The Dutch Iris – A History Of Color

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For many years the strain of bulbous iris called “Dutch” iris has been limited to three or four colors in which blue was dominant. One of the most popular and widely used of these was WEDGWOOD, a light blue-flowered variety with narrow yellow signals on the falls.

Its adaptability to greenhouse forcing made it a favorite of florists. Next to Wedgwood in popularity were IMPERATOR (dark blue), YELLOW QUEEN (light yellow), WHITE EXCELSIOR (relatively short white), and a few others.

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Their demand came mainly from commercial flower growers and florists. The lack of variation in colors and varieties kept this graceful flower from real popularity with the amateur gardener.

Over the years, however, this situation changed radically. Wide varieties with entirely new and fascinating colors, unknown in Dutch iris, were introduced and made available.

They deserve the attention of every flower lover and have outstanding possibilities for border planting and flower arrangements.

History Of The Dutch Iris

The history of the “Dutch” iris began in 1564 when the Belgium horticulturist Clusius made a journey through Spain and became acquainted with two varieties of the iris which grew native in that country.

He called his publications Iris xiphium (blue) and Iris lusitanica (yellow). He sent bulbs of these iris strains to several of his friends in Belgium, who planted them in their gardens. Through hybridizing new varieties, they acquired most of which disappeared through the years.

Hundreds of years later, at the end of the 19th century, several of the foremost bulb-growing nurseries in Holland started hybridizing on a larger scale, using these originally Spanish iris species and Iris tingitana.

They attained a new type of iris, which produced larger and broader flowers than the “Spanish iris” and bloomed earlier. This type was called “Dutch iris.”

The before-mentioned varieties of Wedgwood (De Graaff) and Imperator (Van Tubergen) came from these early crosses. Through the years, more types were introduced, but it was late in the thirties before a much more comprehensive color range was acquired.

Grown Mainly In The Pacific Northwest

World War II prevented the introduction of these new additions in the United States at that time. However, in 1946, stocks were imported and grown commercially, mainly in the Pacific Northwest.

Some of the most remarkable improvements were made in the yellow shades. They varied from light lemon yellow to almost pure orange.

In the light shades, LEMON QUEEN was outstanding; LEMON WONDER was also very desirable, the latter being more prominent and a slightly darker color.

The flowers Of ALASKA and BELLE JAUNE were among the darker yellows, Belle Jaune being somewhat more significant. PRINCESS BEATRIX beat both in size and length of stem and had an almost red flush on its falls.

ORANGE KING was a novelty yet and was the closest to orange ever seen in Dutch iris. There were two varieties with a striking combination of orange-yellow falls and white standards in PRINCESS IRENE and GOLD AND SILVER. The latter surpassed Princess Irene in strength and height.

The blue varieties varied from orchid-lavender to purple-violet. KING MAUVE and MAUVE QUEEN represented the orchid shades, the former slightly darker, both very large.

One of the most significant advances in blue was BLUE CHAMPION, enormous and brilliant in color. DELFT BLUE resembled the former in the shape of a flower and plant but is more delicate in color.

The Dutch Iris Bronze Varieties

Entirely new in Dutch iris were the bronze or “smoky” varieties. They gained fast in popularity with garden enthusiasts. Some were one-toned bronze in color (but always with a yellow signal patch, as this is characteristic of Dutch iris), as LE Monocot and ANKARA.

BRONZE BEAUTY combined blue standards and bronze falls with orange-yellow signals. 

BRONZE QUEEN was somewhat similar but not as heavily accented. Quite fascinating was HARMONY with its blue standards and olive-yellow falls covered with orange.

Iris is easy to grow. They are pretty frost-hardy, although, in climates where the temperature goes below zero, it is advisable to cover them with straw or leafmold during winter.

In these areas, it is also a good thing to dig them after the foliage dies down and keep them in a cool and dry place until planting time in autumn

In states where the climate is warmer, it is not necessary to dig Dutch iris yearly. They will ripen off in summer and come up again in fall.

Dutch iris-like plenty of moisture and prefer a sunny spot in the garden. Well-drained soil will make them thrive.

The Dutch iris provides excellent material for early spring flowering for gardeners with a small greenhouse or cold frame at their disposal.

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