By Jim Murrain
Why do I grow irises? I garden because I need to connect with the earth. I grow flowers to enjoy their beauty in my own garden. But why do I grow so many iris? Is there special allure of the Iris?
As a child I always planted a few flowers at the border of the vegetable garden. I divided and replanted bearded iris by the time I was ten years old, before I really knew what Iris were. I took my cues from gardening neighbors as my parents didn't care about flowers and concentrated on growing vegetables for the dinner table. My favorite next door mentor was Cora Bell Miller. She grew miniature dwarf iris with other exotics such as red hot pokers, balloon flowers and many other mysterious plants.
Years later, when I finally bought a house that had enough space for a garden, I planted half of the garden space with vegetables and half with flowers. These included a variety of annuals, perennials and, yes, various irises, even a few flowering shrubs. Soon however the floral half expanded into the vegetable portion and eventually took over completely. I could always visit farmers' markets for in season vegetables in greater variety than my small space could ever match.
I still didn't have the iris bug, but became interested in ornamental grasses. After a while I thought they could be even nicer if they had showy flowers instead of just grass plumes. I saw a listing for irises that included a few species and decided to try growing some. I purchased Iris ensata and a few others. It turned out that I. ensata was an old name for I. lactea and this is the plant I received. I was of course expecting a Japanese iris, but I really liked the foliage of the plant I did get.
The next spring I saw the first flowers on I. lactea (I still was not sure of its real name) and loved the shy flowers partly hidden by the foliage. By the second year it flowered much better and made a perfect bouquet with a few leaves still above the flowers. But what really got me was that after flowering the leaves extended to over two feet and made a near perfect sphere. It looked as fine as any grass I had ever grown.
This led me to look for other iris species and I 'discovered' beardless iris such as Siberian and Spuria Irises. The bug finally bit deep when I discovered the explosion of Louisiana Irises. All these proved relatively easy to grow and rewarded me with flowers in a variety of colors, forms and plant habits. I'm not really a very good gardener and I usually kill more then my share, but I enjoy trying to grow some new iris that I can't easily visit in nearby gardens.
All these photos are of Iris lactea, the iris that piqued my interest in the possibilities of iris and 'infected' me with the iris bug.
Now, why do you grow irises?