Growing Iris Through the Seasons

One of the outstanding features of the iris family is its long season of bloom. In the early spring, while the weather is still cool, the violet-blue flowers of Iris atroviolacea open close to the ground. This is a charming form that has been in cultivation for over 100 years.

Ten days later, the many dwarf kinds flower and continue until mid-May, combined with daffodils and tulips. Iris pumila and Iris flavissima are well known, and these and other species have been crossed recently to produce a new race of miniatures for rock gardens and border plantings. Forming low mats of foliage, established plants in bloom look like bright bouquets.

Iris FlowerPin

Among the varieties, were Verigay, a bright maroon and yellow variegate: Sparkling Eyes, a clear amoena; Violet Gem, a blue-violet with a blue beard; and Ylo, a yellow self, with horizontal falls, originated by Miss Sturtevant many years ago.

Others include Stylish, a rich purple with a sharp white beard; Path of Gold, a pure golden yellow; Blazon, a shapely red-purple; Sundrop, a yellow with long falls; and Primus, a clean variegata. Tony is a black-purple, Tiny Tony, dark mahogany, with a.deep yellow beard, and Come Again, a short deep red-purple, with a white beard.

Flowering shortly after is a new race of iris embodying pumila and tall bearded crosses. Perhaps the most beautiful is Fairy Flax, a 12″ inch wide variety with an evident light blue self and a white beard. Greenspot is white, with markings at the haft which arc green, while Baria is a pale yellow of good form.

Following these come hybrids of similar parentage introduced under “Lilliputs.” Of rampant growth, they soon develop into large clumps. Lilliput is a light blue, with a darker spot on the falls; Small Wonder, a light blue self; Pagan Midget, a dark red-purple; and Little Shadow, a dark blue-purple, with a blue beard.

Yet others are Happy Thought, a light yellow; Pogo, a distinct form, yellow with a red spot in the middle of the falls; and Pigmy Gold, a clear yellow.

Interesting are the several “crested” iris. The native Iris cristata, an attractive light blue with a yellow crest, makes a splendid ground cover when grown in masses. There are several color forms in blue, lavender, and white.

Another dainty plant is Iris gracilipes, which grows best in partial shade, producing small narrow leaves with miniature pale lavender flowers on slender branched stems about four or five inches high.

Japanese Root Iris

Another, the Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum), forms a large clump with lavender-blue flowers with darker markings. There is also a white form, with crests marked with gold. These grow well in moderately rich soil in partial shade.

A hybrid between Iris pallida and Iris tectorum, Paltec, with smooth, medium blue flowers, is extensively grown as a border plant in the south. In favorable locations, it does well in the north.

With narrow, glossy leaves, an evergreen iris is Iris graminea, which develops a dense crown and bright red-purple and blue flowers hidden by the foliage. Iris versicolor kermesina is a color form of the native flag iris, which always attracts attention because of its sturdy growth and deep red-purple color.

May generally begins the pageant of the tall bearded iris. First to open are the older intermediate forms, with Alaska, a warm white, heralding the procession. A striking combination is a large clump of Andalusian Blue amid pink Darwin tulips. For a “surefire” early-flowering mahogany-red, try the old-time Red Orchid. Peshawar is an early oncobred in blue and tan.

After these, for the next two or three weeks, the tall bearded iris fills the garden with their rainbow colors, the most popular of all. These grow well everywhere, except in the deep south, producing large handsome clumps and several flowering stems.

Since iris cross quickly, and the first blooms come the second or third spring after the seed is planted, every iris grower is a potential hybridizer. Thus it is easy to understand why over 500 new varieties are registered with the American Iris Society each year.

Recently, oncocyclus, regelias, Iris pumila, and others compatible are being crossed with the tall bearded to produce new colors.

A few which I grow are the pale yellow Amandinc and Desert Song and the blue Blue Rhythm, Great Lakes, an all-time favorite, Blue Sapphire, a large ruffled variety, Lady Ilse, Sierra Skies, South Pacific, Rehoboth and Chivalry, a deeper tone.

Amoenas Are Challenging to Propagate

Breeding amoenas is difficult, but Bright Hour and Cape Cod show improvement in form. Pinnacle has white standards and yellow falls, while Soft Answer is similar in coloring. Among deep yellows are Ola Kala and Solid Gold.

Snow Flurry is a ruffled blue-white, which has perhaps produced more descendants than any other variety, notably New Snow and the Cliffs of Dover. The new Queen’s Lace is a warm white with a Lacey edge, and Swan Ballet is a pure white.

