Six on Saturday: Mothers’ Day


Mothers’ Day weekend has a certain look and feel to it in coastal Virginia.  For one thing, anyone who has a living rose shrub in their yard has flowers blooming.  German bearded Iris began blooming in late April and continue their annual display, even as other, later Iris have burst into bloom this week.  Clumps and rows of bearded Iris bloom each May in yards where few other flowers are ever seen.

Our Siberian Iris are at their peak, and bright yellow flag Iris pseudacorus have just started blooming.  These beautiful yellow European natives are on our ‘invasive’ species list here in Virginia because of their exuberant growth.  They grow near ponds and swampy areas, and spread along their rhizomes. Each flower also produces abundant seed, ready to sprout wherever a bird may drop it, and so they spread in wild places.

The new Iris pseudata, a sterile hybrid of Iris pseudacorus and I. ensata, has been bred for North American gardeners who want the look of these elegant Iris without the worry.  I’ve planted a few of these in recent years, and they are lovely.  Some even offer variegated leaves. They bloom a bit later than I. pseudacorus for us.

Siberian Iris just began blooming this week

It is hard to say whether we’ve had a cooler, later spring, or if we’re just enjoying more ‘normal’ weather this year.  But it feels like many plants have bloomed a little later.  The snapdragons I planted last fall for early spring color are still covered in buds.  Some of our daffies have buds but no flowers, still.

The last Azaleas bloomed this week, a beautiful splash of color near our mailbox.  And a Rhododendron planted six or seven years ago is covered top to bottom in beautiful clusters of purple flowers.  It rested for a few years after planting; or did some hungry deer just munch its buds in past years?

The cooler, wetter days this spring make gardening much more comfortable.  It has been perfect for our ferns, and for the mosses I keep encouraging to claim more territory in the shady parts of our garden.  The moss keeps spreading, and the ferns are unfurling their fronds.  Baby ferns keep cropping up in unexpected places, particularly in protected, mossy spots.  Some I can leave, and others I move to safer places where a mower won’t accidentally nick them.

The mystery fern

Do you ever struggle to identify a plant that turns up unexpectedly?  An unknown fern grew in a container planted a few years ago at the botanical garden where I volunteer.  I planted a Japanese holly fern as the evergreen anchor for this large pot.  And suddenly, this lacy, frothy frond appeared in the mix.  What could it be?

Sometimes you just live with a question, hoping to gather clues that will lead to an answer.  Richie Steffen’s and Sue Olsen’s A Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns, published by Timber Press in 2015, is the first resource I turn to with questions about ferns.  Their information is very helpful, but the photos don’t always help with identification as much as I need them too.  The answer was there all along, but I didn’t find it until this week.

I was re-potting some ferns that I ordered last fall from Steffen’s Hardy Fern Foundation near Seattle, Washington, when I noticed that two of those ferns looked very, very similar to my mystery fern at the garden.  So, I studied both varieties in Steffen’s and Olsen’s book, and then took a series of photos of my mystery fern to try to capture the identifying characteristics. 

The mystery fern is definitely a crested Dryopteris.  I’ve been trying to determine whether it is Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata,’ or Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Parsley.’  With just a frond or two poking out through other foliage, it is a little tough to call.  I can’t see its true form or size.  But I am leaning towards the D. filix-mas ‘Parsley’ today.  It is a lovely little gem, and I’m considering pulling that planting apart to dig it out and give it its own space to grow.

Have you noticed that flowers come and go in just a few days, but foliage lasts for weeks or months?  I love the pops of color flowers give so generously.  And then a few days later, there’s a faded bloom to clean up and trim away.  I rely more each year on colorful leaves and interesting texture.  Ferns offer both.  I keep collecting new varieties and planting new areas with evergreen perennial ferns.  They hold the soil, look wonderful all season, and require very little attention.

A newly made bed around a Camellia shrub, with several types of ferns, including Harts tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium. Several of the volunteer ferns I’ve needed to rescue have a new home here, too. Eventually, Caladiums will sprout around the edge of the bed.

I’ve added several new varieties of ferns to our garden in recent weeks, including the beautiful Asplenium scolopendrium, or Hart tongue’s fern, in a new bed where I want to crowd out the former foliage.  It took me several months to accumulate the plants, the border pavers, the new soil, and the time and energy to pull it all together.  By then the old perennials there had begun to grow, the daffies had sprouted and faded, and my plans to cover the area first in cardboard or brown paper faded to just a wistful memory.  Fingers crossed that the ferns will win this round.

