Dwarf irises have an indispensable place in our gardens. Their low height, early bloom, hardiness, and modest cultural needs make them favored members of the iris family in which they fill the gap for plants of dwarf stature.
We have long associated dwarf iris with rock gardens, neglecting such ideal situations as perennial borders, terraced walls, borders along familiar paths, drifts in the wild garden, or individual doorstep plantings. They are particularly effective grown about a foot from the grass at the front of borders, one variety to a small clump, and about a foot apart.
There they furnish a parade of color for the early season and settle down into a nice green edging for the remainder of the year.
What sort of growing conditions do dwarf iris need? Their main requirements are good drainage and sunshine. Dwarfs cannot stand wet feet. They do appreciate some compost around their roots and respond to a little care in dividing every couple of years, but they are not fussy.
In the past the season of bloom was short and the color range was restricted to yellow and purple shades. Most varieties were derivatives of Iris chamaeiris, of which dwarf season, which was usually from mid-April to May, and the flowering period was naturally short.
With the development of I. pumila and its hybrids, the dwarf season has been extended by about three weeks. Not only do these forms bloom earlier, but they are also smaller and daintier, with a wider color range, and are unbelievably free-flowering. Varieties of this type are SOLANA, deep violet; NANA, a reddish blend; CARPATHIA, yellow; and APRIL MORN, blue, a rare color in dwarfs.
Shortly after the I. pumila varieties start blooming, the I. pumila hybrids come in with a crescendo of color, representing the finest achievements in dwarf breeding. Of the older varieties of this type, AZUREA, ATROVIOLACEA, and BIFLORA are still worthy of a place in your garden.
Newer available introductions are VIOLET GEM, clear rich violet; ALINDA, rosy red-purple; BLUE BAND, blue bitone; and PRIMUS, the first and only true variegata in dwarfs, with yellow standards and reddish falls edged in yellow.
New Dwarf Iris
A new dwarf iris type has been developed recently from a cross of I. chamaeiris with I. flavissima (I. Arenaria). Known as Arenaria hybrids, they bloom with the chamaedrys type and are about 8” inches high. They are distinguished by wide horizontal falls, rather open standards, narrower leaves, and more slender stems.
The flowers come from a terminal cluster of two buds, whereas in I. pumila and I. chamaeiris, there is a single terminal flower.
These Arenaria hybrids represent a new color class not yet fully explored. Paul Cook of Bluffton, Indiana, gave us TAMPA, the reddest red in dwarfs; KEEPSAKE, a bright yellow; and just recently PROMISE, the nearest thing to a true pink. Robert Hill of Lafontaine, Kansas, produced
TINY TREASURE, an outstanding yellow; MIST O’PINK, an earlier attempt at pink; BRONYA, mahogany; and CREAM TART, the smallest of this type.
Continue To Depend Varieties
Although these earlier hybrid dwarfs provide a variety of color forms and patterns, we must continue to depend for the present on standard chamaecyparis varieties for the bulk of our plantings because they are more numerous. Even in this category, much improvement is evident.
PATH OF GOLD is our best yellow; MOON GLEAM, a fine cream of excellent form; LITTLE ELSA, a yellow and white bicolor; SCIENEKUppE the best white; with dark red TINY TONY and Mulberry LITTLE JEWEL always in favor. BLAZON, STYLISH and BLUE MASCOT are still scarce, but BUZZER, PRAIRIE GEM, BLACK MIDGET, ROSE MIST, and PINK MAUVE are available and well worth growing.
The species iris, such as I. cristata, and I. innominata. I. reticulata, I. gracilipes, and other beardless types are low-growing but are seldom associated with or known as dwarf iris, although some bloom with the dwarfs and are excellent in every way. However, they do require a more specialized culture than dwarf bearded iris
Rather acid soil is necessary, and they prefer a half-shady exposure. Iris cristata seems to grow best under midwestern and eastern conditions.
Dwarf bearded iris planted after mid-July bloom the next spring and by the following year, you should have a good clump. Buy plants from reputable growers and insist upon named varieties of your selection, rather than a cheap, disappointing collection.
Remember that you are investing in permanent plants which will pay dividends in beauty and satisfaction for many years to come.
44659 by Walter Welch