The Modern Bearded Irises
HARDY PLANTS FOR HOT DRY BORDERS, By R. E. Harrison.
It is more pleasing to note that in more recent years this class of hardy iris is becoming increasingly popular. This is no doubt due to the wonderful improvements that have been achieved in the size of the bloom, and new shades, and also in the increased bloom season that has been secured. The marvellous new colourings that now exist, and the the richness and the texture of the modern irises is indeed a revelation to those who are acquainted only with the older varieties.
Are Bearded Iris Hardy ?
Contrary to general opinion, bearded irises are extremely hardy, and can be grown anywhere in the Dominion. I have meet many people who thought it was impossible to grow these plants in Otago, and others that who have advised me that they will not flower in Auckland district, although they make good growth. By personal investigations I have found that lack of bloom has invariably proved to be due to faulty cultivation. I have seen magnificent displays of these irises in both districts, as well in all parts of the Dominion. I find that numbers of people who live in very cold districts do not attempt to grow many fine plants and shrubs as they feel convinced that their climate would be to severe for the subjects considered. Undoubtedly, many find that plants will not stand severe frosts, and it is often the case of "Once bitten, twice shy," but I would like to draw the attention of such people to an excellent guide as to the hardiness of any plant being considered. Obviously the many nursery catalogues issued throughout the Dominion are hardly a guide in all cases; there are many plants that are quite hardy in certain districts with, say, only 10° of frost, but utterly impossible to grow in very cold districts, and all growers do not know the limits that any plant will stand. The best plan is to secure copies of catalogues from reliable English nurseryman, say, one of shrubs and one of perennials and rock plants. Unless mentioned as tender, it is apparent that any plants offered in those catalogues as hardy are certainly hardy anywhere in the Dominion.
Essential Point in Cultivation
The only essential points towards the cultivation of bearded irises are good drainage, plenty of sun, and a yearly application of lime, if it should be lacking in the soil. Many people make the mistake of confusing these plants with Japanese irises (I. Kaempferi) which are water loving and give them the same conditions. Wet feet means death to them, and shady, sheltered places reduce the quality of bloom and increase the chances of disease. It should be remembered that, from after the flowering period until the winter rains, the bearded Iris enjoys the driest conditions. The more sunbaked the rhizomes are (the rootstock) during the summer the more they will flower the following spring. I can hear many readers saying "I have too many hot, dry places that are useless as a summer garden". Well these are just the spots for bearded irises, try a few, and you will be agreeably surprised with the results.
How and When to Plant
Bearded irises are so hardy that they can safely be moved at any time of the year, but it is obvious that if this takes place near the flowering period, poorer blooms will be the result the first season. The correct time to plant is any time from December to May, the earlier the better, but for convenience most planting is done in the bulb season, about February or March. By planting in the early autumn, the rhizomes become thoroughly established before Winter, and are thus able to support the blooms. They should be planted with the top part of the rhizomes above the soil.
Although usually listed as one class there are, in my opinion, several distinct sections of bearded irises, and a study of each section is necessary if the desired effect as required.I am quite sure that a carefully planned Iris Garden bloom, arranged for colour affects, and with due consideration given to heights in times of flowering, is one of the finest sites one could wish to see. Indeed, I know of nothing so impressive, or so calculated to arouse sustained enthusiasm. One hears of 'Gladiolus fever' and 'a bug for rhododendrons', but I am sure there is an equally catching malady for Irises. The classes I would suggest are :- (1) dwarf border varieties ; (2) variegated, or bi-colours ; (3) Irises particularly suitable for massing ; (4) the giant flowered and tall growing modern hybrids.
Varieties for Front Borders
The dwarf growing varieties are particularly suitable for the front border and although often smaller in flower, are usually very free flowering. There are not many very dwarf varieties, but in mentioning a few, attention should be drawn to the beautiful deep orange yellow called 'Auren.' A free flowering light blue, called 'Attraction', is also most useful, and can be suitably associated with this variety. 'Caprice' is a rosy claret, and, like the preceding, a self colour, while 'Louis Bell' supply is a most useful shade of velvety purple, and is a great improvement on the old 'Purple King type.' To complete a selection of good front border varieties it is necessary to add the class of variegated or bi-colours. This class, as can be imagined, is comprised of those irises in which the colours of the standards (upright petals) is in direct contrast and of a different shade from the falls (lower petals). The effects as one can realise, are very striking. Quite a number in this class have standards of some shade of yellow, with falls in the shades from Chestnut to deep brown. The best known in the dwarf varieties are 'Knysna', brilliant yellow, with chestnut falls, 'Medallion', yellow, with chestnut red, and 'Iris King', which is a rich orange or old gold with falls of velvety crimson maroon, edged with yellow. Other shades in good dwarf bi-colours are 'Hiawatha', lavender and purple, 'Ann Leslie', ivory white, with carmine falls, 'Argynnis', mustard yellow and chestnut red, and 'Rhein Nixie', which is pure white, with striking purple violet falls.
Colour Schemes for Borders
In the Irises for massing, a greater effect can be secured by blending shades or by contrasting colours. To secure this effect it is desirable to have the "self" shades, or those varieties with an even toning. For instance, when the pale, light and dark blues are grouped together in a gradual shading of colours, the effect, as can be imagined, is most charming. The blues of the bearded irises are indispensable for the blue herbaceous border, and even in mass groups throughout the shrubbery they lighten up the dark, sombre green of the shrubs beyond with a colour that is usually lacking at this time of the year. Then, as a contrast, the bright yellows, with the deep blue or the lavender pinks, with the purples, present combinations not often attempted. It has often been said that you can never see irises at their best until they are massed, and while this is true, and applies to all varieties of bearded irises, yet undoubtedly there are certain varieties much more suitable for this purpose than others. Some varieties are extremely free flowering, and are consistent year after year in this respect, a feature of the utmost importance. I have made a particular study of irises that are really outstanding in possessing free flowering qualities and which also have suitable shades to produce the desired effect, and give a list of some of the most useful of the lower-priced varieties.
