Irises are an obsession, addiction, and compulsion on par with daylilies, brugmansias and tropicals. But why? What is all the fuss?
I used to wonder what was so great about irises, specifically tall bearded irises. But now that I know what the big deal is, let's just say I've fallen in love. So let me count the ways.
If you already love irises, then you undoubtedly know all the things I'm about to say. But if you are like I was and you just don't get it, maybe you could use some evidence and a solid case.
Irises are easy to cultivate, easy to share, easy on the eyes, and really pretty easy to love. 'Gizmo the Gremlin' pictured at left and 'Mulberry Rose' at right.
Ease of cultivation
Maybe the most lovable aspect of irises is that they are forgiving creatures. They will multiply and thrive despite your well-intentioned efforts which might usually spell the end of other plants. Tall bearded irises need good drainage and will tolerate virtually any kind of soil. They prefer to stay dry and hot, making irises a perfect plant for the spots that many other plants won't tolerate. They don't require much, if any, supplemental water so you can practically plant them and forget about them.
Whether you have rich, humus soil or rocky clay like I do, irises will reward you by blooming and multiplying. While irises do appreciate some compost, there's really no need to make vast amendments to your soil before planting. 'Red at Night' pictured at right.
Have you been listening? Irises don't care about your soil, they'll take as little water as you can't remember to throw at them, and they'll take the sunniest part of your garden. What's not to love about that?
Ready to share
Perhaps the best part is that all you need is one rhizome to start a new plant; and it doesn't even have to be a large rhizome. You don't have to buy or trade in multiples to get blooms and within just a season, you'll have even more rhizomes. Irises multiply readily by growing new rhizomes that mature quickly.
Because they multiply so quickly, irises are easy to share. Every few years, irises should be divided just like daylilies to rejuvenate the plant. This creates an excellent opportunity to share irises with friends. Iris rhizomes are easy to dig, unlike some plants, because they do not grow deep roots and their rhizomes sit so close to the soil surface. Because it is so easy to share irises, rhizomes get passed between friends often. 'Vibrations' pictured at left.
Not only are irises easy to dig, but they are also easy to ship as well as store. Because iris rhizomes contain stored energy, the plant does not necessarily need leaves to survive. This makes it easy for irises to be stored dry for periods of time, unlike most other plants, which makes iris rhizomes effortless to mail across the country. In addition, irises can be packed for mailing without dirt and most of their leaves, making them lightweight and small. Guess how many iris rhizomes you can fit into a flat rate box?
If I've already sold you on irises, consider this a warning for your pocketbook. Irises are extensively available online and through specialized nurseries. They can be found very inexpensively; for as little as three dollars, you could have a new cultivar of iris to call your own. Once you start looking at catalogs and seeing the bounty of colors available, it's a slippery slope once you start ordering.
Some classic irises:
Speaking of colors, irises really do come in an array of colors. As an artist, I am usually struck by a flower's color whether it is in a good way or bad. I am drawn to bold, interesting and different colors in general; and at first glance, I thought that irises came in deep violet-blue, white and yellow. "What a yawn," I thought. But as it turns out, irises have one of the most, if not the most broad spectrums of color of any other flowering perennial. With oddities like brown, green and black, and harder to find colors in the garden like apricot, crimson, and vivid blue, irises provide a color fix for any preference.
'Made of Magic'
'Shine on Thru'
Whether you have one iris or thirty, they can make a statement in your garden. You can sprinkle them in throughout a mixed perennial border, or you could designate an "iris garden" and plant masses of different cultivars. I used to think there was a "right" way to use iris in my garden, but the truth is that my options are really wide open.
Another thing that I love about irises is that they have a history. Since irises are generally propagated by dividing rhizomes, you could plausibly have a piece of a plant that has been living since the 18th century.
Tall bearded iris cultivars are classified as historic or modern. Generally, an iris is considered a historic if it was registered 30 or more years ago. Historic cultivars have a certain "weepy" look to their flowers while modern irises are usually fuller and larger. Whether your preference is historic or modern cultivars, you get a beautiful flower. 'San Francisco,' which was registered in 1927, is pictured at right.
Still not on board?
If you've read this far and tall bearded irises still haven't wooed you, maybe one of the other types of iris could. That's also why irises are so beloved; there is a flavor for everyone. From the hardy, drought-loving tall beardeds to the delicate, moisture-loving Japanese water iris to the tough Louisiana iris, you're bound to find one that suits your climate and your fancy.
Japanese Iris 'Lake Effect'
Japanese Iris 'Lion King'
Siberian Iris 'Echo the Wind'
Louisiana Iris 'Garnet Storm Dancer'
That's why I love irises. Why do you?
Special thanks to these PlantFiles contributors for their beautiful iris photographs:
Bewilderbeast - av_ocd_girl
Local Color - rshadlow
Shine on Thru - Zacattack
Supreme Sultan - CHA
Edith Wolford - Songbird839
Coalignition - patnjbob
Dance Man - Doss
Ocelot - Texas_Doodlebug
Vibrations - mhelm
Lake Reprise - Gaited1
Immortality - Tish64
Red at Night - delvalcarol
Dance Recital - Greenorchid
Cajun Spices - Tntigger
Lion King - Lilypon
Radiant Apogee - Laurief
Made of Magic - Tntigger
Garnet Storm Dancer - tazzy
Lake Effect - Lilypon
Decadence - rshadlow
Echo the Wind - Flowerfrenzy
Batik - Loic
Robin's Nest - 1913cat
Superstition - ladyanne
Performing Arts - Margiempv
Trade Secret - Eroctuse2
San Francisco - JoanJ
Victoria Falls - Patnjbob
Gizmo the Gremlin - jessmerritt
Mulberry Rose - hespiris
About Susanne Talbert
I garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite.
My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.