Rainbows in the spring: Reticulate Irises

While I was away for a couple of weeks, things have gone crazy in the garden. Yesterday I run outside in a hurry to take a few images of the reticulate irises. I really love these dwarf irises and I planted them everywhere: in the sun, in part shade, in containers and every other corner where I can still dig a small hole, including small pots for winter flowering. The name of the genus comes from Iris the ancient Greek Goddess of the Rainbow. Along with the snowdrops and crocuses the reticulate irises announce the beginning of Spring with a splash of colours. 

Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ flowering in the winter

They belong to a group of small bulbous irises from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Georgia and adjacent areas. In the spring, it is easy to recognize their leaves, which are square or almost cylindrical in cross section. The bulbs have netted tunics, hence the common name: Netted Irises. Most of them are very hardy, flowering in early spring as soon as the snow melts, and going dormant in the summer. Very easy to grow, they require only a very well drained soil, in order to survive dormancy.

Iris reticulata ‘J.S. Dijt’

Iris reticulata is the best known species with colours ranging from sky blue to violet to purple. There are quite a few cultivars in the trade and some that are hybrids with other species. With careful selection you can have a display of dwarf irises from early March till April, depending on the location.

Iris reticulata ‘Purple Gem’

But the queen of the dwarf irises in my garden is Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’. The result of a cross between Iris winogradowii and Iris histrioides done by British plantsman E.B. Anderson in 1960, it flowers right after the wild I. reticulata and it has big, orchid-like flowers with an intriguing pattern.

Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’

Other species not so often cultivated from this group include: I. pamphylica, I. histrio, I. danfordiae, I. kolpakowskiana and I. bakeriana. Check out Alan McMurtrie’s website to see what hybridizing reticulate irises involves and from there you’ll be able to have a look also at Janis Ruksans catalogue.

 Update – Spring 2013

Just a few more images with dwarf Irises from my small rockery – I particularly liked the combination with Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite). What remains to be said is that after flowering the leaves will continue their growth in order to feed the bulbs for the next year flowers. This translates in a period of some sort of ‘weedy-ness’ which can hardly be obscured by other plants in a small area. Therefore, for next year I will move quite a few of them from the rockery in containers.