Friday, March 8, 2013

I is for Iris

There was a fresh dusting of snow this morning that just barely covered the dirt-spattered layer of snow beneath it. I don't know about you, but I am sick of winter whites, browns and greys. 

It's time for some color! 

Last summer, I started a garden alphabet that got as far as the letter 'h'. Today, I am going to pick up where I left off. In this post, the letter 'i' represents one of the most beautiful flowers a garden can possibly offer: the iris.

The iris came by its name through Greek mythology. According to legend Iride or Iris, the messenger of the Gods, scattered fields full of irises, with all the colors of the rainbow, as she passed between heaven and earth.

Iris in my back garden.

In early spring of last year, I dug up all the bearded irises in the front garden and moved them to a new and less crowded spot in the back garden. Though I knew I would pay for this upheaval by enjoying few if any flowers, it was a chore that just had to be done. 

Root rot had taken its toll on the crowded and neglected rhizomes in the front garden. It is hard to imagine anything more putrid smelling than mushy rhizomes infected with this fungal disease. I cut away all the infected parts of the plants and kept only the best rhizomes. (I have read that you can also disinfect the wounds with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.)

In previous years, I have also had problems with Iris Borer. Borers begin their lives as eggs laid on garden debris in fall. They hatch into one inch sized larvae that that chew into the leaves and then eat their way down to the rhizomes. Borer damage is often seen as notched wounds or slimy, wet-looking areas on the leaves. To deal with this pest, I have learned to try to keep the rhizomes clear of any debris. I also try to catch the larvae in the spear-shaped foliage by removing any slimy leaves.

As well the bearded irises, I also have a few varieties of Siberian Irises. 

In the backyard, Siberian irises form good sized clumps of grassy foliage and put on a fine display of butterfly-like flowers in June. They get morning and early afternoon sun.

A few of my Siberean irses have become overgrown and this spring I will have to look forward to 
the Herculean task of lifting the heavy clumps and dividing them.

I am sure some of you must be asking if irises are worth all the trouble. Absolutely!

If I had to choose between growing a Siberian Iris and a Japanese Iris, I would choose a Japanese Iris. I think the flowers are bigger and more impressive.

Japanese Irises like a fair bit of moisture until they finish flowering. My garden is fairly dry, so I have compensated for this by giving my white irises a spot in the garden with dappled afternoon sunlight.

Here are some ideas for planting irises that I picked up from my visits to the Royal Botanical Gardens last spring:

Plant irises in drifts for maximum effect. 

A single plant just doesn't cut it!

(Generally bearded irises flower for 3 or 4 weeks. You can extend the flowering season however, 
by selecting early and late flowering varieties.)

Try mixing a two colors together...

or two different shades of the same color....

Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

or max-out on one color.

Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

Consider mixing cool blues and mauves with yellow irises.

Think about mixing a few different varieties of irises of the same color together.

Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

You also might want to think about using irises in combination with other flowers. 
Here we have a pale yellow iris + blue Baptisia. 

Pink and red peonies + purple and mauve irises. Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

Siberian Iris, Geranium sangaineum 'John Elsley' in left foreground and in behind them are magenta- colored Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts'. Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. While I don't grow irises (my garden is too dry) I have always admired the Siberian irises. They have an elegance I don't see in some of the other types. I like that they come naturally in different colours of the rainbow too!

    1. Hi Patty
      Why don't you try the old beared iris, in Australia they do really well in the dry.

  2. We are all had it with the grey and browns of winter. We had only one beautiful springday last tuesday. Now temperatures are going down again with frost during the nights. Your blog has a wow=factor today. It brings in sunshine.
    Have a wonderful weekend Jennifer.

    1. Hi Marijke
      I'll send you over some sun, I'm in Australia, Melbourne and we are having a heat wave. We all would love some cooler weather.

  3. Hi Jennifer! I just love Iris too. You sure have some beauties! As a child my Dad belonged to the Iris society and did hybridizing. I think that's where I got my love of gardening. They are so pretty plus they smell good too!

