(1918) Notes From Kew by W. Watson
Gardeners Chronicle p.233 June 8, 1918
NOTES FROM KEW-- VI.
Bright sunshine and unusual warmth from May 15 to 22 shortened the flowering period of a large number of plants which are usually in bloom for several weeks. Rhododendrons and Azaleas bloomed and withered with extraordinary rapidity, as also did Lilacs, Chestnuts, Hawthorns, and many other showy flowered trees and shrubs. They had a brief season, and if all goes well such plants generally should seed freely this year.
Irises at Kew have ceased to behave well, though there was a time when the Iris garden was a great feature in May. Then disease appeared, and, on the advice of the plant doctor, they were subjected to treatment, but they have never recovered. The disease, known as Iris rot, is said to be due to bacteria. Massee stated that it was very prevalent in this country and on the Continent, whole beds being sometimes destroyed by it. The leaves wilt, turn yellow, and die, and the rhizomes rot. Removing and burning the worst and transplanting the others in fresh soil proved to be hard labour in vain, as also did the application of specifics. We have struggled to overcome this disease, but nothing short of destroying the whole collection and starting afresh in another part of the garden will
set matters right. This is a large order, but it will have to be done when the war is over, unless the cultivation of such plants is to be abandoned at Kew. According to our Museum Guide, Iris florentina, I. pallida, and I. germanica are largely cultivated for their rhizomes in Continental countries to supply the Orris root of commerce. The roots are dug up in August, trimmed, peeled, dried in the sun, and then sorted into different qualities. I believe our Iris troubles began when transplanting in August was first practised. It is, in my belief, so utterly opposed to nature to dig up rhizomatous Irises when they are not only in full leaf, but actively growing, that we are asking for trouble by doing it. Bulbous Irises are different. They stand such treatment as well as Daffodils, Tulips, and many other bulbous plants do. Cottagers never make this mistake, and it is in their gardens that one may see these Irises as happy as Rhubarb and Horseradish.
Then why did you dig yours up in August?" someone will ask. Because gardeners, like other folk, are too ready to be guided by faddists and fashion. Someone says it is the right thing to do, and we believe them and practice it.
(The author goes on to discuss other plants)
W. Watson The debate continues with Dykes response
For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at