Reprint: Beauties of the New Irises (1958)

There are new frontiers to explore in the flower garden and you are advised to keep a wide open eye on the new varieties of iris. They help you to recapture that delectable thrill of discovery and accomplishment.

organic gardening & farming, 1958

Cover photo by Shostal Studios of New York.

The adventurous soul finds precious few frontiers left to explore these days. An emphatic exception to the rule is the adventurous gardener, but rarely does even he find a more fruitful and expanding horizon lhan in iris growing. Topnotch plant suppliers compete in breeding the biggest, the most decorative, the most colorful, the tallest, or the most versatile iris of the year, hoping to win the attention of the average gardener, or even capture the sought-after Dykes Memorial Medal.

The new soft pink and clear red varieties in the tall bearded class have caught the imagination of iris beginners and enthusiasts. Happy Birthday, a flamingo pink, and Mary Randall, a rich rose pink, polled second and third in the American Iris Society’s annual popularity contest. These run fairly expensive, up to $7.50 per plant, though by no means the highest priced iris available. Bronze Bell, copper toned with a metallic lustre, lists at $25 as a 1957 newcomer. Within a few years, this variety, like all others, will take a severe price cut as the grower builds up his stock.

Breeders are also shooting for varieties with frilled edges, especially in the whites without veining Whir of Lace is one of the latest. A novelty of high calibre. Truly Yours took first place in the iris poll, displaying yellow-frilled edging on white falls (the drooping petals) and standards (the upright petals).

A bizarre addition from California is the striking horned iris, like Horned Rosyred and Horned Royalty. The beard (caterpillar-like hairs along the falls) is no longer attached to the falls but projects outward.

The frontier includes every conceivable type of iris, of which the choice is bewildering.

The deep, rich purple tones of the siberians are very much n demand for the dramatic setting. The new Japanese types have spread out to showy widths of almost a foot. The South has yielded great numbers of the orchid-like Louisinana iris. The end is hardly in sight.

Any iris lover with a yen for color and quality though with a limited pocketbook can make an excellent selection from the less expensive senior members. he or she can have blooms from early April to August, with a fascinating collection ranging from four inches to five feet tall.

Along with the first crocus sprouts up the dwarf iris, earliest of all varieties. Iris Cristata or Statellae is charming ina well drained rock garden setting planted in patches or as a border edging in shades complimentary to its neighbors. Avoid any shading by taller plants, a foilble of almost all the irises.

The intermediates come into bloom in early May, bridging the gap between the Dwarfs and the Tall Bearded varieties. Strong on purples (Eleanor Roosevelt and Red Orchid) and whites (Snow Maiden and Cosette) but lacking in the pinks, they are useful to blend with bright tulips Height averages from one to two feet with moderate-sized flowers

Now we come to the monarchs of the iris world – the stately bearded types which carry the blooming season into June. The riot of color is boundless, particularly in the bold and brilliant shades of yellow, blue and purple. The following list of great performers in the selfs (uniform colors) can be a general guide for your selection:

iris ola kala
1. Yellows: Ola Kala, Berkeley Gold, Sovereign.
2. Orange-copper: Arab Chief, Argus Pheasant, Russet Wings.
3. Pink: China Maid, Pink Satin, Pink Formal,
Pink Cameo, Cherie.
4. Red: Casa Morena, Ranger, Solid Mahogany
5. Blue: Great Lakes, Blue Rhythm, Pierre Menard,
Azure Skies, Super Autumn King, Black Forest.
6. Purple: master Charles, Elmohr, Tournament Queen, Sable.
7. White: Gudrun, New Snow.

Amoenas (white standards and colored falls):
1. Wabash – purple falls
2. Extravaganza – red-violet falls.

Plicatas (white or yelow ground with colored edges):
1. Port Wine – purple edges
2 Signal Flare – copper-brown edges.

The clear shades of the selfs however, seem more popular at the moment than the busy patterns of amoneas and plicatas.

Try combining the Tall Bearded with bright yellow daylilies, oriental poppies, or painted daisies in a well drained spot.

The bulb irises (Dutch, English, and Spanish) arrive in bloom during the middle and end of June. although mainly hothouse class, they can be extremely useful for the cutting garden given a moist location. The Tall Beardeds last only for a single day when brought indoors. White Excelsior Yellow Queen and Impeiator (deep blue) are superb.

State flower of Tennessee [actually it is a purple bearded iris which is so designated – Mike], the Siberian iris has easy upkeep, blooms in June with a great abundance of medium sized flowers. Popular varieties are Perry’s Blue, Erie the Red, and Snow Crest (white).

Following the Siberians is a race of exotic irises known as the Spurias, which harbor the tallest varieties. The gold-banded white Ochruleuca gigantea can grow over five feet, if nursed along with plenty of water. One of the largest flowers in the group is borne by Wadi Zem Zem, in a soft yellow.

The giant among iris blooms is, of course, the lush Japanese type, flowering until late in July. They excel in shades of blue, purple, and violet, especially with fine speckling or veining. The newest introductions, working toward the clear colors of the Tall Beardeds, olfen extend a luxuriant 8 to 12 inches in width. These varieties must have plenty of moisture and even appreciate a waterlogged soil (they tolerate a dry resting period after blooming). Never use lime or any other calcium-bearing fertilizer, like bonemeal. Well-rotted compost is the ideal food.

The unusual late bloomers finish off the season. Each Vesper iris flowers in August only for a day, opening at four o’clock in the afternoon. But the masses of blooms on each stem continue for several weeks. A few intermediates bloom both in spring and fall, like the lovely violet Dorcas Hutcherson, or Autumn Queen.

Irises for Landscaping

Light, cheerful colors are ordinarily most successful in the over-all garden scene. Save the deeper shades for bold accents, used sparingly. The modern setting takes extremely well to the vivid, primary tones, since our picture windows unite the outdoors with the interior decor. When you order your plants, however, keep in mind the color and texture of the house facade if it acts as a backdrop.

Planting Your Selections

The rhizome-rooted irises, such as the Tall Beardeds, Japanese and Siberians are set into the soil one foot apart with barely an inch covering of earth. In heavy soil, some experts feel that the rhizome, or swollen rootstem, may be left slightly exposed. Since irises are not replanted more than every three years, prime the planting hole with compost about one foot below the rhizome. Avoid fresh manure like the plague. Water thoroughly. Planting time for Tall Beardeds is in late June or July, for Japanese and Siberians in early spring and September or October.

Mass plantings of the bulb irises (Dutch, English and Spanish) is by far the most effective. In September set from 3 to 6 inches deep, depending upon the particular variety. See your catalogs for the exact depth.

Irises grown in the Northern states ought to be provided with a mulch over the winter, chiefly to avoid heaving. Leaves or hay are easy to apply and do the job well.

Disease and Insect Protection

The following rules may be of help in controlling the troubles which sometimes attack irises:

1. Avoid excess watering and rich nitrogen fertilizers for the Tall Beardeds. Lush growth encourages disease and follow-up borers.
2. When replanting, examine each plant carefully, throwing diseased specimens and leaves into the compost heap. Constantly pick off diseased foliage. Cut away any borers
3. Cut back leaves to 6-8 inches after flowering to keep down excess growth. [Modern growers no longer recommend this. – Mike]
4. Handle plants very carefully. Each wound may provide an entrance for the iris borer.
5. Keep the soil supplied with compost. The American Iris Society reports in a 1957 bulletin that a good supply of organic matter reduces root rot.

~ Reprinted from Organic Gardening and Farming, Vol. 5, No. 4, April 1958