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The Iris


Legend and history

FR1The word "Iris" comes from the Latin "iridis", which in turn comes from the Greek word "Iris, Iridos" meaning "a messenger from the Gods" which relay their messages to humans in the form of a rainbow. The word became associated with the flower at the start of the 13th century due to the colour of its petals, with iridescent hues. Already considered sacred by the Egyptians, it became the symbol of royalty in France under the name "fleur-de-lis". It appears that the use of iris as a perfume was started by Catherine de Médicis.


The iris (in French, the flower is a masculine noun, but a feminine name) is a root or bulbous perennial plant from the iridaceae family (like the crocus). The iris group contains some 120 species and innumerable horticultural varieties, without counting sub-types. In our gardens you find hybrid horticultural irises known as the German or bearded iris.

• The leaves alternate around a sheath, almost always sword-like.
• The flower: large grouped hermaphrodite flowers, grouped in bracts known as spathes (like tissue paper), then opening into six tepaloid tepals that seem to be in two rows: the flower is made up of three external, horizontal tepals (or sepals) which support a beard and three smaller, upright, internal tepals (or petals).
• The fruit is a capsule of three compartments containing various seeds. You can dry the seeds and plant them.

The iridologist has a very particular vernacular, with no less than 23 terms, for talking about iris flowers according to the different flower colours, their shape and the plant's height. There are two categories of iris:

• Those without a beard (Louisiana iris, Siberian iris, Californian iris, blue iris, Japanese iris)
• Those with a beard, the majority of irises in our gardens, regardless of height.

The iris flower has evolved greatly over the course of the 20th century thanks to breeders: from a smaller type, narrow and soft, they have come to produce tall flowers, less fragile, in rich colours. They have also brought improvements to the flower's shape itself: wavy petals, curly, wider, harmonised the dimensions of the sepals and petals and other fantasies: rustles, spurs...The shape of the iris is not fixed; the breeders may well find a way one day to turn the spurs into true petals.

The iris in our gardens

FR3The most common iris in our gardens, the bearded or German iris, is found in a variety of colours, from pale blue to violet/black, from white to yellow/orange/copper/chocolate brown, except red even though sometimes the spurs are a vivid and dark orange. We have a large choice with regards to the height of the plant and flowering season:

Iris lutescens (rhizomatous) – 15-30 cm – March to early April
Dutch iris (bulbous) – 70-100 cm – April-May
German iris (rhizomatous) – 70-100 cm – end of May to early June

The duration of the flowering season obviously depends on the number of flower buds on each stem; few irises are still up at the end of summer.


Where to plant them?

• In the South, the iris will tolerate slight shade. Elsewhere, they are only happy in full sunlight, failing that in sun for half the day.
• They don't like being planted at the foot of trees or shrubs where the roots deprive them of nourishment.
• All types of soil suit the iris, but in a heavy, dense soil it is preferable to plant them on a mound of 5-15 cm after adding sand.

When to plant or move them?

• The summer months are preferable, from July to October, so as to have the time to establish themselves and have the best first flowering season.
• In the North and East, planting late from February to mid-June is not advised.
• To move them: every 3-4 years, in summer, removing the oldest, damaged, dried part of the root. How to plant them?
• For the best results, 3.5-7 ft per tuft according to your garden, the neck of the root facing inwards, the green shoot facing towards the outside of the circle.
• The roots should not be covered with more than 1-2 cm of light soil, so that they can be seen when the soil is turned.
• The roots will be well-placed flat, covered with earth with copious irrigation.
• If you plant a lot of them, straightaway make a run-off with a hoe of 5 cm deep and 20 cm long; on one side, prick the roots and patch them.


FR4• They don't like weeds, humidity or excess water: they only need water when being planted; only water them in case of drought or prolonged dry weather.
• Cut the stems 10 cm above soil level after they have flowered and don't cut the summer leaves unless they are too spotted (don't put them in the compost).
• Cut the leaves in mid-September to early October (but all theories have their shortcomings...). But what happens is you get the most beautiful season for enjoying their multicoloured flowers and their scent after the Ice Saints.

Liliane Lenfant
Jardin Familial de France no. 501/2017

Make bees happy!

Federal competition: Call for a participation in step two

"More than half of our important pollinators are threatened to disappear. They increasingly lack food sources and living space". Together we should reconquered nature unfriendly grounds for our bees and for nature.

Macht Bienen glücklich!The competition started in 2016. A first call to take part in step one was made in October 2016.

