remaining snobs in the world?

In any case, one of my latest acquisitions--Iris cristata, or Dwarf Crested Iris--reminded me of my snobbery and sheer delight in the unusual and exotic. And this should indicate something besides my snobbery: for Iris cristata is an American East Coast native. Therefore, to think of a native as unusual and exotic is either indicative of the so-called gardener's ignorance or, more seriously, that the native is rapidly becoming extinct. Sadly, in the case of Dwarf Crested Iris, it is no longer listed on the USDA website as native to Delaware--for it has disappeared in the wild--and it is classified as endangered in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Maryland. This is very disheartening; nay, tragic.

Look at this lovely: it makes you want to bend down and kiss it.

So, for once I am offering some useful, functional advice for all Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New York gardeners (yes, it has disappeared from the wilds of New York as well, where it was once native; come to think of it: I wonder if the Henry Hudson or any of the Dutch settlers took note of its presence? They did document other flora and fauna findings...).

(1) BUY DWARF CRESTED IRIS. Mine is a heavenly white. They also come in lavender.

(2) Plant it in light shade such that the rhizomes rest slightly above the soil, with the roots extending down into the soil. This will ensure more blooms each spring. Should you bury the rhizome--which, by the way, I did, thinking that if they existed naturally in the woods, their rhizomes would be covered with decaying leaves and such--you will not be rewarded with abundant blooms. So once I finish this entry, and once I finish grading another paper, off to the garden I go to remedy my mistake!

(3) Nurture it. They need continual moisture during their first year to get established.

(4) It is a natural groundcover and will spread. So plant it where you don't mind it colonizing. For that reason, it makes for an excellent underplanting, especially because of the interest provided by its mini sword like, light green leaves.

(5) Finally, if offered the choice between crostata or cristata, ALWAYS choose (iris) cristata. Crostata can be had a proverbial dime a dozen. Cristata on the other hand, well, its endangerment at least in the mid-Atlantic is clear.

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