Monday, May 22, 2017

Beyond the Bloom

By Chad Harris

When people first think of an iris they envision blooms and the many colors of the rainbow they come in. In fact Iris is known as the Greek goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. Here I would like to be your messenger to open your mind and eye to look beyond the bloom.

Bearded iris give a bold look to the garden

If you site your bearded iris right with good air circulation they give a bold almost agave look to the garden.

Like stain glass the leaves will glow with the sun

Using Iris pallida variegata in the garden will brighten up an area. If you can, site it so the sun shines through for you to enjoy the stain glass effect. Who needs a bloom with this look?

‘Amethyst Echo’ carries the soft foliage of a full fountain Siberian iris

Broad and upright leaf of ‘Swans In Flight’ gives strong texture

‘Banish Misfortune’ with its thin graceful arching leaves gives an airy look

Siberian iris for most are easy to grow and should be a go to iris for majority of gardeners. The graceful foliage whether upright or fountain, comes in all sorts of shades of green, from blue-green to lime-green. However you need to get out to the farms before and after bloom to inspect the plants. Then you can chose which color and texture is needed for your garden.


With its thin grass like foliage Iris graminea, a Spuria,
makes for a fine filler at only a foot tall


Spuria hybrids make for a bold statement
across many different climate zones

If sited correctly the Spuria family are very tough plants. They are one of the few iris that will thrive for a long time in the same place without division. Many different species are smaller and make for great shorter grass like mounds as fillers for the garden. The newer hybrids come in a range of size from a few feet tall to five feet and greater. With their stiff upright foliage they make a bold statement in the garden.

Iris ensata ‘Hekiou’ showing the full fountain form


Japanese iris ‘Little Bow Pink’ a top award winner has beautiful upright foliage

Japanese, Iris ensata are more temperamental to grow with a very narrow cultural window. However if you have the right conditions, these late blooming iris will give a grace and charm to your garden. Plants can be two feet tall to six feet with majority of them three to four feet tall.


Spec-X ‘Ally Oops’ is a vigorous plant with a full fountain look


‘Holden’s Child’ gives a strong bold look to the garden

Specie crosses are made to get vigorous plants that are tolerant of varied conditions in the garden. Many growers will list these as Spec-X.

A newer Spec-X is called “Pseudata”, these plants are the cross of a Spec-x ‘Gubijin’ x Iris ensata.


Spec-X ‘Violet Swallows’ has a nice glow to the plant in the early spring


‘French Buttercream’ emerges early in the spring
with bright yellow foliage greening up later.

I am very enthused with these new hybrids as they can bring a unsurpassed brightness to the early spring garden. These plants will green up later in the season with stronger light of the sun.


Plants of the new Spec-X shine in the early Spring fields with their yellow foliage

This chameleon effect may not be as strong in other parts of the country for the lack of cloudy Spring days as compared to our days here in the Pacific Northwest.

‘Gerald Darby’ with its upright purple based foliage is a handsome plant

Iris laevigata ‘Seiran’ is easy to grow in containers

Many of these iris that I have been speaking of can be grown in containers.


Container grouping on the patio deck

Grouped together on the patio or deck can make for a dramatic scene, mixing all of the different textures available.

Here I have barely touched on the 250 plus species of iris that may be grown and what they can bring to the garden beyond the bloom. There is an iris for water, desert, sun, shade, and everything in between.  Meet with your local farm, iris club, or at the National level of The American Iris Society to learn what can be successfully grown in your own area.

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