Irises are the perfect beginning gardener's plant. Tall bearded irises in particular grow in most areas of the country, have low water requirements, need little fertilizer, and reproduce perfect copies of themselves.
Irises are also the ideal garden flower for those of us who are color-challenged. By matching companion flowers to the color of the iris, beautiful garden planting schemes can be achieved even by those of us who wear stripes with checks. The beauty of irises is accentuated when they are set against other perennial flowers, bulbs, shrubs and foliage, or even grasses.
The classic companion for irises is roses. Here is reblooming iris 'Total Recall' with 'Julia Child' floribunda rose.
'Sweet Musette' looks great with alstroemeria.
Limonium perezii (also known as Statice) has the same water requirements as tall bearded iris. 'Designer's Art' with limonium:
Perennials and bulbs are good choices as companions in colder climates. Brenda Fox gardens on 40 acres of land in Western New York. Her first gardening love was irises, and she plans her gardens around the use of a dominant color in each bed. You can see her masterful use of color and design in the garden here.
In this photo, she uses 'Gypsy Romance', her favorite iris, with malva mauritania and lupines. She says this is not photoshopped; the iris really is this bright.
Nepeta 'Walker's Low' with tall bearded iris 'Dover Beach'. Brenda claims her photo does not do this iris justice.
Her talent with color is shown by her combination of iris with Salvia eveline, Persicaria bistorta, and pink forget-me-not:
And for those of you who love brightly colored foliage, take a look at Brenda's combination of 'Samurai Warrior' and red barberry.
The blue-green color of iris foliage works well with most any color of foliage. In a California garden, 'Lady Friend' with new rose growth:
Annuals are another choice that can work well in the garden with irises. Nasturtiums are lovely companions but can smother iris rhizomes, so be careful. Here is 'Cajun Rhythm' with 'Apricot Trifle':
Grasses are a nice contrast to the ornate flower form of irises. 'Rip City' with Japanese blood grass.
And the enchanting, muted 'Thornbird' with juncus and artemisia.
Some of the most beautiful and surprising uses of irises, however, show a cheerful disregard for color coordination.
However you use them in your garden, irises provide a rainbow of color.