Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Bevy of Bulbous Beauties!

The bulbous members of the iris family are often overlooked, which is understandable given the cultural requirements of many of them. For the most part they require warm dry summer months and not every garden can furnish that. Here are a few I've grown in the PNW.

Iris danfordiae is native to southern Turkey and blooms early with the crocus. The flowers are small, in shades of deep yellow and are quite cheerful on our gloomy gray spring days. Unfortunately they do not persist for me and I have to replant every few years.

Iris bucharica is in the Juno family of irises and is a native of the Asian steppes. It has fleshy roots similar to a daylily that must be handled with extreme care, while the foliage habit looks very much like maize and the buds open at the leaf bases along the stalk just like ears of corn. This one loves our dry summers and well drained soil and does very well. It blooms along with the daffodils and adds yet another note of yellow to the garden.

Dutch irises, members of the Xiphium family of irises, are natives of southern Europe and northern Africa. They are very popular in the floral industry, but not so much as a garden flower. Here they do wonderfully and the clumps get larger every year. They bloom with the early tall beardeds, come in a wide array of colors and make excellent cut flowers.

Last is another iris known by a designation that has nothing to do with its origins: the English iris. Related to the Dutch and Spanish irises, they are descendants of I. latifolium and native to France and Spain. They absolutely love the climate here and readily expand their clumps, blooming profusely along with the latest TBs and seeding about as well. The flowers on mine are pale lavender, but a deep navy blue seedling opened last year. I'd love to find more colors but have never seen them in commerce.

All these irises should be treated as other bulbs and allowed to go dormant for the summer months. With the exception of the English irises they are all easy to find at garden centers along with the other fall bulb offerings. Even if you can't grow them I hope you've enjoyed this peek into the wider world of irises.

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