Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Irises: The Best and the Bluest, Part One

By Renee Fraser

Blue flowers are rare.  Roses don't come in blue, nor do daylilies, despite sporting names such as 'Wild Blue Yonder' or 'Blue Desire'.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of the color blue in irises: they come in a variety of hues that quench the gardener's thirst. But this poses a dilemma: which blue irises do I want? There are so many!

I asked my gardening friends to show me their best blue irises. Some shared photos of their truest blue iris, some their prettiest blue, and some their best blue performer. I got such a fantastic response that they had to be split into three posts.  So we will start with the tall bearded (TB) irises and then share the beardless, and finally the median flowers. So here for your viewing pleasure are some spectacular blue tall bearded irises.

The traditional favorite is probably 'Babbling Brook'.  It is still in widespread distribution.  So is the reblooming iris 'Victoria Falls'. These are both tried and true garden choices, although 'Victoria Falls' must often be staked.

'Babbling Brook' Photo credit: His Iris Garden

'Victoria Falls' with 'Persian Berry'

Blue irises can be very blue, or more of a lavendar-blue.  NOID means 'no identification' and is used for flowers that have lost their identities.   Dynee Lawler, a photographer who gardens in Southern California, has this beautiful true-blue NOID in her garden.

NOID Photo credit: Dynee Lawler
And Rodney Deal, who is building an historic iris collection based on the varieties his grandmother grew and sold in Oklahoma, shared this NOID, which is at the lavendar end of the rainbow of blues.

NOID Photo credit: Rodney Deal

Blue irises also come in various depths of color and distributions of blue across the flower.  Examples of this are amoenas, irises that have white standards and colored falls. The favorite blue iris of David Stacey is the amoena 'Cascadian Rhythm', which he photographed on a trip to South Jersey Iris last year.  Talk about garden impact.

'Cascadian Rhythm'  Photo credit:  David Stacey
David gardens in Delaware, where he just purchased a large lot with plenty of room for irises.  The Delaware Valley Iris Society (DVIS) which serves parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, maintains a website that will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning with hundreds of photos of irises divided into color categories, where you can search for more blues. 

Susanne Spicker, whose blog Sowing the Seeds features many inspired photographs of irises, also chose an amoena as her favorite blue iris; a romantic flower with ruffles galore and flowing falls.

'Ruffled Ballet' Photo credit: Susanne Spicker

El Hutchison chose a perennial favorite, the rebloomer 'Clarence'.  Here it is in her Canadian Iris Display Garden in Manitoba.  I have seen it variously described as an amoena and as a luminata.  It certainly glows!  Some day I will tell you the story of how this iris got its name.  I promise.

'Clarence' Photo credit: El Hutchison

As for dark- to medium-blue TB irises, 'Sea Power' defines the word "ruffled".  It won the Dykes Medal in 2006, the Wister Medal in 2005, an AM in 2003 and an HM in 2001. It's no wonder!  Marte Hult, who gardens in Minnesota, claims this iris as her favorite blue.  She was joined by a number of other gardeners in this choice, although some report fewer blooms than they would like.

'Sea Power' Photo credit:  Marte Hult

Another ruffled mid-blue beauty was chosen by Tim Metler of Beaumont Ridge Iris Gardens.  This is 'Baltic Sea'.

'Baltic Sea' Photo credit: Tim Metler

Some of these blues tend toward purple, a dominant color in irises, and others are blue-blue.  My favorite blue for the garden is 'City Lights', a reblooming iris which starts out a strong medium blue and fades toward a purply-blue.  It's quite showy and the white areas light it up.

'City Lights' 

Blue irises that have dark falls and lighter standards are called 'neglectas'.  Here is a favorite of a number of gardeners, 'World Premier'.  It's an eye-catcher for sure: look how a single stalk shows up in the garden.

'World Premier' Photo credit: Susanne Spicker

'World Premier'

Loretta Headrick of His Iris Garden in central California went back and forth, and finally settled on rebloomer 'Deep Pacific'.  She says her eye is involuntarily drawn toward it in the garden. As far as medium-dark blues, this is among the bluest.

'Deep Pacific' Photo credit Loretta Headrick

Light blues are probably the bluest blue irises.  An iris that attracts much attention in the garden is 'Queen's Circle'.  It was the favorite light blue of a number of gardeners.  Here it is in my Southern California garden.

