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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Irises sequentially


This year I have been aware of irises making intense displays with three petals on top, three inner petals and three pollen-bearing stamens describing their basic structure. They are enhanced with decorated lines of rainbow colors to entice the pollinators to the well of life in the center where nine parts come together.

This iris in my garden (pictured) sprawls in waves of green blades and truth be known I don’t remember planting it – now it is huge, which is fine with me. I do not know its name so if you do please let me know.

The first iris to make an appearance in spring is the native Iris cristata and if it likes your conditions it makes a weed-free mat of 3-inch high blades that bloom in sky blue iris flowers in early May. In the garden blooming the same time is the bulb Iris reticulata, which arises from grass-like clumps. The next bulb iris to bloom is taller but has the same ethereal nature and is called Dutch iris – order these to plant in fall.

Usually mid-May finds the dwarf bearded iris in bloom, about 8 inches tall, often with a delightful fragrance great for rock gardens in the sun and some varieties are re-bloomers, sending up new flowers in the fall. These look great with hyacinths and miniature daffodils (planted in fall).

When the peonies bloom they are often accompanied by the tall bearded iris varieties with their velvet falls of color calling in bees.

The iris is named for the goddess Iris who was known to be a messenger of the gods, according to Diana Wells’ “A Hundred Flowers and how they got their Name,” and she was associated with the rainbow as a bridge between worlds.

Irises come in a wide variety of colors and every manner of anchoring to the ground; some have rhizomes that have the topside exposed while roots grow out of the part that is underground and others have longer root systems either straight down or sideways.

As May cedes to June more tall bearded irises are evident and the Siberian varieties begin to bloom, I observed five different colors springing up through the daylilies and tradescantia in my gardenscape, the former just beginning to bud and the latter in bloom. Along streams and shallow rivers the blue flag iris graces the edges and is thought to have saved the life of King Clovis by indicating where the river was shallow enough to cross while he was escaping capture (another tidbit from Diana Wells). He made the iris his emblem and the symbol for the kings of France.

There is a dark yellow water iris that is really invasive, I. pseudacorus, that tends to colonize the same space as the native blue flag iris, and is a robust plant, a little taller than the blue and a vigorous seeder. The seeding arms of the yellow flag iris fall sideways into the garden or the waterway and plant new generations, moving downstream with floods. If it is in your garden cut those stems off. Many people insist on keeping it despite the invasive nature because it is a powerful yellow in the garden.

Now that it is June this intense creeping iris has arranged herself around my garden beds, the Siberians are wrapping it up for the season and the graceful Japanese in large, flat blooms of white or purple are just getting ready to delight the eye.

When irises are done they leave a seedpod which can be interesting on its own. Bring a rainbow to your garden, plant irises.

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