Best Varieties for Massing
In the blues, 'Rodney', a self, light violet blue, and 'Odoratissima', lavender blue, are the best, while the deeper shades 'Harmony', rich violet purple, and 'Souvenir de Madame Gaudichau', rich velvety violet, with blackish purple falls, are unquestionably the most useful. There are hundreds of other really splendid irises in these colours. Many are larger and more refined, but for a massed effect they come short either in colour, quantity of blooms, or free flowering qualities.
'Bonita' is the best new tall pure buttercup yellow. It is wonderfully vigourous and free flowering. A splendid Iris for massing with the blues. Although introduced a few years ago at £4 each, it is now quite cheap. 'Primavira' is an early free flowering primrose yellow and is most useful.
In the so-called pinks or lavender pinks the varieties 'Dream' or 'Susan Bliss' are best. They are practically the same shade of Lavender Rose pink with an orange beard. 'Rosalind' is slightly different in that the falls are rosy lilac. 'Ed. Michel' is an unusual, but useful shade of deep reddish purple, or almost wine red. 'Evadne' belongs to the same group, but is a richer shade, being beautiful bronzy red. All the above are self, or almost self shades; there are others that are also useful which I shall mention briefly.
'Gules', lilac blue and violet ; 'Diadem', mauve and reddish brown falls ; 'Eldorado', yellowish bronze shaded heliotrope, with violet purple falls ; 'Lieut. Williamson', huge lavender blue, falls velvety violet ; 'Ma Mie', white, frilled and veined light blue ; 'Prosper Laugier', coppery crimson ; and 'Señorita', lavender, overlaid with yellow. All these are now quite reasonable in price and can be secured from leading Iris specialists.
Giant Flowering Modern Hybrids
The last group is the giant flowering tall growing modern hybrids. Since it has evidently been the aim of modern hybridists to secure size of bloom, most of the novelties today belong to this class. There are some marvellous creations nowadays, but to go through them all fully would occupy considerable space. Moreover, many of the recent novelties are rather high-priced, and it is not everybody who can afford them. The illustration above gives some little idea of the beauty of the modern hybrids. Although a reduced illustration of this nature cannot give a correct impression of the velvety texture of the blooms and the stately garden effect of these giants, yet some guide can be given by mentioning that the blooms of 'Frieda Mohr', the lavender pink Iris in the top left of the bowl measures six inches by six and a half inches. A well branched head of this Iris in full bloom is a Bouquet in itself, while a large clump in flower is a magnificent sight. The tall central Iris illustrated is a variety called 'Germaine Perthius', while the browny red in the lower left is a popular variety called 'Glowing Embers'. The amber yellow bloom is a giant new yellow call 'Fortuna'. The illustration does not do it justice. One of the finest Iris's cultivation is 'Bruno', the one illustrated on the top right of the picture. The standards are bronzy lavender and the huge velvety falls are rich purple. An improvement on this variety called 'Mrs Valerie West', is undoubtedly the finest Iris and cultivation. A few years ago this variety was introduced at £6 each, but it is now offered in the Dominion at less than £1. The pure white illustrated is a variety called 'Shasta'. It is by far the largest white variety so far introduced. On the lower right is shown a browny red variety. This is 'Fireball', and is the brightest variety of its colour class and the nearest approach to red. The correct shade is iridescent vinaceous red. Nearby is a 'Dominion' seedling called 'Majestic' with the lavender blue standards and the falls of purple. The names and short descriptions of the Iris is illustrated given at the foot of this article all our first-class new varieties that are now reasonable and price.
Other Good Varieties
There are three at least that should be added to this illustrated collection. They are 'Don Quixote', a very large deep lavender, overlaid with yellow, and with falls of violet, with heavy brown venatation on a yellow ground. The second is 'Moa', with its arching standards of pure violet and broad circular falls of deep velvety violet. This stately Iris is rightly classed amongst the world's best. The last is 'San Francisco'. Its tall branching stems, carrying enormous white flowers, of which both standards and falls are edged with lavender, make it an outstanding variety, with nothing to approach it.
While I feel that I have scarcely touched the ground in dealing with this most fascinating subject, yet I cannot close without drawing your attention to the fact that hybridists in the Dominion who have, in recent years, taken the improvement of these plants, have met with such outstanding success there is to be hoped that New Zealand will shortly be "on the map" in the future and producing at least some of the world's best, as she is now doing in dahlias and gladioli.
Illustration of Irises as shown above
The names of the irises, reading from the extreme left, are :- 'Freida Mohr', lavender pink; 'Mons. Connault', reddish copper ; 'Valencia', orange buff ; 'Estrella', white and blue; 'Duke of Bedford', violet purple ; 'J. B. Dumas' rosy ; 'Glowing Embers', brownish (central) ; 'G. Pertheus', violet ; 'Shasta', giant white ; 'Kynsna', yellow and brown ; 'Fortuna', amber yellow ; 'Queen Caterina', light blue; 'Bruno' Bronze and purple ; 'Lieut Williamson', light and dark blue ; 'Majestic', blue and purple ; 'Firefall', browny red.
Article courtesy of the New Zealand Smallholder Magazine, 1934.