Once upon a time, there was a nondescript yard with an unfortunate tendency to flood. It was not a nice place at all.
So begins the story of my back yard bog garden, which is looking pretty darn good after a very rough start. There are many heroes in this story, but today's star is Louisiana Iris "Black Gamecock," which is blooming like mad as I write this.
I should begin by saying that I am not certain that what I have in my back yard technically is a bog garden. I can never remember the difference between a bog garden and a rain garden; all I know is that mine is a place with lousy clay soil that doesn't drain. Whichever one it is, it was born of frustration in 2008, after yet another torrential downpour had left the yard a gigantic sopping unusable mess.
The first thing I did was to order some Louisiana Iris "Black Gamecock." I had stumbled upon it in the Wayside Gardens catalogue, which touted it as just the ticket for poorly drained sites. According to the catalogue, it was a.) native, b.) stunning, c.) easy to grow, and d.) extremely vigorous. I bought six.
Now it has been my experience that the Wayside Gardens catalogue tends to exaggerate. Its zone hardiness ratings are wildly optimistic, and nearly every plant it offers is described as "carefree," which seems highly unlikely to me. I take it all with a big pile of salt.
But everything it said about "Black Gamecock" was true.
In my sunny and wet Zone 7b yard, Louisiana Iris has been the easiest, most vigorous, and most beautiful plant I have grown. I know - last fall I said that about Swamp Sunflower. Think of Louisiana Iris as the spring version of Swamp Sunflower.
Louisiana Iris (hardy from zones 4 or 5 to 9 or 10, depending on who you believe) comes in a huge range of colors, but "Black Gamecock" is my one and only. It has enormous, deep purple velvety flowers. Bees love it, as do the few hummingbirds that hang around here in May. Each blossom lasts only a few days, but on established plants the flowers keep coming for nearly three weeks.
As if that weren't enough, Louisiana Iris is incredibly easy to care for. It has the distinction of being perhaps the only plant that will happily grow in unamended red North Carolina clay. Of course it prefers better soil, but I promise you that after a long day of dividing and replanting rhizomes, when you are too sore to stand up and grab the bags of compost and pine bark, you can get away with sticking it in the ground wherever you happen to be sitting. It won't mind. From there, maintenance is minimal. I weed when things gets out of hand and throw on some compost and fertilizer when I remember. I control for slugs if I notice any damage and pull off any ratty brown leaves in the winter. That's it. Really.
If "Black Gamecock" has a flaw, it is that it is almost too vigorous. In 2008, I planted my six original rhizomes in the bed adjacent to the deck. Since then, I have divided them so many times that they now occupy three separate beds in the back yard. Finally I gave up and started giving them away. It was a bit like that classic I Love Lucy episode, except instead of stuffing chocolate down my shirt I was stuffing rhizomes into large brown shopping bags, then foisting them on unsuspecting friends and relatives whose lives, I had decided, would be incomplete without a little "Black Gamecock."
I know mine was.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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