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“I’ll have an Iris that shall find thee out.”
WHEN one sees the rainbow banners of the Iris unfurling along the borders in the sunshine it seems highly probable that the mantle of their namesake has fallen upon them, and that they are indeed messengers of the gods, and it seems well to incline one’s ear and open wide one’s eyes lest we miss some smallest shade of meaning in this rarely illuminated message brought to us by these brave couriers across the wintry wastes.
period covered by the blossoming of the Iris is full of enjoyment to
the days when all my knowledge of this great and varied family was
vested in the
common purple Iris of old gardens and the gay Flag-flowers, which lie
upon our moist meadows, “like the silent shadow of a cloud,” their
been upon me, and it was a discovery of much delight that these two
lowly members of a great company that would gladly bloom in my garden;
fill it from April through July with a lovely, unexacting throng
little attention and no special conditions, and from whose ranks I
subjects for every sort of situation.
do not speak of the rare and difficult species and varieties belonging
Oncocyclus, Juno, and Regalia groups, for these unfold their flowers
those able and willing to provide them with very special conditions,
but of the
many fine Irises that may be found under the heads, Pogoniris and
Apogon, two at
least of the Evansias and some of the bulbous species, which will bloom
cheerfully under ordinary conditions in the open garden.
are so many species in this great genus, and the intermarriages have
numerous and so confusing, that classification has become difficult;
little of this genealogy is necessary to us who simply wish to realize
gardens the highest decorative possibilities of this splendid flower.
the purposes of the open garden the genus Iris may be divided into four
sections: Pogoniris or Bearded, Apogon or Beardless, Evansia or
Bulbous. The “beard” is a “collection of closely set hairs” on the
“falls” or drooping petals of the Iris flower. Irises without this
decoration are called beardless. The “crest” is an “elevated line or
ridges on the segment of an Iris.”
bearded section contains the best known and most easily grown of the
They possess a thick, fleshy rootstock, creeping along the surface of
and delight in the sunniest situations in the garden. Among them may be
plants from four inches in height to three and one-half feet, all
conspicuous flowers above the erect, sword-like foliage, the strong
lines of which are so valuable in the borders where so much is
important in the Pogoniris group are those known as German Irises which
not only I. germanica, the type, a May-flowering species with few
many closely allied forms blooming in June; as pallida, squalens,
aphylla, florentina and others, each of which has numerous garden
familiar blue-purple Flag of old gardens is typical of these German
patient-blooming with prodigal generosity under the most untoward
How often we see it holding high its splendid head close to the dusty
whence it has found its way through the broken palings of a neglected
or keeping guard in great spreading patches with the enduring Lilacs
crumbling ruins of what was once a home.
of the other varieties of I. germanica are much finer than the Old
though none are more willing and few are better for mass planting, as:
claret-purple, twenty-three inches.
tall-growing, May-flowering Irises are I.
florentina, albicans, Billioti,
Cengialti, benacensis, and flavescens.
Florentina, from the root of which is made the fragrant
orris powder, is only less familiar as a charming inhabitant of old
the Purple Flag. It is one of the loveliest of Irises, and its
flowers are invaluable to us in creating May pictures. It is fine with
Dicentras and tall pink Tulips of the Cottage and Darwin types; with
Doronicums and the pretty lavender-flowered Phlox
divaricata, and is splendid in spreading groups near
pink-flowered Crabapple trees. Albicans and its variety Princess of
forms of florentina blooming a little later and with flowers very
nearly a pure
Billioti is a tall plant
bearing very fragrant red-purple blossoms
late in May, and I. benacensis, in
shades of purple, grows only eighteen inches tall and blooms in the
of the month.
Cengialti, which Miss Jekyll
mentions as the nearest to a blue Iris,
is a slender plant —
not so firmly erect as many of its kind, but very
pretty. Its two
varieties Loppio and Zephyr, the latter more lilac in colour, are well
possessing. Flavescens, bearing large, soft yellow flowers, very
scented, is one of the best of the May-flowering sorts. It grows about
two and a
half feet high.