Mother’s Day weekend has always held both promise and peril for me.  It is a beautiful time of year, here, and I prefer to celebrate it working in the garden.  My philosophy has always been to plant roses if you want to have them, rather than relying on someone to order them from a florist for you.  But my own thoughtful daughter sent me a bouquet this year, lovely long-stem beauties raised in South America.  I’m loving the decadent beauty of them.  Since we have storms and flooding this weekend, I can enjoy the holiday indoors, gazing at the roses, and content in knowing that the ferns are all very happy, and not requiring any attention from me at all.

With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.

You might enjoy my new series of posts, Plants I Love That Deer Ignore. Eleven groups of plants are featured thus far, and the list will continue to grow.



  1. Iris pseudacorus seems to have a bad reputation. I believe that I saw it naturalized in a small creek in Gold Country. Many plants were brought there from the East during the Gold Rush, just because people liked them. Gold Country actually developed earlier and faster than most of California, so more of these eastern plants, both native (to Eastern North America) and exotic (but once popular in Eastern North America) are observed there than here.

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    • We have a vet’s office near us with a small pond in front of it. The entire area- maybe 30′ x 30′, is awash in yellow flag Iris each spring. It is stunning. I have them in the Iris border at the Garden, but I’m careful to deadhead and keep them contained. Those pesky Easterners can really cause problems out West, can’t they? But why would Easterners bring Iris to the Gold Rush? Somehow, I believe that humans have been moving plants around for their own purposes since long before history was recorded, any maybe it isn’t such a terrible thing, as long as the plants are useful. Like that stunning Passiflora racemosa….

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      • The Gold Rush stimulated the development of towns, with homes and businesses and all the infrastructure that towns need. Not everyone camped on their claims. People brought plants that they were familiar with, such as black locust and sugar maple. Is the Iris pseudacorus less invasive without seed? I figured that if it gets one seed in place, it migrates mostly by rhizomes, but did not consider that it might toss an abundance of seed.

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      • Of course the I. pseudacorus is perfectly adapted to our climate here and will spread into large masses. It has naturalized, and will turn up as though it were a native in wetlands. Of course it spreads a bit each year, and pieces can break off and root elsewhere. But it is also very viable from seed. Whether the seed gets carried along in the water, or whether animals spread it, the seed is one factor in this plant getting designated as ‘invasive.’ So I suggest to anyone who asks about growing it that they keep it contained in a tub or bed with borders, and then deadhead the flowers once they finish. It is such a beautiful Iris. I’m constantly learning about new species of Iris. This year I discovered Iris lactea, and have purchased and planted a few divisions. It is from Asia, growing even in Mongolia and Tibet, and will bloom in partial shade. Here are some photos and a description: I wonder whether you have found this growing anywhere in your area?

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      • OH MY! That is the mysterious iris that I got a picture of for my Six on Saturday! I could not remember the name of it, and that name does not sound familiar, but I recognize the picture. However, when I look that species up online, it looks nothing like that. Mine looks just like in the pictures on the article that you sent the link for.

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  2. One of my favorite things is when the Siberian Iris bloom on UW Madison campus. I have no good place for them in my yard, sadly. I also love ferns and have a small ostrich fern that I got from a friend’s yard and will be planting a maidenhair fern soon. It will go in the wet corner in front of the arbor vitae that came with the house, behind a downed tree limb that it can cascade over with the tree limb protecting it from voracious mowers.

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      • Oooo, Nice idea! I am pretty sure the maidenhair fern has a good spot, but I could definitely see siberian iris in pots… The thing I especially like about them is that their foliage is nice after the blooms have gone.

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  3. I have a guide to British ferns which include both D. affinis and D. filix-mas. There is a key for those two plus three others with a comment that fern identifying doesn’t get much more difficult than this. I can scan the relevant pages and mail them if you’re interested. It’s not a book that gets a lot of use, like you my go to reference is usually Steffen & Olsen.

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    • Jim, Thanks so much! What an incredibly kind offer. If you will share an email address with me, I’ll send you an address to mail the pages. I’m very interested because I’ve been back and forth multiple times trying to figure this one out. With appreciation- WG


      • You should have my email address either in the user info attached to my comments or in your followers list. Or I could put it in a comment if you are able to delete it without publishing it.


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