  4. The iris are just gorgeous. I grew regular and siberian at my last home. I even brought Ceasar's Brother with me but it has not flowered very much. I did divide it two years ago so we'll see how it does this year.


  5. All the Iris are just lovely, Jennifer. I especially enjoy the blue, mauve and yellow ones.
    Siberians are a breeze to grow, although mine need division this spring as well. Plus manure - the one year I dumped a whole bag on one section, they bloomed like mad!
    I think I may invest in a few Japanese ones - I don't have any. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.
    As usual, superb photographs and great information.

  6. The blue and yellow irises together look great. Iris are beautiful, no doubt, but I've been reluctant to plant them because of their relatively short bloom period.

  7. Beautiful. I've loved irises for a long time. There's something "stately" about them.

  8. Ahhh........those blues and purples, particularly the singles, simply gorgeous! Love those stunning photos!

  9. Hi Jennifer - I'm anxiously awaiting the return of some colour in the garden. Your irises are gorgeous. And the RBC has such a great display - well worth visiting.

    My favourite are the Japanese irises too. Although at this time of year, I'm happy with the iris reticulata that blooms so early - are they a true iris, I wonder?

  10. Oh yes tired of winter too... your post certainly brightened my day.

  11. I am fond of Iris too, especially the blues. Bearded Irises are rather difficult in our soil, but I try, every few years I have to replant them to another spot, some years I have lots of flowers other years just a few. I replanted them in September again and I don't think to have many flowers this year. Your Siberian Iris header is absolutely fabulous.

  12. What a lovely post about one of my favourite flowers. That first pic took my breath away and shows this beautiful flower in all it's glory.
    I particularly like the blue iris.....I now have the urge to dash out and buy some bulbs...xxxxx

  13. I look forward to my iris blooming...I have so many different varieties and colors. Thanks for the info about the rot and borers. I think I may have a few bearded I need to divide as well this year finally...gorgeous pictures to make me swoon...I too am just done with winter and snow...we also had more snow on top of the foot that is not melting...maybe some melt during the warm weekend...I hope!

  14. Irises are gorgeous and yes, well worth the nuisance of having to divide them every so often. I've never tried Siberian iris, but I'm a huge fan of Louisiana iris - it's perfect for a hot, humid climate and wet conditions. And they have huge blooms, just like the Japanese iris.

  15. I love irises, too. All of them. Although I don't have masses like in your photos, it is a dream of mine to one day have a great many like that! The irises in your header are the prettiest, I think. I hope your winter leaves soon. We don't have the snow, but I am tired of having nights that dip down into freezing. For me, it's not spring until that has passed.

  16. Oh how I love Irises!!! ALL of em! Simply stunning - and your photography is always beautiful.


  17. Lovely, lovely, lovely! I would like them all too, if I could just find space for them I do have some Dutch iris that flowers quite late, but I think I need to add some more to extend the season. Those purple/pink ones was just adorable!

  18. Gorgeousness! I am fond of Iris too. My parents back in Italy have the white and blue ones. Here you can often find the yellow ones near the edge of the roads. :)
    Have a lovely Monday ahead.

  19. I inherited lots of different iris when we moved to this home three years ago. Being deer and rabbit resistant makes them popular! I brushed off excess soil from my bearded iris 'knuckles' this year since over-zealous mulching was in danger of burying them. I have also started to spray with lime sulfur as a rust-preventative treatment as I had problems the first couple of years.

    Have to love those flowers though!

  20. Jennifer, nice pictures and many ideas to plant irises! I'd plant irises of different colors, especially white ones and any others.I haven't white irises in my garden I think they are beautiful.

  21. I have some dwarf irises, not sure of the variety, passalong plants. Love them, such a hardy performer. Love the combination of the bold smaller yellow iris with the blue/purple ones.

  22. With the fresh layer of snow this morning, this post was delightful to read. I love visiting the RGB and hope to do more this year (now that I'm 'retired'!) Beautiful pictures, thank you.
    Debbie :)

  23. Irises are my very favorite type of flower, so I really enjoyed this post. So many beautiful pictures!


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