The competition is organised in three steps. The "Herbstsummen" (autumn buzz) was replaced by the "Frühlingssummen" (spring buzz) beginning of April and in July will follow the "Sommersummen" (summer buzz). Nectar and pollen plants for native wild bees will be planted. You can find on the website perennials, annual and also woody shrubs can be used. On this site you will also find all necessary information for a participation as well as other great tips and tricks for the planting campaign.

Dear allotment gardeners, now it is your turn! Look for some motivated participants. Change barren land into paradises for bees. Do initiate a project for bees. It is worth participating. There are numerous attractive prizes.

BienenThe participation is possible at any time. All kind of groups with their common activities can participate. The participants can publish their activity on the internet site so that they can be made public and subsequently awarded a prize by a jury.

Registered groups taking part in the competition can get plants for free from LA'BIO! and from the foundation for men and environment seeds at reduced price by Rieger-Hofmann for their region. Prerequesites are bee-friendly and voluntary planting on (semi) public areas as kitas or school gardens, gardens of associations with public utility or communal grounds.

Thomas Wagner, BDG

So dear German allotment gardeners and as well as everyone else who feels motivated: Get ready to start and above all do continue. Dear European and Japanese allotment gardeners: Start similar activities/projects.



The genus Ipomoea consists of around 500 species of twining vine, bushes or trees from the Convolvulaceae family. Some studies (D. Austin, 1997) have listed between 600 and 700 species, of which over half originate from North and South America.

1First there is the Ipomoea purpurea, very well suited to for the temperate climate: it is an American climbing plant whose blue-purple aspect is widely known and which the Americans call Gandpa Ott. The pink flower is also known in Europe.

• The ipomoea tricolor (ipomoea tricolor or morning glory) originates from Mexico and Central America. In that region the flower is known as badoh negro and its seeds have been used as hallucinogenics since the Aztec era. It is grown the entire year and puts out a good number of blue flowers – really blue! – of around 10-15 cm. Their highlight is a yellow center.

The ipomoea nil came from Japan some 1,000 years ago from China. At the time it was used as a diuretic; the Chinese had obtained it from the Arabs who traded with all the small kingdoms of East Africa. The Nil arrived accompanied by other Ipomoeas, including one from the Himalayas and another from the Beijing area. They quickly appeared in gardens and were crossed with each other to obtain different colors. They went from being bluish, to pink then white, and are known in Europe as "ipomoea purpurea" and tricolors. One that is much less so is the Japanese ipomoea, "ipomoea nil" or "Asagao".

These flowers found their way into Japanese poetry because they represent a strong theme in Japanese culture: life is short, as is beauty. The Ipomoea opens at day break and by late morning already begins to fade. Some colors and shapes were very rare and were thus very costly. All of the various dynasties loved them. There were rivalries between towns and even today ipomoea exhibitions are held in the summer. Collectors post photos of their extraordinary results on the internet. Every year from 6 to 8 July, the Japanese hold the Ipomoea Festive in Iriya, where some 120 merchants exhibit to 400,000 visitors from all over the world.

Growing Ipomoeas

2Over the years in my garden I have experimented with all the different types of ipomoeas. Seedlings may be sown after soaking in a sheltered setting from March to April at 16°C, or in the ground between April and May after the danger of frost is past. Standard ranges of pink, red, purple and white ipomoeas can follow this schedule.

Contrary to the recommendations of seed producers, the climate in the north of France calls for sowing light blue, bright blue and striated ipomoeas (the "flying saucer", "Ismay" and "Venice Carnival") ipomoeas as late as possible in May since they have difficulty starting out. However, they flower up through the end of October if clement weather persists.

The superb and enormous white, fragrant ipomoea "Moonflower" with abundant foliage requires more care, and above all, warmth from the start. It never really flowered except during two or three very warm summers or during heat waves, perfuming the garden at twilight through to the morning.

3The Mount Fiji Japanese ipomoeas featuring pastel tones or in contrast very sharp colors of pale blue, a blue-violet that is nearly ultramarine, pale pink, fuchsia pink or old pink, are splendid flowers ringed with white edges. Growing these requires a green thumb as they are sensitive to the cold and it is better to keep them in the greenhouse and/or sow them from mid-June to mid-July. Specialists even germinate them three or four days at 28°C. They don't do well with heavy northern rainfall.

In the Paris region, I now prefer to plant them in large pots that I bring inside immediately when the temperature falls in September or October. These are species that cross breed with each other from one season to the next, producing different shapes and colors.

Watch out for slugs, who love the whole range of the species, beginning with the young shoot stage.

L. Lenfant

National Allotment Congress and Day of the Garden in Berlin

The fourth allotment congress took place in Berlin from 18-19 May, 2017.

