WRITING a concise sketch on irises is a nigh-impossible task. For starters, there are around 300 species and umpteen hybrids, but that’s not all by far.
Such are the complexities of these supremely beautiful plants that the vast family is divided and sub-divided – enough to send your head spinning in perplexity.
Here’s what I mean – there are bulbous, rhizomatous and fleshy-rooted sorts, there are bearded irises, beardless, arils, crested ones, Pacific Coasts, Siberian, Japanese, Louisianas, Unguiculares, water irises, miniature dwarf bearded, standard dwarf bearded, intermediate bearded, border bearded, the oddly-named miniature tall bearded, reticulata, juno and xiphium.
And many, many more!
Native lands include America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
Above all, they are all stunningly gorgeous on the eye, albeit often maddeningly fleeting with their beauty.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from such an array, especially as they bloom from mid-winter to mid-summer, so your iris eyes will be shining for some months.
But if my life depended on growing just one sort, it would have to be the Siberians – elegant, self-reliant, lofty at between 2ft 6in and 4ft high, grass-like leaves and beardless petals – sadly scentless – mostly in blue-violet.
They sway gracefully in the breeze, so staking may be advised if they grow on an exposed, windy vantage point.
Siberian irises will readily expand their clumps, so do divide in early spring to spread the colour across the garden or to offer to friends.
Silver Edge (2ft 4in) is the universal favourite, bearing mid-blue blooms with distinct silvery margins and a cream blaze on each fall – the lower petals.
In total contrast is Butter & Sugar (3ft), a fresh combination of white and yellow, flowering a little later than Silver Edge and a robust choice too.
Ruffled Velvet (22in) comes in velvety red-purple in early summer and darker ruffled falls. Sultan’s Ruby (2ft 5in) produces deep magenta flowers with a round, gold patch on each velvet fall, while Wisley White (3ft 3in) is – of course – white but with cream veining and bright yellow haft marks.
Two more for you to crave over – Ann Dasch (3ft 3in) in mottled, light purple blooms, deeper margins and small yellow marks in late spring, and Limeheart (3ft) in a stunning livery of white flowers with green hafts.
All of them irresistible!
Few colours fail to be covered by the iris family – iris comes from the Greek for rainbow, so that explains its fabulous colour range. And many petals boast a “licence to frill” factor, particularly the big, bold beardeds.
Remember – once blooms are over, cut back stems, apply a general booster and mulch with good-quality compost or leaf mould to ensure a repeat and stellar performance next time round.
■ For irises of all shapes and statures try Pottertons Nursery & Garden, of Nettleton, Lincolnshire – http://www.pottertons.co.uk/01472 851714 or Burncoose Nurseries, of Redruth, Cornwall – http://www.burncoose.co.uk/01209 -860316.
■ Irresistible irises: From top – Silver Edge up-close; a garden full of Siberian irises in my home town Bideford; above left – my own display of Siberians; right – a patch of vivid purple Siberians at National Trust property Greenway, near Brixham, and photographed by my daughter.