Hybridizers and commercial horticulturists are constantly offering us new strains and improved varieties of old favorites in the hardy plant field, but not so often do we see a worthy native species routed out and given it’s full due by gardeners.
We have such a plant in Iris dichotoma, often called the vesper iris because of its charming and infallible habit of opening in the late afternoon and continuing through the evening.
This species of the iris is an Asian native and has been offered to plant and garden lovers only occasionally and in a limited way until recent years.
The plant has many features in its favor: winter hardiness, ease of culture, and that much sought-after attribute – flowering during July, August, and September when the hardy border lacks color and interest.
Habits Of The Species
Michigan gardeners report no Winter loss. Twenty-five miles north of Boston, a writer has good specimens that have survived several Winters – sometimes covered, sometimes neglected.
It is, however, a little reluctant to seek the April sunshine, along with the Spring-flowering bulbs, and ardent Winter-weary gardeners should be warned to mark plants carefully lest their early April activities in cleaning up lead them to spade under the dormant roots.
Since this is one of the fibrous rooted iris, no rhizome is visible to warn the eager gardener. Early Summer growth is similar to any iris family, producing fans of clean, narrow, light green foliage.
Beginning in mid-July, an established clump has strong, wiry stalks, three to three and one-half feet high, well-branched, bearing up to 25 or 30 buds each. Individual flowers measure two and one-half inches across gracefully poised like butterflies on the tip of each branch.
The Flower Opens
The color is variable but remarkably calm and clear, with delicate shades of blue and lavender, etched and marked with mahogany, copper, and orange tones.
You will be entranced to watch the slender buds swell until finally, quietly and with a certain grace, they unfold the outer petals and disclose the tiny crested standards intricately feathered with jewel colors.
This fascinating matinee starts every afternoon at about 8:80 – though, on a gray day, it may be delayed a half hour or so. The entire performance, once started, is compelling enough so that a child’s interest can be held, and indeed this is an excellent lesson in the wonders of nature.
Plant Of Good Manners
Cleanliness is not the least of its virtues. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, employing the same grace and faithfulness that they showed in their unfolding, the dainty butterflies fold themselves into neat little spirals, like tiny cornucopias, and as quietly drop to the ground of their own accord.
Think for a moment of the few flowers you know that clean themselves unobtrusively. How often we have to go about snipping off heads of withered flowers that cling with a tenaciousness and purpose which, while indicative of a strong desire to survive and reproduce, is nevertheless a questionable virtue in the well-kept garden.
Vesper iris looks best in clumps using three or five and repeating the group, perhaps in combination with the white phlox or the various Hemerocallis that remain open in the evening.
Early planting means flowering in late July; later planting can prolong the blooming season in September. I’ve used some excellent chrysanthemums as a companion with satisfactory results.
However, in all fairness to vesper iris, it must be said that any supplementary planting must give way after 4 o’clock and let the star performer have the center of the stage.
Any ordinary garden soil, preferably well-drained, half a day of full sunshine, a minimum of care, and a very modest initial investment, and you can have one of the most fascinating additions to your late Summer garden imaginable.
by D Doran
14208 by NA