Plant Spotlight: Iris

The genus Iris.

The genus Iris brings to me a certain nostalgia as it was one of the first plants I ever learned as a child. I remember kneeling down on the grass where there was one planted in the garden and taking in its beautiful fragrance. On reflection I realise that it was a bearded iris type also known as Iris germanica. I think if I had to choose, I would place the genus Iris as one of my top favourites!

Iris is a huge genus which ranges from the Iris reticulata cultivars which are bulb forming and flower in the winter to bearded iris and Iris sibirica cultivars also known as Siberian iris. Also, Winterbourne is the National Collection holder of the winter flowering Iris unguicularis, which is housed in our back up collection. They are in the Iridaceae family (iris family) which also includes Crocus, Freesia and Gladiolus. Iris sibirica come from Europe and Central Asia and Iris germanica come from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean area.

At Winterbourne we have several different Iris growing in our garden including bearded iris which grows in the Herb Circle; the flowers are almost like velvet to the touch and have beautiful beards of bluey-purple. In the Pink and Blue border, we also have Iris ‘Sultan’s Palace’ which have bearded flowers like reddish brown velvet and Iris ‘Edith Wolford’ which is also a I. germanica cultivar with lovely ruffled flowers which are yellow and blue.

Another Iris which flowers in early May in the Walled Garden and Herb Circle at Winterbourne is a beautiful silvery white Iris called Iris florentina otherwise known as glaive lilly or orris root. This has traditionally been used in perfume making. I think it is just gorgeous!

Iris sibirica cultivars are grown in the Walled Garden and Pink and Blue Border including Iris ‘Perry’s Blue’ (pale blue with white veins), Iris ‘Silver Edge’, which has the accolade of the Award of Garden Merit, with dark blue flowers with a silver edge and is in my opinion very attractive, and Iris sibirica ‘ Cambridge Blue’ which is pale mauve in the Walled Garden; a really pretty one. Also, Iris ‘Tropic Night’ is planted in the Walled Garden and Arboretum which has pale blue flowers which have white and yellow markings.

Bearded iris need to be planted in full sun in loamy or sandy conditions in fertile, well drained soil; it is imperative that the rhizomes are not buried by soil or mulch as they need sunshine on them to enable them to flower better.

Iris sibirica cultivars need to be planted in full sun or partial shade in moist but not waterlogged soil; if they are planted in drier soils then add plenty of organic matter to help the soil retain some moisture. Iris sibirica seed heads can be left on them after flowering as they are attractive when dried and left on the plant.

Propagate bearded iris types by dividing the rhizomes in Midsummer to early Autumn and divide clumps of the Iris sibirica cultivars in early Spring or Autumn. Whilst at Winterbourne I have had success dividing clumps of Iris sibirica from the Pink and Blue border and Iris florentina. Why not have a go yourself and try and grow some Iris in your garden, you will not be disappointed!

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