It's the season for digging, dividing and selling irises! New varieties and others in high demand may already have sold out during pre-season ordering. But the new and expensive varieties aren't the only spectacular ones, they're just the new ones. And in many cases, the tried and true older cultivars are the ones that will shine in your garden, outperforming all others year after year. This time of year, you'll find many iris rhizome offers posted both in the Plant Trading Forum and in the Irises Forum. To find irises that will do especially well in your area, look for sale events from your local iris club.
The Frances Scott Key Iris Society, our local chapter of the American Iris Society, had its annual sale recently. Members dig and divide hundreds of rhizomes from their gardens. The rhizomes are washed and inspected, foliage is carefully trimmed, and each iris is labeled with permanent marker. Proceeds from the sale benefit society efforts.
For the past 10 years or so, the FSK Iris Society has been holding this midsummer sale in the parking lot of Dutch Plant Farm in Frederick, MD. Not only does this provide a central location, it gives enthusiasts a chance to take advantage of the plant sales at the nursery after they've had their fill of iris shopping. Volunteers from the society arrive early to set up the canopy, providing much appreciated protection from the hot summer sun. The sale begins at 8 am, and those "in the know" are there right on time, in order to have first pick of the available cultivars.
This year, the buzz is all about the selection of beardless irises. In my previous years of coming to the sale, there have been some clumps of Siberian irises offered, but I've never seen anything like this! There are pots of Louisiana irises and trays crammed with huge, healthy clumps of "Sibs." A volunteer with a binder full of photos is kept busy describing them and answering questions.
Reluctantly, I limit myself to one clump. Until my dream of building a pond comes true, I just don't have the moist conditions that Siberians need. Then, DG's avmoran gives me a hot tip. There are also some X Robusta irises here (a cross between I. versicolor and I. virginicas) that love the wet but don't mind ordinary, drier garden conditions. I'm almost dancing with excitement as she pulls out the binder of photos to help me make a few more selections. To top it off, all these lovely clumps are priced at just $3 each. What a deal!
My spree targets the wonderful selection of bearded iris -- over 100 varieties! I'm especially delighted to discover a tray with several dwarf cultivars. I can always find places for shorter plants in my beds. If I see lots of rhizomes of a particular variety in a box, I figure it's a strong grower in our area and will need a little extra space in my garden. With prices of $1 per rhizome ($2 for rebloomers), I can afford to purchase them in groups of three rather than singly. Planting iris rhizomes in groups gives me a natural looking, stronger blooming clump sooner than planting them one at a time.
I've come to the sale with a DG friend, and we're making plans as we make our selections. She does have a pond, so she fills her bag with the Siberian irises. In a few years, we're hoping I will have a pond perimeter of my own, and she will have a new sunny garden bed. By then, our new Siberian and bearded irises will be large enough to split. We'll share them with each other and make today's bargains go twice as far.
One of my favorite things about this sale is having society members right there to give advice and answer questions. Whether I need general advice or have specific questions about a particular variety, an answer is close at hand. I shamelessly eavesdrop, too. If somebody's discussing the best reblooming varieties or their favorite miniatures, you can bet my ears will prick up. Then, I'll head over to see if I can scrounge up a rhizome or two of the recommended variety.
By the time I was done, I had such a full box that another customer spied it and reached, saying, "ooh, and what are these down here?" I replied, politely, "Oh, that's my box...I'm sorry, let me get those out of your way." But I was thinking, "Back off, lady, and step away from the box!" Actually, I'm always impressed by what a friendly and cooperative event such sales are. The first time I went, I half expected to find complete mayhem, like a department store after-Thanksgiving-Day sale. Rather than reaching and snatching, however, people were chatting and helping each other find the right irises for their gardens. That's gardeners for you!
Check the newspaper, or search online, and see if there's an iris club or society sale near you this summer. Local growers and public gardens may also be good sources for local iris sales. You may find some great mail order sales, also, as growers sell their remaining inventory. Remember to look up retailers in the Garden Watchdog (or browse by the Plants:Iris category). Stop by the Irises Forum and the Plant Trading Forum, and be certain to look for great deals in the new DG Marketplace.
Even if you haven't grown irises before, consider taking the plunge this summer. At these prices, the opportunity to add irises to your garden is just too good to pass up!
For information on planting your new purchases, see my DG article, "Gardening with Bearded Iris: Planting Iris 101."
Thanks to avmoran for her friendship & advice. Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.