R. Irwin Lynch on Oncocyclus Cultivation 1904

Lynch wrote in the Book Of The Iris, 1904 about Oncocyclus cultivation;

"No one has had greater success in growing these Irises than Sir Michael Foster, and his prescription, summed up in a few words, is simply this cover with glass as soon as flowers are over and keep dry until autumn ; then as soon as growth commences expose to weather. Proper soil and drainage must of course be understood. Good drainage is essential, and the next necessity is a good depth of gritty, loamy soil, in good heart, but without manure. Roadside scrapings have entered largely into the composition of the best borders known to me. It is needless to say that a sheltered position open to the full sun is indispensable, and if the border backs against something solid in the shape of a wall, so much the better. The cultivation of these Irises must always be more or less experimental, for no one has ever yet attained absolute success and command over them. They are, however, well worth all the trouble that can be bestowed upon them.

Regarding the Palestine Oncocyclus Irises, Sir Michael Foster writes in The Gardeners' Chronicle of 1892 as follows : I have come to the conclusion that all these should be treated in this country by the " taking-up" method at least until they have become acclimatised, if ever they do. But one or two points appear to be essential for success by this method. In the first place they should be planted quite late say in October or even November, according to climate ; this prevents their making any growth of leaves before winter comes on. In the second place they must be protected during winter and early spring, so that the young shoots receive no injury from frost. As soon as the foliage, after flowering, begins to die down, they should be taken up, well ripened in a sunny greenhouse, and kept absolutely dry until it is time to plant them again. The object of this treatment is to secure their not making any very active growth until fairly warm weather sets in, so that when they are hardest at work they may be comforted by genial sunshine and not buffeted by autumn rains and winter frost as they are when they are left in the ground or planted in early autumn.

Elsewhere, in the same year of the Chronicle, Sir Michael Foster, responding to a letter from Mr Van Tubergen, explains his position. He says: "It is undoubtedly a barbarous method i.e. that of the last paragraph and should only be resorted to under compulsion ; but it seems to me necessary for these special Palestine Oncocyclus Irises until at least they have been acclimatised. . . . Each of us must act according to our climate and conditions, checking and correcting our scientific deductions by careful experiences ; and this, I take it, is the true art of gardening. The other Oncocyclus Irises with me, for the most part, make very little growth in autumn after the first spurt, which follows the late September rains, and I can much more safely leave them in the ground, for remaining in the ground is undoubtedly the most natural condition, and it is with great reluctance that I am driven to interference."

Mr John Hoog (C. G. Van Tubergen, jun., of Haarlem) has done an immense service by importing soil and getting it analysed. The result is given in his article in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society , vol. xxvi. (1901) p. 324, "On some experiments in the cultivation of Oncocyclus Irises." He also had the soil of his own garden analysed, and the results of the analyses are as follows :

table;

Differences are here extreme and no greater could perhaps be met with, but nevertheless some success has been claimed, even in Holland, with soil as above indicated. Mr Hoog in his article remarks that he would have added dolomitic limestone finely ground to his soil, had it been possible to get it, since it contains a high percentage of both lime and magnesia. Failing this, he tried a sample of marl, for lime, selected because of its only very feeble phosphoric acid, and to provide the magnesia he used Grecian Magnesite, which was easily obtainable. For experimenting with, ten beds were made, each eight yards long by one wide. The Oncocycli were planted in December 1899, anc ^ at ^ e same time the first bed had a dose of 1 1 Ibs. of marl with 4! Ibs. of magnesite, strewn between and over the Iris rhizomes. This quantity was increased in the remaining beds, so that, to the last, a maximum dose of nearly 66 Ibs. of marl was given, with 31 J Ibs. of magnesite.

" It soon became evident that there was a marked difference between the formation of new roots emitted by the rhizomes planted in the prepared beds and those planted in our ordinary soil. In the latter case roots were forming slowly and sparingly, whereas on the marl and magnesite many more new roots were developing which also grew much faster. The difference in leaf growth in the spring also became most strongly marked, and I never saw finer and healthier specimens of Oncocycli than my treated plants became in the course of the spring and summer of 1901."

The experiments also showed that in my Haarlem soil (moist, well enriched sand) there was no difference in the growth by plants in beds to which the maximum dose (66 Ibs. of marl and 31 \ Ibs. of magnesite) had been added, from those on the bed with about 44 Ibs. of marl and 19! Ibs. of magnesite; but there was a marked difference in the luxuriant growth of the Irises on the beds with the maximum dose and on the first bed, which contained only 1 1 Ibs. of marl and 5^ Ibs. of magnesite. Lime is the great thing, magnesia is not so much wanted.

Mr Hoog continues to say that when the rhizomes were lifted in July they were found to correspond with the fine leaf growth the plants had made. Some cultivators in this" country, including the late Rev. H. Ewbank, have strongly objected to lifting the rhizomes, but here Mr Hoog gives his reason for doing it in Holland. " On our ever-moist Dutch soil I had found it necessary to take up the rhizomes of the Oncocyclus Irises every year after the growth is finished in July, for if we do not do so the moist sub-soil causes the rhizomes to start growing again at once, so that when winter sets in the plants have tender young shoots, from three to four inches long, and these inevitably fall a prey to frost, or get damped off if the winter is moist and misty."

Formerly Mr Hoog advocated late planting, but now he finds it better to plant when the roots taken up in July have had five weeks' rest. He remarks that the Oncocycli left for trial in the ground of the marl and magnesite-treated beds did not suffer and came through the winter splendidly.

Mr R. Wallace, of Messrs R. Wallace & Co., gives me their particular points in the culture of Oncocyclus Irises as follows : With us they require lights put over the bed very soon after flowering, and then, later on, we lift them and cover with dry soil and store in a dry shed, planting about November. If we leave them in the ground they start too early into growth.

Messrs P. Barr & Son give their views in the following words : These (Irises of the Oncocyclus and Regelia sections) are best planted in December if the roots can be kept in good condition and from growing until that time. They should be stored in a cool and dry place. Plant so that the tops are not more than ij in. below the surface in a light, loamy, but thoroughly well drained soil, into which plenty of bone meal has been worked (5 Ibs. to the square yard) ; cover with three or four inches of wheat straw, or better still, with marsh reeds, or cut heather, which remove in March.

Immediately the plants have done flowering place over them a light, or panes of glass elevated eighteen inches above the ground, so as to admit at the sides a free entry of air, and at the same time to keep off rain till October. The object desired is to thoroughly ripen the roots, and to prevent their starting into growth too early. The covering in winter is to keep off heavy rains and to discourage a premature growth. The Oncocyclus Irises like to remain undisturbed for years ; they may, however, be lifted four or five weeks after flowering and stored on a dry, sunny shelf, in perfectly dry sand, till December.

Mr Amos Perry, whose experience goes back for many years, says of these Irises that there are no two alike in their requirements. He thinks the borders in front of the Cambridge houses, facing south, an ideal position, and certainly some fine flowers have been produced there. He would plant on slightly raised ground and protect during inclement weather in early spring.

Sir Michael Foster has somewhere written that as these plants produce seed so freely in a state of nature, he infers their frequent reproduction from seed. They are naturally short-lived plants, very probably, and herein, with the suggestion of raising from seed, there is perhaps a valuable hint. At present these plants are almost exclusively grown from imported rhizomes, and I may point out that to the great majority of growers it makes a very great difference whether they are of good, strong quality, or the reverse. Mr Hoog finds that raising from seed is slow but sure.

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Topic revision: r1 - 30 Oct 2013, BobPries
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