During the last eight or ten years we have come to realise the great value of the iris for giving a show of colour in the garden. Most gardeners can boast at least a small collection of the richly coloured and easily grown Bearded irises. The Japanese or Kaempferi section, as well as several isolated species of other sections, too, are fairly well known. There are, however, many other sections and groups of this extensive genus, whose possibilities have been, if not entirely unrecognised, at least overlooked, by the average gardener. This neglect may be done in part to the difficulty hitherto of procuring in New Zealand plants of the lesser known species. This article deals with the Sibirica group and its allied species, few of which are well known in New Zealand, but most of which can be obtained from leading growers.
The Sibiricas are characterised by narrow grassy foliage, and thin-stemmed graceful flowers, very artistic in effect, .whether seen growing in the garden, or used for house decoration. All the members of the group agree in liking a moist loamy soil, and do not like lime, though some of the species, notably Orientalis (I.sanguinea) and its varieties, are such strong growers that they can be grown successfully in any good garden soil and situation. However, to grow even these varieties really well, they should be planted by the waterside. Not only are the conditions there ideal, but water is the perfect foil for their graceful habit and rich colourings. With the exception of one species, Prismatica, which is a native of the Atlantic Coast of North America, they are all natives of Europe and Asia. The species Sibirica, which gives its name to the group, comes from Central Europe and Russia. The slender stems rise to a height of three to four feet, and flower in great profusion. The colour of the type is a rich purple, with brown markings close in to the haft, but there are now many colour variations obtained by hybridising. Three of the best of these" hybrids are ''Dragonfly," with standards of a bright pale blue, and falls rich deep blue; "Kingfisher." a rich deep blue; and "Perry's Blue" a wonderful shade of sky-blue, with a flush of white on the falls.
Sibirica Orientalis (I.sanguinea) is a dwarfer growing Asiatic species, whose stems do not rise really clear of the foliage. It is a native of Manchuria. Korea, and Japan. There is a Japanese form that is taller than Orientalis itself, with large circular falls. This form has been given the varietal name of "Emperor". There is also a fine white form under the name of "Snow Queen." Several Chinese species have been introduced into cultivation, and these must have a really moist situation if they are to thrive. Delavayi. which is distributed through the swampy areas of South-Western China, grows to a height of five feet. It has long drooping falls, and the whole flower is an intense violet- colour. Somewhat similar in habit and form is Clarkei, a native of the Himalayas, where it is found growing at an altitude of 6000 to 11.000 feet. The colour is a pleasing shade of light clear blue, flushed with white on the falls.
Differing in both colour and height from the foregoing ave the two yellow species of the group. These are Wilsonii and Forrestii. both from Western China. Wilsonii, which grows to a height of three feet, has pale yellow flowers, veined and netted brown at the haft. Forrestii is about half the height of Wilsonii. and is deeper yellow, with erect standards. Both of these species are useful in the garden, apart from their own beauty, as a contrast to show up the richer colouring of the other members of the section. One of the most exquisite irises known is Chrysographes. another Chinese species. The flowers vary some-what in colour, ranging from red-violet so deep as to be almost black, to a rich bright violet, the fall in all cases being illumined by a veining of brilliant deep gold at the throat. It grows to a height of two to three feet.
These are the most outstanding species of the Sibirica section, but enough has been written to give some idea of the value of this group to the gardener, who can give them moist or waterside conditions. In conclusion, a word of warning. No iris. unless we except the English water-flag, likes stagnant water, or ill-drained conditions, as a substitute for a stream or waterside, and all irises, even moisture loving species, must have a fair amount of sun.
As always clicking on the above image will take you to the larger, higher resolution version.
Credit and copyright Iris Hunter.