Monday, August 13, 2012

Going Dutch Iris

By Bryce Williamson

Dutch Irises are the most widely grown irises in the world and the number one iris grown for cut flowers. But I've always considered Dutch Iris to be the step-children of the iris world: the American Iris Society is the official registrar for all irises except Dutch, and Dutch Irises are not eligible for Queen of the Show.  Nevertheless, there are good reasons for growing them, especially since they bloom early in the spring and provide good color when very little is in bloom.

Location, location, and location are key in real estate, and this seems to be true with Dutch irises as well. Find the right spot in the yard for them and they will reward you with trouble free bloom year after year. I've never figured out exactly what is the best location.  Since they go dormant by early summer, they should not like too much summer water, but my best established planting of 'Sky Beauty' is on the edge of the rose bed where I water at least once a week. I think the reason 'Sky Beauty' does well there is that the bulbs are planted in soil raised about three inches above the rest of the bed, which insures good drainage.

Finding Dutch iris bulbs can be a bit of a trick. Local nurseries will have them in the later summer. I don't like to buy bulbs that are loose in a box—it is too easy for the bulbs to become mixed. For that reason, I like prepackaged bulbs, but even then you may get bulbs different from what is labeled: over a three year period, I kept buying the wonderful Purple Sensation with no luck.  Until this year, I had good luck with bulk packages from Costco, but this spring many of the packages were incorrectly labeled.

Here are some varieties of Dutch irises that I have grown.  They provide that splash of color in the garden during the early spring, which can be otherwise dreary.

'Apollo'. With white standards and yellow falls, this is a bright and cheerful color combination.
'Blue Magic'. A good, deep shade of blue-violet.
'Cream Beauty'. As the name indicates, the flowers open with cream falls and whitish standards,but the entire flower quickly beomes cream white here.
'Eye of the Tiger'. The hybridizer was working for a black Dutch iris and ended up with this dark brown. I can never decide whether I really like it or whether I just tolerate it; the coloring is sometimes drab and sometimes brighter.
'Ideal'. The most grown Dutch iris in the world and the one most likely to be found at the florist. In 40 years of buying bulbs, I have only found it in nurseries one or two times. A nice light lavender blue.
'Lion King'. I really like the bright bronze-brown coloring on this sister seedling to 'Eye of the Tiger'. The older 'Bronze Beauty' is another good brown.
'Oriental Beauty'. With wisteria-blue standards and blended yellow falls, this is an exotic color combination.
'Purple Sensation'. When it first came on the market over 35 years ago, it was a sensation for color. The magenta purple flowers are lovely. Highly recommended.
'Rosario'. An aster-violet with hints of pink.  I've had problems maintaining it in the yard. 'Mauve Queen' is an older pinkish variety that is now showing up as a heritage bulb.
'Sky Beauty'. Year after year, this light lavender blue makes me happy by always dong well.

Dutch irises should be planted in the fall and they will send up a couple of leaves and really start to grow in the spring.  I'm not a fan of Dutch Iris collections--like most plants, different varieties bloom at different heights and I find mixed plantings turn into a mess when blooming.  I do like to plant in a group of 12 or more bulbs for color impact.  In addition to local nurseries and Costco, there are two reliable mail order sources:

John Scheepers, for small quanities
Van Engelen, Inc. for larger quanities

One last word of caution: I've found Dutch Irises in the bulb sections in the late winter and early spring, but I have not, personally, had any good luck planting the bulbs at that time.

My sincere thanks to Brock Heilman for these beautiful photos of Dutch irises.  Brock is a talented young photographer and his work can be found for sale at

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