I cherish the reticulated iris in my garden as they are my harbinger of spring. Although their grass-like foliage begins to appear sometime around Christmas, their little pointed buds save themselves until the first few warmest days of February. Expectantly I wait through the colder days, hoping that the iris got a good, dry summer baking for maximum winter flower.
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Iris reticulata are surprisingly easy to grow, provided you can arrange to meet their rather simple cultural needs. As natives of mountains in the Middle East up into parts of central Europe in their natural habitat, they grow amongst limestone rocks on hilly grasslands. They need excellent drainage, slightly sweet soil, a good dry baking during summer and a bit of winter rain and chill.
My own garden is somewhat forested urban red clay, on the other side of the world from the Caucasus Mountain regions. However, here in Atlanta we do get a good summer baking during July and August, which are our driest months, and have some chill time during our short winter season. The clay soil is however, another matter - as it can really hold too much moisture during spring rains which can rot bulbs and corms.
Your own garden may also be able to meet some but not all of this little iris' cultural needs. Perhaps you can work to provide the rest of them, too? I have a very sunny small slope by our driveway that is a challenge to plant. Dryland herbs work best in this area - so I amended the drainage well by digging in copious amounts of organic matter that was negligible in nitrogen (such as leaf mold). Our red clay already has plenty of richness for these types of plants. I made sure to dig down below the clay hardpan (the second time around. I didn’t go deep enough the first time!) and then added a layer of pea gravel a few inches below the soil. Everything I was planting, including the iris reticulata needed very dry feet during spring. Then I sprinkled a bit of medium grade chicken grit over the pea gravel. The grit has a small amount of limestone that leaches into the soil – I never have to lime any of my herbs or the little irises! Next I planted the iris in “pockets” of soil held up by stone and chunks of concrete (providing more natural leaching lime). This sort of mimicks what I imagine might be the natural habitat of the iris.
Graff, M.M. Flowers in the Winter Garden. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1966
Lawrence, Elizabet. The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens. New York. Criterion Books, 1957
Ogden, Scott. Garden Bulbs for the South. Maryland: Taylor Publishing, 1994
Music, color and gardening - the three go hand in hand in my Electric Garden. I enjoy gardening organically for 12 months of the year in the South and am garden speaker and educator, coach and designer. I write about rock'n roll, vintage fashion and of course, gardening.