January 14, 2009

Months of Iris Blooms


While I'm not a collector nor an expert of iris, I can't imagine my garden without them. To me, an iris bloom is perfection. If I were an artist, I would paint irises.

There are over 300 species of the genus iris worldwide. Given this broad array of choices we are treated to numerous fine examples of pristine beauties.

With some planning and advance planting, a gardener can be rewarded with iris blooms over several months.

One of the first irises to bloom is the tiny Iris reticulata, a great companion to crocus for zones 5-9. Two other small iris, cycloglossa and danfordiae, for zones 5-9, bloom in May-June.

I haven't yet planted these tiny (4-5 inch high) irises in my garden, but they are certainly interesting for anyone who loves irises.

In my garden, I start off the bloom season with the Dutch iris. The label information says that these irises bloom in May-June. In my full sun garden in zone 7, my photographs are dated mid-April. The height is 18-22 inches (in bloom) and the Dutch iris bulbs are rated for zones 5-8.

The foliage of the Dutch iris is thin, almost like a wild onion. However, it's fairly easy to conceal if planted behind perennials or shrubs that emerge a bit later. I find that the blooms of my Dutch irises last for about 3 weeks. The deer and rabbits have not bothered these irises.

Given the great attributes of Dutch irises, I decided to add more to my garden. In October, I added 50 each of 'Telestar' and 'Rosario' to provide lavender and rose colors. The foliage has already emerged, giving me the assurance that all of the bulbs were good.

In early May, my iris pseudacorus (yellow flag) begin blooming. I had experience growing these at a previous home where I literally planted them in the natural creek bank in filtered light.

The yellow flag irises multiply rapidly in wet soil. With a few low, moist locations in my current garden, I decided to introduce them here as well. These irises can reach heights of 4-6 feet and have been reported to grow in zones 4-9.

The iris in the photo is planted in a low spot that is slow to drain, while the companion, a purple smoke bush, is planted in a drier spot. Companions in the other areas include bog sage, monarda and Japanese and Siberian irises.

If you decide on the yellow flag irises, give them a lot of space, especially in wet locations. They divide quite easily so you can passalong these irises to your friends. I've not had a problem with the deer eating the blooms in May, but by late August, they were trying out the foliage. Since I cut back the foliage in late fall, I am not too concerned with the deer browsing.


Beginning in late May and first of June (in my garden), my Siberian and Japanese irises begin blooming. These dot the low areas of the garden along the path in the rain garden as well as along the dry stream.

Iris siberica or Siberian irises can handle a variety of growing conditions and are rated for zones 3-8, reaching heights of 2-3 feet. My favorite is 'Butter and Sugar' for the delicate yellow and white. The shorter foliage of this iris works well in front of my taller Japanese irises (there are taller Siberian irises, too). The foliage stays green all summer so I don't worry about hiding it and let these reside at the front of the bed. The blooms of the Siberian are beautiful to behold and are deer resistant.

Among my iris ensata or Japanese iris varieties, I have purple, lavender and the snow white 'Mount Fujiyama.' Mount Fuji is a gorgeous white with a hint of pale yellow on the falls. Japanese iris are very different from the Siberian (or bearded). These are large, flat and frilly. Mine are between 2-3 feet in height at this point. They like moist, acidic soil in zones 4-9. I grow mine in full sun. The deer will occasionally pick the open blooms, but leave the buds and foliage alone.

The last iris to bloom in my garden is iris pallida variegata. The variegated foliage adds interest from spring until winter and is suitable for zones 4-7. The purple blooms make a showing in June. In moist conditions, this iris will multiply and grow quite tall, to around three feet high. Out in my rain garden, where the water is based upon rainfall, it has stayed short. This iris is growing alongside yellow flag iris, hardy ageratum and bog sage.

Of course, there are many more irises to grow. I still have bearded irises on my "wish list" as I continue to develop my gardens. My only delay has been in deciding upon the colors to plant!

Photos and story by Freda Cameron

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Defining Your Home, Garden & Travel

Home, garden and travel tips by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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