In Praise of the Iris

I was a babe in arms when Mom and Dad, my two older siblings, and I departed MA during dad’s army service at the start of World War II. The army domiciled us in VA and TX, and finally Riverside, CA. Once a year in summer (when leave was available) my parents would drive us almost three-thousand-miles to see the family ‘back home’ in the little town of Marshfield, located south of Boston.

Beyond the welcoming arms, the delicious fresh blueberry pies, and the raspberry jam on home-made bread at my maternal grandmother’s house, I was the most impressed with the peony and Standard Tall bearded iris gardens my grandmother had so lovingly prepared. It was my joy to help weed them, but I was never once to see them in bloom. How disappointing, I thought, that the beautiful iris flowercould only be seen in the month of May!

It was years before I realized that not only were there other kinds of irises (over 200 species), but that the Genus Iris extends her garden bloom to almost every month of the year! The following are some of the irises I have successfully grown here in North Carolina. Do take time to check these out to see if you would like them in your own gardens.

The little 4-inch bulbous irises; reticulata, danfordiae, and histroids major, start in early February along with the crocuses and snowdrops, and bloom through March. They are lovely little things of blue, yellow and purple, best planted in drifts in the rock garden.

The thick-rooted Juno, I. bucharica, with its unusual yellow and white blooms, comes in late March into April. (My pet voles were fascinated with them.) Early April brings the Miniature Dwarf bearded and Standard Dwarf bearded irises, also rock garden candidates, soon followed by the ‘heirloom’ Historic irises (hybridized before 1950), and the light blue I. pallida, with their wonderful miniature blooms on tall stalks that are so happy in floral arrangements. They are wonderful in a vasemixed with azalea blossoms. In late April the lovely native I. cristata starts its bloom in the woods garden.

From late-April through May and into June are the rest of my bearded irises:Intermediate, Miniature Tall, Border, and Standard Tall; all with their early, mid-season, and late season blooms. Late May into June brings the beardless

I. siberica; I. virginica; and I. tectorum (the roof iris); I. pacifica, native to coastal hillsides in the Northwest, and I. graminia, just 12-inches high that is cousin to the stately 4-foot I. spuria that blooms in late June. Late May through June also gives this garden the brilliant I. Louisiana and the beautiful yellow I. pseudacorus that love growing right in the water but do well in good garden soil. To end the normal season is the beautiful and fascinating I. kaempferi, or Japanese iris, that blooms here in July.

Many years ago, it was discovered that, under the right conditions, some irises would consistently send up repeat blooms well beyond their normal bloom time. The late Dr. Lloyd Zurbrigg, a cherished member of the American Iris Society, spent a lifetime improving the reblooming iris to its respected place in the iris world, and many of his irises are in my garden. Last year, I had bearded iris cultivars blooming in the months of August through December. What a wonderful sight! But this year 2019, the rock garden outdid itself by surprising us with abrilliant cream-white Intermediate on January 10! For the first time, I can joyfullysay that the amazing Genus iris has bloomed in my garden in EVERY month of the year!

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