Tag Archives: Iris

Irises all around the garden

Siberica, Germanica, Pacific Hybrids – all welcome here

This month I’m going to talk about Irises as I’ve been thinking about just how valuable they are in the garden.

They are versatile, colourful plants and I’m happy to have plenty in various conditions. They bear bright flowers on slender stems so they’re very handy for anyone planting a border; you can have them drawing attention at different heights without using too much space at ground level. The detail within the flowers can be stunning, with fine veining, marbling and contrasting colours.

Iris siberica ‘Weisse Etagen’ in the walled garden

I’ll begin in the wet with the sibericas. These irises are all shades of blue, usually planted in pond margins. I use them in borders too, as long as they have reasonable soil they will be fine. In one bed I’ve got them with the pink geranium, ‘Rozanne’ and the colour makes me smile every time I see it. If you enjoy pink / purple / blue this combination is well worth a try.

Irises are stately plants that can be used as part of a carefully designed border or drifted through more ‘natural’ planting schemes. There really is one for every place in the garden. If your soil is well drained and sun-baked, germanicas are the species to look for. These are the ‘bearded’ Iris that grow to about 1m tall and need their rhizomes baked hard each summer. I’ve just planted ‘Kent Pride’ which has a striking peach and yellow flower. I’m looking forward to seeing it flowering next year.

The choice of colour is almost endless, especially as the Pacific Hybrids are being cultivated. This group of plants derives from cross-breeding between 11 different types of Iris, and they are extending the choices for planting colours, situations and combinations. I have these on woodland edges and shady borders as I’m experimenting with how far I can get them to adapt to all corners of our Dartmoor valley. I’ll keep you posted with the results.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener, The Garden House

Chelsea blues

It’s Chelsea time again so new trendy plants will come onto the scene. This year it seems that the Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis) is going to be a star.  It’s made me reflect on how much blue we have in the garden at this time of year.

The Garden House has a long history with the Himalayan poppy, and it is one of a number of eye-catchers that help thread streams of blue through the garden in early summer.  Lionel Fortescue, who owned The Garden House, was well known for being fanatical about colour and ruthlessly removing any plant that wasn’t performing well. In 1961 he was being interviewed for Country Life magazine;  as the interviewer stopped to admire a large clump of what were then, extremely unusual poppies, Lionel leapt into the bed, hauled out an offending plant and threw it over his shoulder for a gardener to pick up. The interviewer was stunned and Lionel was quick to tell him, ‘sorry, but they are the wrong shade of blue.’

Back to today though, and after five decades the blue poppies share the limelight with wisteria, camassia and iris. Our Camassia ‘John Treasure’ is a particularly rich blue. It seems to have shot into life over the last week or so and it’s really caught my eye. I find camassia can be overwhelming in the borders and I’ve learn’t to just let them get on with it and plant to accommodate them. On the top lawn by the tea rooms they are growing mingled with peonies, which is certainly a pleasing look. I suppose we need to take some out really but they are almost too good to get rid of.

Camassia and wisteria in the foreground against an old stone wall in the sunken garden

Irises are always popular at Chelsea as they aren’t too hard to bring on a bit early and plenty of them are in flower at the end of May and into June naturally. You’ll see blue iris in a number of places through the garden. In the summer garden we’ve used them as part of the drift planting and created a double line of blue with Geranium ‘Rozanne’ which is particularly effective amongst the grasses.

Our wisteria has given us a long show from white through blue to lilac this year and I think there is more to come. The house has been draped since mid April and the bridge is looking good now and for another couple of weeks.  Perhaps you saw that wisteria was voted one of the top five best-loved plants by Gardener’s World magazine readers? It doesn’t surprise me as I’m always answering questions about it and stepping out of the way as visitors take photos of wisteria on our walls.

So there you have it, a quick overview of the key blue plants adding colour to the garden this week. The sun is shining and the birds are singing so I’m back off into the garden – where I might take another look at those camassias and see if I can be as ruthless as Lionel Fortescue.

