All it took for Cortland gardener Kathleen Ferris to completely renovate her more than 15-year-old iris garden was a wet spring.
"This is all because I got mad at the iris,'' Ferris said. "The iris got too wet, and when water cups inside the stems like that, the rhizomes get mushy.''
Ferris is no novice when it comes to growing Bearded Iris. A long-time member of the American Iris Society, she also is a certified Master Gardener with the Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. But even all that expertise couldn't sustain the damage caused by Mother Nature. Of the garden that once contained more than 100 varieties of Bearded Iris, there are only 19 plants remaining. These few plants are the favorites that Ferris just couldn't give up.
Kathleen Ferris stands at the antique garden gate that leads through what was once the iris garden. Disappointment in the iris performance due to a wet spring prompted Ferris to make drastic changes in the garden she had maintained for 15 years.
''Each iris has a name and you have to remember it,'' Ferris said. ''For example, if you forget this one is named 'Rustler,' you will just mix it up with any other rust-colored iris.''
It was a fascination with the colorful names given to hybrid iris that first drew Ferris to the plants several years ago. In her garden, she continues to grow varieties such as 'Sultry Mood,' 'Blenheim Royal,' and one of her favorites, 'Rhonda Fleming.'
''They have personalities,'' Ferris said. ''This is what caught me.''
Ferris has replaced many of the iris in the garden with several varieties of hydrangea, including the one that many people have problems getting to rebloom, H. macrophylla 'Nikko Blue,' which she has growing in protected spots near the house. Other hydrangea include paniculata varieties, 'Winky Pinky' and 'Quick Fire,' which unlike the Nikko, bloom on new season's growth, and lacecap varieties that are hardy to the winter climate in northeast Ohio.
A rainy spring and a disappointing performance by many of her plants have not just prompted Ferris to start one garden renovation. Once she began, the urge continued and has spread to other gardens in the Ferris' Cortland landscape. So far this season, three gardens have been redesigned with plans for more next season.
''Gardens are supposed to change,'' Ferris said. ''Trees grow, trees come down and new things come on the market that we just have to have.''
Some of the changes were required when two tall silver maple trees at the side of the property were lost to age and the elements. The trees provided shade not just to the area directly beneath their branches, but also changed the direction that sunlight hit other portions of the yard.
Shade gardens directly beneath the trees were affected by their loss. Because of the heat this year, the hosta suffered, Ferris said, but the ferns didn't seem to mind being in direct sun. Not willing to give up the shade garden, Ferris decided to replace the maples with smaller trees that will continue to shade the hosta and ferns.
''As Master Gardeners, we tell people don't do monocultures, but we don't listen to ourselves,'' she said, referring to the five eastern Redbud trees that will replace the silver maples.
The Redbud tree is a relatively small tree with spreading branches and a small short trunk. The Redbud is a popular ornamental tree, which can be found in many gardens and streetscapes. The tree is one of the earliest flowering trees and is often used to add color to gardens.
A relatively small tree with spreading branches, the Redbud is a fast grower that is filled with pink-lavender blossoms in early spring. Although the Redbuds will give immediate shade to the garden below, they are not tall enough to throw off the sunlight to the back of the garden the maples also shaded.
"Now we have sun," Ferris said, " so we're planting for summer color."
Some of the summer color now comes from plantings of phlox and a sterile variety of a notorious reseeder, a cleome, called "Rosalita."
One of her favorites, however, is Corydalis lutea, a small short-lived perennial with bright yellow flowers that doesn't mind shade or sun.
"Corydalis throws its seeds everywhere so you never know where it's going to pop up,'' Ferris said. "There is some blooming somewhere in the garden all summer."
In another shady portion of the garden, Ferris has moved the taller pedestal planters that once graced the iris garden to those areas where she filled the planters with shade-loving impatiens.
Even with all of the changes, Ferris continues to monitor the latest in iris cultivation.
"The trend now among growers is trying to hybridize reds,'' she said. "There is no true red iris."