I know we all have our garden stalwarts. The plants that are just so well suited to your site, you can’t help but grow loads of them because they look amazing with almost no effort. For us, that plant is undoubtedly the Iris.
Any gardening rookie soon finds out, after the briefest of Google searches, that Irises love the conditions we have. Sandy, free draining soil. Full blazing sun. And they don’t even blink at the idea of -30F temps in the winter. This is precisely what I did when we moved here and I set about populating my garden with these gems straight away.
Of course fellow gardeners always have spare Irises. They are so happy in our neck of the woods that they grow like barely-tamed weeds and there is always a bounty to share. A quilting friend gave me loads of your standard purple-tinged-with-yellow irises. My neighbor gave me the lovely yellow ones pictured above. My boss gave me a selection of beautiful white and purple ones (background below) along with some positively stunning Siberian type (below)- which are always among my favorites.
I then set about finding the really showy and boldly colored ones I knew I wanted but couldn’t find locally. Schrieiner’s Iris Gardens was an easy choice and I bought a dozen ‘China Moon’ Irises for their glowing bold apricot color (below).
The next year I bought more (especially having now seen the size and glorious color of the Schreiner’s Irises- that China Moon flower is the size of a soda can!). Nothing brings the late Spring/early Summer exuberance like the Iris!
And then, just this last summer a surprise was bestowed upon our garden. This beauty (the pink and magenta one) sprung up amidst the white and purple ones I was gifted when we first moved here. I did not plant this one and it is clearly a cross between two of the existing Irises in the garden. I’ve no idea which two (though clearly there is more than a passing resemblance to the white and purple ones it is growing next to) it is, but I carefully dug the rhizomes out last year and re-homed them in the Nursery Bed. They don’t fit the theme of the space they were growing in and I want to see if they grow on and re-flower as beautifully as they did last year.
Isn’t it stunning?
Of course, the beauty of Irises is that even if their spectacular and showy blooms don’t last forever (its probably for the best as they do toe the line right up to- but not over- garishness) but they put on such a spectacular show when they are in flower. Their foliage is strong and vertical and lasts right through the summer adding a strong, glaucous backdrop for anything else near it. What’s more is that, if they are happy, you can easily divide and spread them around your garden after just a few years. This is why I never mind paying $7-12 (though many can cost much, much more than that) per rhizome because that one fat, healthy rhizome will quickly become a rosette of 6 or more, then again, and then again more.
Did I mention the smell? Many cultivars have lost their fragrance, but some do retain it and it is like grape candy. Some smell like rootbeer? I don’t find that the scent carries much, but it is a delightful thing to stick your nose in one and take a deep, satisfying whiff.
But, after all of this, what if you tell me you have boggy soil or downright wet conditions? There are Irises for you too! Japanese and Louisiana Irises are perfectly happy in wet soils. Flag Irises grow fully in water! I have every intention of exploring these Iris types once the pond goes in.
And what if your space is small? Dutch irises are delicate little jewels- part iris and part orchid (in appearance) and they can even be potted up in containers (Monty Don’s Instagram feed is chock full of them this time of year).
The only conditions that don’t favor Irises is full shade- but in that case you’ll likely have a stalwart plant that you love that we can’t grow!
The two I am looking at adding to the collection this year are Bearded Iris ‘Bewilderbeast’ (left) and Siberian Iris ‘Creme Chantilly’ (right)- both from Schreiner’s.
‘Bewilderbeast’ is so outrageous and unique that I think I will place them up near the patio for everyday viewing. There isn’t much for spring flowers in that area so it will help spruce things up before all the pots and annuals get going. ‘Creme Chantilly’ will go down in the East Main garden to fill in some holes. There are already some Tall Bearded white Irises down there,’Christmas Eve’, but the Siberian Iris foliage should be a great complement to the ‘Millennium’ Ornamental Onion I have down there.
Now you all must tell me: Do you grow Irises? Are they a staple where you grow or have you remained immune to their virtues? What varieties are in your garden and do you love them or simply tolerate them?