On the fabulous Annie's Annuals website, you will find page after page of the most unbelievable plants, even to those who live in Northern California, where their garden center is located. For those of us in the midwest, and specifically in zone 5, many of their offerings are otherworldly. But that's precisely why we like them. Never mind that many of them aren't particularly suited for our climate. That's never stopped too many gardeners.
It certainly didn't stop me.
I'd seen their Ferraria and was instantly smitten. Called "Spider Iris," their intricate blooms are so unusual, so detailed, so everything I love in a flower, and I wanted them. I e-mailed and tweeted back and forth with employee Elayne, since I knew virtually nothing about them. I just knew I wanted some.
She talked with their horticulturist, Claire, and we had a lengthy phone conversation about the Ferraria. I wanted the F. crispa. They didn't have any. But they did have F. ferrariola, if I wanted to try those. Of course I did!
Claire was very concerned that these wouldn't work for me. They like it very dry while dormant, which is during the summer. No problem. But what about when fall and winter came, and they needed warmer weather for growth and blooming? I'd grown warm weather bulbs successfully before, in the house.
Claire and Elayne, bless their hearts, tried to discourage me, because they didn't want me to be disappointed, but I assured them that I knew I was taking a risk. If they didn't grow, I'd been warned. And what fun is gardening if you don't take a risk now and then?
The bulbs were sent and there was a bonus bulb lying loose in the shipment, sent unintentionally. I contacted Elayne to see if she might know what it was. She relayed that Claire said it could be any kind of Ferraria or even something entirely different. I potted that one up, too, in a small pot. (These corms are really small.)
I put them in some well-draining potting medium that I'd gotten from an earlier order of tropical hibiscus (that I managed to kill). Then I put them in the basement for the summer - their dormant period. I checked on them rarely, and actually forgot about them. Then sometime in October, I was down there and noticed a little spear of green coming up out of the smallest pot - the unknown corm.
|November 14, 2010|
I brought it upstairs, watered it, and put it in a sunny south window. It grew rather quickly, putting up four or five very long blades, each about three feet tall. They were so narrow and flimsy, they didn't stand on their own, so I staked them. When the conservatory was finished, I moved it out there, giving it a western exposure. It continued to stay green, and I watered sparingly - only when the soil was completely dry and pulling away from the edges.
I didn't really have much hope of seeing a bloom. The foliage wasn't the strongest or the healthiest I'd ever seen, but I didn't really know what it was supposed to look like either.
This afternoon, as I was doing some pruning and watering, I noticed the mystery bulb was leaning towards the window frame, rather hidden from my view, because it was right next to the door. I went to straighten it up and tighten the Velcro tape to give it more support and what I saw nearly sent me into a state of horticultural hysteria.
Now really...is that not the coolest thing you've ever seen? Weirdly, uniquely, ravishingly gorgeous.
It's fragrant, too, although I'm not sure I like it. It has a hint of the same fragrance as the paper whites people force in the winter - Narcissus tazetta - though not as strong. My husband doesn't like the fragrance of those at all, and has forbidden me to grow them in our house ever again. Daughter Kara likes the smell. They remind her of magic markers. I can take them or leave them.
Now, what remains is to identify just which Ferraria this is. F. crispa perhaps after all, since the description of the fragrance fits, and their appearance can be variable. I've messaged Elayne to enlist her help, and I'm sure she'll get Claire right on it. I've also asked some horticultural experts and they're working on the case, too.
It doesn't really matter all that much, although I do like to know just what I have, especially when it's as special as this. It appears there will be a few more blooms on this flower stalk, too. It's about 18 inches tall and definitely needs support. The bloom is about two inches across.
Now THIS is what I'm talking about - taking risks. Sometimes you win, and when you do, victory is oh so sweet.
EDIT: Claire and Elayne have just confirmed that it is indeed Ferraria crispa. This just gets better all the time. :-)