Besides these tall, early-flowering Irises there are a number of dwarfs, some of which bloom in April. The different species and their varieties are rather badly confused in catalogues, and I don’t know that it makes a great deal of difference as they are much alike, save that it is interesting to know the true names of one’s plants. Lurida, with its beautiful coppery-bronze flowers, is too distinct to be easily confused with other sorts. With me this plant blooms twice, first in early May and again in late October, but as I have not seen this generous behaviour ascribed to it I do not know if it be its regular habit.
Chamaeiris and pumila
constantly sent out misnamed — that is, the former is nearly always
the latter is ordered, and this is irritating since pumila is both
prettier than Chamaeiris and may be easily distinguished by the fact
that it has
no stem, while the taller
sort has very distinctly an inch or two.
The loveliest variety of pumila is caerulea, a four-inch mite, very
sky-blue in colour, and there is also a pretty sky-blue sort called
Chamaeiris has a number of good sorts — red-purple, blue-purple,
yellow, and I believe white. I.
gracilis bears a charming silver-gray flower
shot with mauve and sweetly
scented. I. lutescens
is pure yellow of a very fine warm tone. There are
also the Hybrid
Irises in large variety,
varying from six inches to a foot in
these Dwarf Irises bloom in April and May, and are very charming in
patches along the edges of the borders between the mounds of Arabis,
Iberis, and Alyssum, backed by ranks of early Tulips and Daffodils.
quickly and blossom so freely as to produce sheets of solid colour.
good and representative collection of the tall June-flowering German
which are among the most valuable of hardy plants is the following:
gold beard, twenty-six inches.
Black Prince, standards lavender,
falls blackish-purple, two and
Dalmatica, splendid large clear
lilac flowers, broad, strong
foliage, forty inches.
Bridesmaid, white and
silvery-lilac, twenty-seven inches.
Innocenza, pure white, gold
copper colour and
claret, two and one half feet.
borders made up of groups of these German Irises intermingled with tall
white Lupines, Lemon Lilies, Foxgloves, and Peach-leaved Campanulas,
background of Persian Lilacs and such free-growing Roses as Stanwell’s
Perpetual, Madame Plantier, and the yellow Briers — Harisoni and the
— and edged with double white Pinks and Nepeta
Mussini, are a joy indeed, if one has sufficient room to
give up a whole
border to a single month. Often such a border as this may be made in
inconspicuous part of the grounds where it need be visited only when in
these Bearded Irises with fleshy, creeping rhizomes or roots should be
with the rhizome partly above the surface of the ground, for the health
plant requires that this should be well ripened by the sun, and the
best time to
set them out is just after they have flowered. To increase one’s stock
of the thick root may be broken from the parent clump, the foliage cut
an inch or so, and the ‘root set firmly, but only part way in the
plants should be large enough to bloom the following year.
Evansea or crested group is a small one and but two of its members
known to me
are suitable for the open garden. A jagged “crest” replaces the “beard”
of the Pogoniris and the rhizome is thick and creeps along the surface
ground very much as do the roots of the latter.
tectorum, the Japanese Roof
Iris, from the roots of which the
ladies of Japan make a famed cosmetic, is to me one of the most
beautiful of the
family. The reflexed leaves are slightly glaucous; the flower stalk
eighteen inches high, bears several very large flat blue-purple flowers
curiously clouded with a deeper colour and further embellished by an
crest. There is a rare white variety which is surpassed in elegance and
distinction by few flowers known to me. Though tectorum is often spoken
not very amenable, it grows here with great freedom in a slightly
border protected on the north and east by the garden wall,
and bears its
esthetic flowers in satisfying profusion. I have raised many plants of
from seed gathered from my own plants many of which have bloomed the
Iris cristata, a native
in parts of Maryland and Virginia, has the appearance of some thing
costly, but grows like any weed in the borders and makes a charming
plants grow only about four inches high, and the large spreading
blossoms made brilliant by a conspicuous gold crest are so profusely
borne as to
quite hide the foliage. They flower in May, and I like to plant them in
the orange-scarlet Geums or between mounds of deep. purple Aubrietia.
delightful plants are to be found in the Apogon or Beardless section of
rhizomatous Irises, and most of these, while as easy to grow and as
showy as the
German Irises, are, save for the Japanese sort, rare in gardens.