May plant Iris where she don’t belong

Right plant wrong place! Moraea huttonii

Well, as we’ve had one of the best behaved springs I can remember, and we have plants all ahead of themselves, I thought I would keep the optimism going and feature a plant that behaves better for me than all the descriptions suggest.
It’s name doesn’t trip off the tongue too easily; Morraea huttonii is a bit of a mouthful for a plant that most of us would describe as a yellow Iris.

Moraea huttonii a yellow Iris

Moraea huttonii at The Garden House, Devon

It’s a super plant that I use down through the summer garden to lead the eye all along the planting scheme. At 1 metre high it gets your attention and the vivid yellow flowers really stand out amongst some quite lofty grasses and colourful perennials.

If I believed the plant dictionary description I wouldn’t plant it though. It should be in a sunny, south or westerly position, on sand or loam so the corms; (rhizomes if you prefer) bake in heat, stay on the dry side and never sit in water. It should avoid wet winters and frosts and if it’s really cold I should have it in a greenhouse.

Poor Iris – but it does well

Well, I keep it on a slope that faces east and tips north. It’s often sat like an island in the stream in winter as the rain comes in torrents, and as if that wasn’t enough it’s planted in shale. About the only thing that’s working for it is that here on Dartmoor we’re on acid soil.
I never lift it in the winter, so it doesnt get the dry, dormant period its supposed to need. Each year the corms are raised and split after flowers have faded, which is the best way to propagate in the Iris family.

Worth taking a risk for a plant that suits your garden design

This lovely Iris is a perfect example of how sometimes it’s worth taking a risk with a plant that just feels like it’s right for the effect you need. It’s too easy to buy a plant on impulse and then keep it in a pot because you don’t have perfect conditions and you don’t know where to put it. I say get it in the ground and give it a chance. Just like the weather, any plant can surprise you and leave you smiling. Right plant, wrong place can sometimes work. Now I just need to get out in the garden and start doing a sundance!

Enjoy May  – it’s certainly off to a fine start.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

Winter iris

Winter iris bring a touch of blue

The early spring bulb meadow is an area of the garden that I keep coming back to. Early flowering bulbs tend to be low to the ground as they are hardy enough to cope with lingering, rough weather. When I crouch down to look at the early iris and crocus bulbs in February and March they are a blast of colour and fascinating detail. Stand up and look down on them and they can look a bit humble before they really get going.
I haven’t got time to spend all day crouching, so the solution is to look at where they have come from, and plant them in a similar way.

Iris histrioides  ‘Angel’s Tears’

Iris histrioides ‘Angel’s Tears’

Iris histrioides – the winter iris

Take Iris histrioides, commonly known as ‘winter iris’. It’s typically a vivid blue iris in various shades. In Turkey, where they grow in the wild, they burst through the ground on naked stems and turn mountainsides blue. Inspired by this I’m planting more and more bulbs for early spring, so that in years to come we will have our own carpet of colour.
Some of the iris varieties here are unusual, so bulbs are expensive or impossible to find in bulk. That’s why I’m letting mine bulk up their numbers naturally, whilst under-planting with the easy-to-find Crocus tommasinianus. The light mauve of the crocus and deeper blue of the iris work perfectly together. I’m looking forward to the days when they have naturalised so abundantly that we need to thin them out.

I can’t recommend winter irises strongly enough. Look out for the readily available Iris reticulata in the garden centres or online. There will be a number of varieties to choose from. Plant them in the autumn a couple of inches deep and look forward to the day in February when they push up and turn out blue.

You don’t need a bulb meadow or mountainside to enjoy the power of these irises. They are perfect for well-planned pots partnered with violas or winter pansies. They also make an impact in small areas where their colour will pack a punch. Just make sure the drainage is good. They are pretty tough, even pushing their way through snow and ice. Get your camera ready for that; it makes a change from snowdrops!

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener