Luck of the Iris!
Amateur Gardening|August 07, 2021
With their sword-shaped leaves and regal flowers, bearded irises are stately plants that flower in May and June – and now is the time to plant them, says Hazel Sillver
Hazel Sillver

BEARDED irises fill the garden with colour and beauty during late spring and early summer, and they are best planted now. Artists such as Van Gogh have been enthralled by the graceful elegance of their large ruffled flowers, which bloom atop stems that can be more than 3ft (1m) tall, and they are easy, fuss-free plants to grow.

Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean, the bearded iris (Iris germanica) derives from I. pallida – the ancient iris grown by perfumers for its scented rhizomes (orris). The ‘beard’ refers to the furry caterpillar of hairs on the falls of the flower. In mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, and after decades of breeding the bearded portion of the genus doesn’t disappoint, with forms available in every colour, apart from scarlet and magenta.

As garden plants, bearded irises are top performers. Their regal flowers prevent May from being bland and add to the June flowering. Their sword-shaped, blue-green leaves, produced in fans, have an architectural quality, and they are low maintenance, requiring minimal water and food.

Sweet perfume

Although not famed for their scent, many bearded irises have a pleasing sweet perfume. And a few are remontant, so they may flower again in late summer or autumn. The only downside to bearded irises in a small garden is that they need elbow room. If they are crowded in a border with other plants drooping over them, they won’t flower well.

The majority of bearded irises available are the tall forms, which grow to 28-44in (70cm-1.1m). The most iconic are the blue hybrids, such as ‘Fathom’. Garden designers love the chestnut and caramel varieties, including ‘Cable Car’ and ‘Kent Pride’, while whites (such as ‘Snowy Owl’) and pastels (such as the peach-pink ‘Party Dress’) look charming grown together. There are also 16-28in (40-70cm) ‘intermediate’ varieties for the middle or front of the border or containers: ‘Bel Azur’ is sky blue, and ‘Maid of Orange’ has apricot flowers. If growing in containers, opt for a very wide pot with good drainage.

Plant some of these May queens now and you can look forward to a magnificent show next year.

9 tall bearded irises

‘Mer du Sud’ AGM

The intense, rich-blue flowers of this wonderful Cayeux iris are striking in sunshine and at dusk, during May and June. Enjoys neutral to alkaline, well-drained soil in full sun. H: 31in (80cm).

‘Jane Phillips’ AGM

Deservedly popular, this vigorous iris produces large, fragrant, sky-blue flowers in May and June. Plant in an open, sunny spot in well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil. H: 36in (90cm).

‘Before the Storm’

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