DE1Approximately 300 delegates discussed the future challenges of the allotment movement.

A good number of prominent people attended. Among them State secretary Adler and the secretary general Malou Weirich who represented the International Office du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux.

2017 is an election year and thus a year for making political choices. The German Federation of Allotment Gardeners (BDG), an umbrella organisation under which some one million allotment gardeners are represented, is involved as well. It is campaigning for more greenbelts in urban areas and, obviously, for the preservation of allotments. The small gardens exert a positive influence on social cohesion in cities and communities. They help to perpetuate the gardening heritage and contribute to protecting and improving urban climates. They positively influence biodiversity both of nature in urban areas and cultivated plants. Allotments not only enhance the quality of life in cities and communities, they can also decisively improve the visual appearance of municipalities.

The German Allotment Federation is formulating the following requests to future politicians:

Ensure the protection of allotments as greenbelt infrastructure: Maintain the federal allotment law in its tried and tested form.
Promote the appropriate development of allotments by municipalities: Allotments must be explicitly included in urban development programs and in other future infrastructure development programs as potential targets for specific actions.
With regard to future regulations in surface area adjustments and compensation: recognize allotment sites with an increased ecological value as compensation areas. Corresponding research and pilot projects should be stimulated by national policies.

Scientific prize of the German allotment federation

DE2Peter Paschke was pleased to draw the attention to the scientific prize of the German allotment federation and to give so to speak the starting shot during this congress.

"The aim of this scientific prize is to lead towards a greater interest for scientific research concerning allotments among young scientists in the areas of urban, regional and landscape planning and to sensitize planners to the potential of allotments for green infrastructures.

The federation would like to reward ideas and innovative considerations including allotments in an exemplary way in projects concerning the safeguarding of the environment, the stabilization of social cohesion and consequently the quality of life in towns and communes. A particular concern of the federation is to reward dissertations and projects that are examples for the social and green development and contribute to a modern development of green infrastructures".

The official opening ceremony of the Day of the Garden was held on 20th May in the "Gardens of the World" of the International Horticulture Exposition (IGA).

The subject of the Day of the Garden was: "Allotments, a living green space for developing towns". As predecessors of the Urban Gardening movement the allotment gardeners with this day called attention to the necessity of green spaces in towns. A great number of the more than 14,000 allotment associations in Germany open their doors at the occasion of the Day of the Garden and enable all to discover the pleasure of these green areas. The allotments remain, especially for city dwellers, a refuge of an inestimable value: an allotment is not merely a garden, but it offers relaxation and compensation in a green space embedded in the middle of houses and streets.

After this opening ceremony, the allotment association "am Kienberg" received the Office diploma for an ecological gardening from Office President Peter Paschke and the International Office secretary Malou Weirich.

These allotment gardens have around 400 members and were developed between 1983 and 1985.

The area covers around 10 hectares and includes 260 allotments. The average size of an allotment is between 350 to 450 m2.

Stefan Tidow (Staatssekretär für Umwelt, Verkehr und Klimaschutz), Peter Paschke, Burkhard Träder (1. Vorsitzender der KGA In recent years, the association's gardeners firmly decided to proceed with a way of gardening that does not use any toxic products.

Over the last three years, the number of fruit trees in the allotment garden were increased by around 300 ancient species of indigenous fruit trees and decorate the allotment garden site's paths and squares, of which a good number attract bees.
In the meantime, three of the allotment garden association's members have become beekeepers.

The allotment garden association and the members of the Marzahn-Hellersdorf community college invite local residents to take part in pruning lessons for the fruit trees. In this way the association's training activities in nature and the environment are shared with the Berlin population.

Educational nature trails and a number of nesting boxes have also been set up.

These are only a few of the activities organized by these allotment gardeners in the area of nature and environment protection.

Assembly of the delegates in Sankt Gallen on May 20th, 2017

As usually every second year, the delegates of the Swiss allotment gardeners met in Sankt Gallen on May 20th, 2017.

It was an important assembly as Walter Schaffner, after 28 years of work within the federation and after 12 years as president, continued this function to Christophe Campiche.

CHWalter Schaffner received both from the Swiss allotment gardeners and the International Office a hearty thank you for the achieved work and Christophe Campiche received all their best wishes for taking up the future challenges.

In addition to the statutory requirements, the resolution joined as appendix was adopted.

Allotments constitute in a town, and especially in a compact town, a healthy environement, are attractive spaces for recreation and leisure, stimulate health and relations between people, are living spaces for fauna and flora to name only these few beneficial aspects.

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