Pajaritomt, in her interview, told me, “I had left my iris behind when I moved to my current neighborhood but one spring morning my neighbor's huge dark purplish blue iris started to bloom. I was stunned with its beauty. I didn't know the man so I started going through catalogs, both paper and on line, buying the ones that looked closest to the one in his yard. I got Victoria Falls, Breakers, Titian's Glory, and Blenheim Royal before I was wandering through a nursery and saw "the" iris. It was Dusky Challenger. I bought it immediately -- thank goodness. It was the only one they had. I have been enjoying it ever since. And I am enjoying all the other blue ones as well. Then I had to add some yellow for contrast -- and the rest is history.” I think that is a repeated story for so many of us. We may not be looking for the “one” but we are looking for the iris we grew up with, saw in the garden, grew at one time, or walk by every day. So what do you need to look for in your iris? How do you choose one to fill that spot in the garden? Here are a few ideas just to get you started!


Color – Most gardeners are not looking for run of the mill. Even if they are really into the historical iris, they are looking for the unique and the best colors. Color is everything to most gardeners. Anyone can have just another plant but to find that one WOW plant to fill that perfect spot takes work and planning. The only true way to get the right color is to buy your iris locally and in bloom. Second best is to buy them mail order after you have seen them in person. There are many local gardens that you can tour in most areas of the United States that have wonderful iris gardens. These are great places to see what grows well in your area and the real color of the blooms in your garden.

Shape – More and more gardeners are looking for the unique and the strange in the garden. They no longer want friends to look and know what the plant is at first sight – they want them to have to take that second look. Getting the right form and shape of an iris is critical if you want a real show stopper. The biggest issue with shapes and unique forms in the garden is that they are lost easily if there are too many unique shapes in the garden. These plants must be well placed and spaced out in the garden.

ImageFamily Tree – Avmoran told me “Now I buy (iris) on pedigree, potential for crosses and fertility.” If you are looking to breed iris in the future, you need to keep good records and know what the ancestors are for each and every iris you add to the garden. Knowing what the iris have in their past can help you make good choices for breeding in the future. Now breeding iris is still a hit or miss game, but you have better luck if you take the time to learn what you have and to find out what you need to start with.

Breeder – There are some in the iris world who follow one breeder. This can be a costly way to grow iris – new introductions can be pricey. If you have the money, or if you can wait for the new toys a little while, you can have a wonderful collection that will be united not only by simple color, or space, or form, but will be a single volume of work by one author. Many very serious collectors find this to be very rewarding.


Repeat Blooming – If you are pressed for space or if you want every plant to really carry its weight, these are the iris for you. They will bloom in spring and again in the fall. Now the tricky part is that what reblooms here might not rebloom for you, and visa versa. But if you have a little time to research the local iris growers in your area, you can find the iris that will rebloom and give you twice the punch for your buck.

No matter how you pick your iris, they will be a treasured friend sure to find space in your garden for a long time to come.

I want to thank Pajaritomt, Jackieshar, Avmoran, Irisloverdee, Happygarden, and Doss for answering my many research questions for this article. All images thanks to Lilypon and Ensata Gardens and are all Japanese Iris.

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