Reprint: Irises and their Cultivation

By J.N. Gerard [pub. 1893]

There are so many species, varieties and hybrids of rhizomatous Irises in cultivation that it is impossible to give within reasonable limits of space more than mere suggestions as to those which seem most interesting for some reason, or are of special value in the garden. Considering all points, there is no group of Irises more satisfactory for general culture than the bearded ones, especially the taller forms, such as I. Germanica, I. pallida and the hybrids of various species flowers of the rarest beauty, second to no Orchid in texture, which are known as German Irises. To some is also given an added merit of being reliably hardy. They are sturdy, make clumps quickly, and among them may be found those producing large charm of fragrance. If cut as they are about to unfold they will open and will prove fairly lasting and most useful and desirable flowers for indoor arrangements. Grouped with their own foliage, there are few flowers more decorative than these Irises.

i. germanicaThe first of this group to flower is I. Germanica, light and dark purple forms of which are so common in gardens. The white variety, only less common, which is known to the trade as I. Germanica alba, seems to be of a different type. These Irises do not seem to produce potent seed. I have from Dammann & Company an Italian form under the name of I. Germanica semperflorens, which gave early dark-colored flowers, but it has failed to establish its title to its varietal name as yet. A friend has sent me I. Germanica, var. Amas, but this has not flowered here. I understand that there are several other varieties differing in coloring and stature which are referred to this species. After these follow closely the species I. pallida, I. sambucina, I. squalens, I. lurida variegata, and the hybrids of which they are the parents. Hybrids of these are numberless. They are offered under names by the plantsmen, and it is difficult to make a selection from the lists without including those which are nearly identical. Practically they may be divided into about half a dozen groups, though there are those which are puzzling to determine. If one wished to form a representative collection it would be well to first collect the species named above; also those known as I. neglecta, I. amoena and I. plicata. Having these types, one can refer the hybrids with some success to different groups, and gradually gather a complete collection, avoiding an excess of those colors which may not be considered desirable.

I. pallida appears to me to be the handsomest of the Bearded Irises. It is a plant of a stately habit, with rigid, very wide leaves, and stem some two to three feet high,i. pallida furnished with large flowers, in good form, of a beautiful soft lilac shade. The. standards are large and full, and the falls are wide and furnished with a bright orange beard. They are delightfully fragrant. The Dalmatian form of this Iris is considered the best. Hybrids of I. pallida will befound in all collections of German Irises, differing in shades of purple mostly.

I. sambucina, I. squalens and I. lurida are responsible for the hybrids with smoky or bronze-tinted forms, which are so odd in coloring. From I. variegata come the forms with yellow standards and brown falls, very effective and striking flowers in the garden. Hybrids of I. neglecta have standards and falls of white, or marked with purple in its various shades, from reddish purple to pale lavender, while the hybrids of I. amoena, with similar falls, are distinguished by white standards. The blood of I. plicata is seen in the beatitiful flowers, which have white standards and falls, somewhat crimped and margined with purple.

The dwarf Bearded Irises so far have not awakened much enthusiasm with me as garden plants, though they have the merit of being hardy and making a formal dwarf edging. The best known ones are I. pumila and its variety alba, of a distressingly impure white. I. Chameiris has a yellow flower of not a very attractive shade, though there may be better forms than mine. I. Olbiensis, as I have it, bears a purple flower, but there are also yellow varieties. While these may be desired for a collection, handsome dwarf Irises may be found in other sections.

~ Reprinted from Garden and Forest, Vol. 6, Issue 255, January 11, 1893 .