Perhaps this is
because they are looked upon as water lovers, and while this is true of
majority of them I have not found any that will not grow and flower
in rich, deeply dug garden soil. The blossoms of this type of Iris are
delicately modelled than those of the Bearded group and seem poised
butterflies above the slender grass-like foliage, and instead of the
there is a bunch of slender rootlets.
the Beardless Irises preferring the dryer parts of the garden, I. missouriensis, a native, is the best.
It is an early bloomer
producing its yellow-blotched lavender blossoms very freely. I.
foetidissima, growing wild in Great Britain, is unique among
its kind, for,
while the blossoms are dull and not lovely, the orange-scarlet seeds,
cling all winter to the flaring pods, are pretty and decorative, and
at a season when colour in the garden is at a premium. This Iris is
also one of
the few which does not abhor shade, but it has a drawback in the
odour which emanates from its handsome foliage when bruised. A
very pretty Iris for near the front of the border is I.
graminea. Its gay, reddish-purple blossoms are almost hidden
narrow, grass-like leaves. It is easily grown in any sunny border and
agreeable fragrance. I. fulva, which
have not yet been able to flower, is described as bearing handsome
flowers on stems two feet tall. Mr. W. R. Dykes speaks of it as
and says it demands “a hot and dry position if it is to produce its
blossoms in any profusion.”
among the moisture lovers is the great Japanese Iris, I.
laevigata or Kaempferi, which
is one of the finest hardy plants we have but which does not do as well
of the others of its class in the dry borders of the garden. Indeed in
chosen place by the water-side it is so truly magnificent it seems a
pity to be
satisfied with it grown under any other conditions. In very deep, rich
freely watered especially while the buds are forming, one may realize
beauty but may not command the same luxuriance of growth and splendid
blossom that one is graciously vouchsafed in a naturally moist
huge blossoms of the Japanese Iris frequently measure six inches across
most wonderful in colour and texture. Mr. Irwin Lynch in his valuable
the Iris” gives the following as good varieties:
length of their blossoming period may be quite appreciably lengthened
planting some in partial shade. They are easily raised from seed, the
plants usually blooming the second or third year.
next most important group of these beardless moisture lovers is the
sibirica and its varieties
symmetrical plants with lightly made fairy blossoms
above the narrow, reflexing foliage. Particularly pure and lovely is
sort, I. sibirica var. alba;
and there are good blue, lavender, and purple forms.
These Siberians are
most effective planted in rather large groups, as a single plant is not
enough to create any great effect, and as the frail character of their
suffers in comparison with their more robust German cousins they are
out of each other’s company.
close relative of sibirica is I. orientalis, which
is not to be confounded with that orientalis whose more familiar
name is I. ochroleuca. Two
of the Siberian orientalis, Blue King and
Snow Queen, are among the
conspicuous and valuable of garden Irises. The one bears intense
blossoms with reddish spathes and the other pure white in such
profusion as to
almost hide the foliage. The ripened seed pods are so numerous that
the plant a very untidy appearance after flowering, so it is best to
off. All the Siberians are easily raised from seed, and the plants when
established should be left alone to perfect their beauty. They do as
well in the
rich borders of the garden as in the moist situations which their
tell us that they enjoy.
is the only
of the beautiful and desirable California group. It bears a lovely
flower with deep-toned veinings on the lavender ground of its standards
tender silvery falls. It is said that this plant should be moved only
full growth. I. spuria and its
forms are well worth planting, though I believe they vary much in
Mrs. A. W. Tate, the only form I have here, is a good plant with fine
and a strong stein carrying several deep-lavender flowers.
related to this is I. guildenstaedtiana
— a formidable name and a none too attractive species. The
purple form is
better than the dingy yellow, but neither need be included in any but a
fine yellow Irises for the border or waterside are I.
aurea, Monnieri, and ochroleuca. The
first bears a finely modelled butter-yellow flower with slightly
poised well above the foliage; Monnieri sends
its lemon-coloured blossoms aloft on stems four feet tall, and has a
relative, Monaurea, deeper in
which is said to grow six feet tall in moist situations. There is also
relative, Monspur, with striking
and yellow flowers that is too good a thing to be omitted from a
any size. Ochroleuca, the Gold
Iris, is said to reach a height of six feet when well established in a
situation, but it has not done this for me. The great thick-skinned
ivory-coloured blossoms, deepening to pure gold at the base, are
beautiful, and one wishes that they might be borne with greater
have used these yellow Irises with the addition of Monspur and Snow
encircle a little ever-overflowing pool in the walled garden. They
— in late June and early July — but in May the little bed is gay with
Violas, and double Poet’s Narcissus.
