The Iris Queen

  • Post published:07/03/2009
  • Post comments:4 Comments
Kathy Puckett
Kathy Puckett

Kathy Puckett is a collector. She has hundreds of orchids and hundreds of daylilies. She has lilies and roses and peonies. But right now she is celebrating her Siberian irises. Blue, purple, yellow and white. Great clumps of healthy gorgeous plants.

            When I asked if she had a favorite flower family (it was obvious she could never choose a favorite individual flower) she hesitated.  “I love them all for different reasons. Sometimes I love the flower, or the color, or the foliage. Sometimes I love it because of the way it combines with my other plants” she said. “Each one has something I like. Each plant in my garden is here for a reason. It is specifically chosen.”

            Deb Wheeler, of Fox Brook Gardens in Colrain, who sold Puckett most of her Siberians, said, “I’ve gone shopping with her and I know she does color – and texture. It’s the artist in her.”

            The Iris family is a large one and Puckett has representatives from many of them beginning with the small early blooming reticulatas, then Standard Dwarf iris, Intermediate Bearded, Tall Bearded, species and Siberians.  I know I am leaving out other classifications, but you can be sure that Puckett has some.

            The next big iris show in Puckett’s garden is when the Japanese varieties begin to bloom at the beginning of July. Some of them are planted in the iris border with the Siberians and species. That spot did not look especially wet to me; Puckett had to put me straight about the myth that Japanese iris need a wet site. “They don’t have to be wet. I don’t worry about wet. I’ll only water once or twice a year if it is really dry,” she said.

 I like the more horizontal flower of the Japanese iris, and always thought they needed a wet spot instead of merely being tolerant of the wet, but now I’m thinking about where I can add one or two to the border.

Puckett explained that Japanese iris can have three or six falls, the petals that hang down. “I tend to like the simpler flower with three falls, that are more like older species varieties. I like simple, unusual flowers. I like to know a plant like a person, and get to know all its little ways,” she said.

She also said that Japanese iris were wonderful because all their colors go together. It is not hard to combine purples, blues, pinks and white.

Caring for the many varieties of beardless iris is not difficult. They like acid soil. No problem here in New England. Puckett said, “I give them lots of zoom. That’s a term I got from another iris lover. I think it means lots of rotted manure.” And of course they tolerate wet and dry sites.

Bearded irises are a different matter. They need at least six hours of sun and cannot be planted where it is wet or the rhizome, which must be exposed to the sun, will rot.  They do not need any zoom.  Do not use manure near these rhizomes.

Bearded iris should be planted in groups of three in a circle.  Put the rootless end of the rhizome in the center, and make sure the true roots which grow at the foliage end of the rhizome are planted deeply enough. These roots anchor the plant in place. Do not crowd this grouping of three. Leave space between the rhizomes because new growth will fill in that space.

Water the rhizomes when you plant them and once or twice a week during the first couple of weeks if there is no rain.  Do not over water, and do not mulch with wood chips or leaves.

Puckett is a member of the Western New England Iris Society which will have its Japanese Iris show in Shelburne Falls on July 5. I’ll have more information about that soon.

Visiting other gardens and nurseries like the Joe Pye Weed Garden (  in Carlisle, Massachusetts is a way that Puckett learns about new plants she must have. “I am an artist. I have to have beauty around me all the time or I go crazy,” she said. This means planting all kinds of flowers that bloom from early to late in the season.

The gardens that Puckett and her husband have been tending at their Shelburne house for the past eight years continue to grow. There can never be too much beauty.



Next Sunday, June 28 from 1-4 pm is our Annual Rose Viewing. Mine is just a country garden with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but we do have a collection of 70+ hardy roses from the new hybrid Double Red Knockout to ancient albas like Passionate Nymph’s Thigh. There are roses from some of the old farms in the west county and one rose that is in the garden because of its foliage, not its flowers.

The Annual Rose Viewing is our Garden Open Today event, and we hope if you are driving around enjoying a summer afternoon you will stop by, join us and take some time to smell the roses. Cookies and lemonade will be in the Cottage Ornee.  Come up 8A North from Charlemont for about 4.7 miles. When you get just past the Berkshire Gold Maple Syrup farm stand look for a sign on the left pointing you towards the roses.


June 20, 2009 




This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Shady Gardener

    What a nice article. And wouldn’t I LOVE to be driving around in New England. However, that may take awhile… I will continue to enjoy your blog, though! 🙂

  2. admin

    Shady, I’d love to be driving around in your neighborhood too, and enjoy your blog. We are two of a kind!

  3. phil trask

    lovely horticultural photos and commentary. i see you’re taking the time to enjoy some very good things. i notice you mentioned that it’s a good year for the roses; i think the snow made for a very good year in the gardens here.
    best regards to you & happy garden year – phil

  4. admin

    Phil – I agree that the snow helped. We certainly had a lot!

Leave a Reply