The extremely popular “shrimp pinks” are Happy Birthday, May Hall, Cathedral Bells, and Twilight Sky. Paradise Pink is a lavender pink, and Pink Sensation, June Meredith, and Sassafras are a deeper warm rose. Raspberry Ribbon, Minnie Colquitt, and Port Wine from striking flowers, with white ground heavily bordered with deep red-purple.

Sable and Sable Night are dark “red-black”; the Black Forest, Black Hills, and the new Deep Night are “blue-black,” and Blumohr and Frances Craig is “blue lavender.”

Truly Yours, with yellow standards blending into falls with white tips, has taken the iris world by storm. Mary Randall is a rare pink in a new shade; golden tans and browns are more lively, exemplified by Argus Pheasant, Cascade Splendor, Cordovan, Sunset Blaze, and Inca Chief.

The reds and browns reds are helpful for accent, and these include the two-toned Queen’s Taste, Rose Garland, Technicolor, Pacemaker, Big Time, Ylem, Quechee, and Defiance.

Apricot Glory is always dependable, and the stately pearl-white Starshine can be used as a focal point.

Caroline Jane and Rosy Veil are dainty plicatas, with white ground and delicate edging; exotic Lady Mohr is pale lavender and oyster white; Windsor, Midnight Blue, and Harbour Blue are deep blue, and Amigo, Chiquita, and Elizabeth Noble are bi-tones, with blue-purple falls and very pale blue standards. In Elizabeth Noble, the standards arc almost white.

Midseason brings the Siberian iris, which grows into large clumps, with several tall, slender stalks if grown in rich, moist soil. Tycoon is a large blue Caesar’s Brother, a dark purple, Royal Ensign, a deep purple, a striking blue blaze, and Tropic Night, a deep blue.

Other desirable varieties are Eric the Red, a wine-red, Gatineau, a flaring blue and white, and the white Snowcrcst and Frank Stubbs. With these iris bloom the native yellow flag pseudacorus).

Beardless Louisiana Iris

Then come to the beardless group known as the Louisiana iris, including Iris fulva, Iris foliosa, Iris gigancicaerulea, and hybrids. Native to the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, they arc extensively grown in the extreme southern states, yet they are hardy in many northern states. Give them vibrant soil and plenty of water.

I have grown with success in my Massachusetts garden Elizabeth Washington, deep blue; Caddo, red-bronze; Cajan Joyeuse, rose blend, dependable and rampant in growth; and Sunny, flaring yellow. I have also tried The Khan, a rich purple with gold signal, the showy Aurora Borealis and Blue Sunset, Gay Deceiver, and the old standby Dorothea K. Williamson.

The spuria group is becoming increasingly popular — very tall, stately, late-blooming iris that require plenty of space. One of the largest is Wadi Zem Zem, pale yellow. Bathsheba and Larksong are attractive yellows edged with white.

Two Opals is lavender and cream; Pastoral, an orange edged with pale lavender; Dutch Defiance, large blue with a yellow signal patch; Bronzspur, dark yellow bronze; and the new Blackpoint, dark brown.

Much interest in developing new forms is being shown in Texas, Arizona, and Southern California, and some glorious colors are appearing on the market.

Early summer brings the large, flat-topped Japanese iris. I enjoyed growing them from seed at one time because all the seedlings were different and had remarkable vitality and florifcrousness. The introduction of the vast Higo strain has recently created renewed interest, with gorgeous shades of lavender, blue and white, with yellow signal patches.

Late Season Iris

In August, the vesper iris (Iris dichotoma) blooms on its many-branched stems, two to three feet high, with myriads of small lavender firn7vers. They are of easy growth and can readily be grown from seed to replace plants that occasionally die out.

Last to bloom is the old French purple bearded iris, Lieutenant Chavagnac. It always sends up flower stalks in September and early October.

To be mentioned arc the bulbous iris — Iris reticulata, and its varieties, and the Dutch, English, and Spanish iris. There are also the beautiful species forms of Iris douglasiana, with a lovely white form, Iris innominata, Iris gormani, Iris tenax, and other species which grow well in the milder climates of the Pacific coast and England but which do not withstand the extremes of our east coast weather.

Much has also been done in California with the exotic oncocyclus species, with rich dull colors and characteristic stripings and blotches. These are only happy when they have a rest period with no water, a condition difficult to reproduce in most of the country.

When crossed with tall bearded iris, however, a sturdy race results. Under the name “oncobred,” they include some of our most popular iris.

44659 by Harold W. Knowlton