pretty native, I. versicolor, which
Thoreau said is too gay “like some women’s bonnets,” and the yellow
Flag (I. pseudacorus) , are a bit
too free with their progeny to make
garden life quite the thing for them. Far and wide the quickly
are scattered, and before one knows it there are cunning baby Irises
all over the garden which in a surprisingly short time have grown into
clumps, and choicer, less pervasive things are crowded out. But in the
parts of the place, the meadows, or along the stream or pond, these two
increase at will, and one is only grateful for their fruitfulness.
the Bulbous Irises I have had no great experience though the few that
to me have made me anxious to extend my acquaintance among them.
be more lovely than those belonging to the reticulata
group. I have grown only three of these Irises
including the type, but
Professor Bailey gives quite a number as hardy in the vicinity of New
These Irises have curiously “netted” bulbs, hence the name, and the
its variety Krelagei are
by peculiar four-sided leaves with a horny tip. The type is the most
of all. I never cease to be quite overwhelmed at the appearance of
brilliant purple and gold flowers so early in the year, shining through
stiff, narrow leaves. Last spring they flashed forth while the snow
upon the ground, and in spite of the discouraging cold their delicious
fragrance was discernible several feet away. I.
Krelagei bears a duller flower, and neither this nor the
has, save in a slight degree, the violet perfume.
Histrioides blooms a
little before the others and bears larger flowers which often expand
leaves are well out of the ground. If taken into a warm room both this
Krelagei will give out more perfume, but the type seems quite undaunted
determination to make sweet the cold March garden.
the reticulata Irises are prone to a deadly disease which shows on the
surface of the bulb in ink-like spots, and soon proves fatal. Professor
Foster recommends lifting and replanting the bulbs frequently,
which show the blight, and another authority advocates soaking them for
or so in a-solution of formaline of the strength of one in three
My reticulatas have done fairly well in a raised border against a wall
south, where they are kept dry in winter. The soil is a mixture of sand
rather heavy loam, but I believe an admixture of clay is more desirable
so-called Spanish and English Irises are quite indispensable if we have
to suit them. The stem of the Spanish Iris (I.
Xiphium) rises stiffly to a height of about eighteen inches
and carries two
flowers quite conventional in their chaste formality of line. They are
inexpensive that the bulbs may be bought by the thousand, and I know of
investment which insures a greater return in beauty. They are best
August that they may send up their narrow, onion-like growth, which
seems a sort
of guarantee of good faith, before frost. Any dry, sunny border suits
but they do not like to be pressed upon by strong growing perennials or
by greedy annuals, but after the foliage has gone they do not object to
of such lightly rooting annuals as Sedum
coeruleum, Ionopsidium acaule, or Gypsophila
muralis. When the bulbs become overcrowded it is well to
lift and replant
flowers have been called the “poor man’s Orchid,” but rich and poor and
all the middle-sized folk between will make no mistake in planting
Irises generously both in a cutting garden, for they are lovely for
decoration, and all about the garden in nooks and corners as we like to
the Daffodils. The white varieties are exquisite, and the great bronze
Thunderbolt very striking. Leander is pure yellow and sweetly scented,
are any number of delightful others running through many shades of
bronze, amethyst, lavender, blue, and yellow. These are among the few
which may with safety be bought “mixed” —
inharmony seems impossible to them.
English Iris (I. xiphioides) requires
more moisture than is usually to be had in our dry American gardens,
and in my
own garden, even with faithful watering, it has not been happy. it is
handsome with large spreading flowers in shades of blue, purple, and
appear with the Spanish Irises in July.
These with other bulbous Irises should be planted in the autumn, and may be found in the catalogues of “Dutch Bulbs.” Another year I hope to add to my collection I. tuberosa, “the Widow,” I. persica, and two of the Juno group said to be the least crotchety — I. orchioides and caucasica.