Reprint: Iris Germanica

by Northeaster

To View what will really flourish in his particular garden, instead of breaking his heart over plants that are quite unsuited to his soil and climate, is advice which old gardeners continually find themselves impressing upon the beginner. I am induced to say a few words upon the so-called German Irises, because they are plants so good-natured as to do well in most places – even in town gardens – if treated with a moderate amount of kindness, and, when once planted, left undisturbed. I was told when I began to cultivate these Irises that they were fond of damp, and though I doubted the truth of the statement then, I have no doubt as to its untruth now; mine, at any rate, do best in the dry part of the garden. In damp places, the so-called germanica frequently waste away (that may of course be due to something peculiar in the soil), and are very much disfigured by slugs. I was told, too, that they would grow anywhere, and this is, roughly speaking, true; but they will not flower well unless they are satisfied with their home. I should say they would do well anywhere, provided the drainage was good and they were not too shaded by trees. I was also instructed never to divide them. This is very good advice on the whole, but judgment of character is as necessary in Iris growing as in most other things. I have some clumps – especially in rather shady places – which grow proportionately less floriferous as they increase in size, and distinctly require breaking up.

These plants seem to me to vary very much in floriferousness. I have a clump of I. De Berghii which has never yet flowered, though when it does flower I expect to be rewarded. Such a clump of it as I have seen in blossom at the York Nurseries is a sight worth looking at. I. Gracchus was some time before it bloomed’ but now that it has grown into a clump it is very floriferous. Both of these, by-the-way, are, I suppose, varieties of I. variegata. Of I. Florentina I may say the same as of Gracchus. Some kinds, on the other hand – e.g., Mme. Chereau – will bloom in quite small pieces. Some again increase in size much more quickly than others. I find Victorine and Jasquesiana, for example, increase slowly, possibly in a better climate the case may be different.

Opinions may differ as to particular plants, but I think the following list includes not more than three or four (and these have some other special recommendations of their own), that are not first-rate. It would be very easy to enlarge the catalogue (I ought to say that I mention no variety which I have not flowered except De Berghii)

  • Afghan Prince (Barr), rich bronze and crimson; flowers freely.
  • Arnoldi, violet-bronze and purple.
  • Atropurpurea, rich dark purple.
  • Attraction (Backhouse), apparently identical with Princess of Wales, white, large flower.
  • Aurea, yellow, very distinct, but not a strong grower.
  • Bridesmaid, white and reddish-lilac, distinct.
  • De Berghi, yellow and crimson, very rich.’
  • Flavescens, primrose.
  • Florentina, white.
  • Fontarabie (Backhouse), purple-black, rich veining, very distinct, plant dwarf and free.
  • Ganyemede, yellow, splashed with purple.
  • Gracchus (Ware), lemon and purple. Plant compact, floriferous when established; very good.
  • Jasquesiana, red-bronze and crimson.
  • Leopoldine, creamy-yellow and purple; very good.
  • L’Innocenza, white, very delicate and lovely.
  • Madame Chereau, white, barred and edged with violet.
  • Pallida dalmatica, lavender, splendid.
  • P. odoratissima (Backhouse), splendid; heavily scented.
  • P. racemosa (Ware), lavender-blue; charming’ very distinct. This plant has a branching habit, and nothing clustering about it. Ought it not to be called ramosa?
  • Pluvialis, bluish-white.
  • Queen of May, rosy-lilac (charming), almost pink.
  • Victorine, white, splashed with purple, falls violet-purple.
  • Victory (Veitch) like Victorine, but without the splashes on the standards.
  • Virgile, clouded bronze and reddish-lilac; free.
  • Virginie, silvery-grey or mauve and reddish-violet.

The colors are but roughly indicated to describe them in detail is impossible. Any one who is curious in colours should look at the inside of the flowers; in less brilliant forms, such as pluvialis, the tints of the petaloid stigmas are often very beautiful.

There is also a wasting disease which these Irises are liable to (of its scientific name I am unfortunately ignorant, but probably most Iris growers know the disease) which I have sometimes cured by dividing the suffering plant, cutting out the diseased part, and replanting in light dry soil; sometimes by taking up, cleaning with a knife’ and replanting in ashes. This remedy will not always answer, but in case a valuable plant is attacked, it is worth a trial.

I occasionally water my plants when coming into blossom if they look as if they lacked moisture, but never after they have bloomed. The plants may be moved in spring, though I prefer to lift them when the blossom stems have begun to decay.

~ Reprinted from The Gardener’s Chronicle, February 12, 1887, pp 210-211