'Queen's Circle'

There were votes right and left for irises with clouds in their names.
Bob Sussman of Matilija Nursery and Bonnie's Irises chose 'Cloud Ballet' as his favorite light blue.

'Cloud Ballet' Photo credit: Bob Sussman

Kent Pfeiffer in Nebraska likes the silvery 'Through the Clouds'.
'Through the Clouds' Photo credit: Kent Pfeiffer

And Naomi DiVincenzo in Colorado chose 'Above the Clouds'.
'Above the Clouds' Photo credit: Jan Lauritzen

Marilyn Campbell, an accomplished photographer and gardener, picked 'Color Me Blue' from her zone 4b garden. For those of you seeking true blues, it's hard to beat this light blue.

'Color Me Blue' Photo credit: Marilyn Campbell
Marilyn could not choose just one, and her second choice turned out to be the single most popular true blue iris among all of my gardening friends across the whole internet.  Here is 'Absolute Treasure', the winner of this informal poll of favorite blue irises.

'Absolute Treasure' Photo credit: Marilyn Campbell

We'll take a look at beardless blues soon.  Are you a lover of blue irises?  What's your favorite blue tall bearded iris?


  1. Great write-up, Renee! Some awesome shots of outstanding blues, as well as some beautiful gardens! I appreciate you--and now have several new "favorites!"

  2. Of all of the colors Irises come in I think blue is my absolute favorite. It is hard to come up with just one, but for me Wabash is in the top 10, as is Queen's Circle.

  3. Nice roundup, Renee. Such variety within a color range!

  4. I always love your posts Renee. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten all of us new collectors. And mixed gardens are my favorite.

  5. How I really wish I planted some Irises too! Those blooms are really pretty I can just look at them and be mesmerize. I am glad for you Renee. You must be really proud of them. I really love each variety and the blooms they have. Excellent photo!

  6. Thank you for your kind comments. Thank goodness for all of the different blue irises, they really fill a need in the garden. Not all of our thumbs are green enough to grow Himalayan poppies!

  7. My favorite medium blue is Joe Ghio's Ocean Pacific--a rebloomer. In the 3rd year patch this last spring it had over over 300 bloomstalks. The patch had also showed off in October--and in a warm spell in late January & early February. (USDA Zone 9b.)

  8. If it's a true blue and not lavender hues that you want:
    Absolute Treasure,
    Arms Wide Open,
    Ocean Pacific,
    Dodger Blue,
    Color Me Blue

    ...are outstanding true blue iris.

    Blenheim Royal is as blue as a medium blue will get. I'll post again on another 10 "Blue" varieties next spring.

    "Truly" is a true blue dwarf bearded iris.

    1. Absolute Treasure is a great favorite. You like Ocean Pacific too- that's good to know.

  9. Do not have blue how long do they flower?

  10. My iris clumps bloom for about a month to six weeks. Reblooming varieties like Victoria Falls can bloom in the spring, the summer, and the fall, and give you months of bloom.

  11. I've been looking for a strong-growing floriferous sky blue iris for over thirty years. The one that finally really performed for me is Joyful Skies--tons of stalks, with very large flowers spaced along the whole stalk. There are others that grow well, but this one really blooms well. It is very healthy and very pretty. As I get older I'm less into testing new varieties and am settling into varieties that perform reliably. My favorite pink is Pinkness, which never got much press, but is very lovely. I have a clump this year that has a whole forest of stalks. .

    1. Sorry it took me so long to see your post, Steve. I'm with you on choosing the varieties that do well. It sounds like 'Joyful Skies' is a winner. I may also try 'Pinkness'.

  12. So, tell us the story of how Clarence got its name!

  13. Yes I really want to know how Clarence got its name, time to tell all, thanks in advance, Kahumingi Irises.

  14. Just got back to the uk from France. So many blue iris there. Of all those above which are tall with largest flowers?

  15. I don’t understand most of these “Blue Irises” still look more violet than true blue. The only ones that look blue to me are the NOID and the bicolored QUEENS CIRCLE! I have bought the “true blue” irises SEA POWER from Brecks 2 years ago , but have yet to see a flower! I moved them to a spot that’s full sun from morning to evening. I have my fingers crossed.

  16. Renee Frazier, how do I sign up to received your wonderful information. Thanks, Margaret Roan