Tall with daz­zling flow­ers, but what are the six best?

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening -

DEF­I­NITELY the plants to plump for if you want to guar­an­tee a spec­ta­cle, tall bearded irises, oth­er­wise known as flag irises, come in – lit­er­ally – ev­ery colour of the rainbow. Plus black. Not only that, they are also avail­able in com­bi­na­tions of two or even three of th­ese sparkling colours.

Spread­ing steadily from fat rhi­zomes that creep along at the soil’s sur­face, they are now at their peak, flow­er­ing away. So why fea­ture them now? Be­cause it’s time to get your or­ders in for new plants and, af­ter flow­er­ing, time to di­vide ex­ist­ing ones. It’ll soon be plant­ing time, too.

Many spe­cial­ists sell th­ese irises as freshly dug rhi­zomes that will be sent out for plant­ing in sum­mer or early au­tumn. This may seem odd, but it fits right in with when the plants make new roots to help them set­tle in quickly. There are thou­sands and thou­sands of va­ri­eties, with more ar­riv­ing ev­ery year, es­pe­cially from France. Un­for­tu­nately, many are only avail­able from one or two sup­pli­ers – and even then you can­not bank on them be­ing stocked year af­ter year.

There’s also the iris ter­mi­nol­ogy to get to grips with. Read­ing the de­scrip­tions, you’ll find three terms crop­ping up time and again: stan­dards, falls and beards. The words them­selves give you a big clue as to what they mean.

The stan­dards are the three petals that stand up­right on top of the flower, while the falls are the trio of petals that fall down from the cen­tre of the flower.

‘Go­ing Home’

Creamy white stan­dards de­velop pink­ish tones in the cen­tre, while the creamy falls are tinted pink to­wards the edges and pret­tily veined. Flow­ers are tightly ruf­fled and fea­ture an orange beard. H: 38in (95cm).

‘Jane Phillips’

Both stan­dards and falls of the gen­tly ruf­fled, no­tice­ably fra­grant flow­ers are a clear, pale, sky-blue and fea­ture a deep yel­low beard. This pop­u­lar and longestab­lished clas­sic is easy to find in nurs­eries. H: 3ft (90cm).

‘Feu du Ciel’

Bright and fiery, ‘Feu du Ciel’ has vivid, slightly cop­per-tinted orange flow­ers. The stan­dards are a lit­tle darker and more tightly ruf­fled than the paler, more broadly ruf­fled falls, while the beard is a bold red-orange. H: 34in (85cm).

‘Step­ping Out’

A dra­matic va­ri­ety: both the stan­dards and falls of the large ruf­fled flow­ers are pure white with a broad, boldly con­trast­ing vi­o­let-blue mar­gin. How­ever, the blue colour­ing is more ex­ten­sive in the stan­dards. H: 39in (1m).


Tough and early, with bluish fo­liage. Pale-blue stan­dards and falls fade to white, and beards are yel­low. Grown for cen­turies, this cul­ti­var is the source of the or­ris root, once used in medicine and per­fumery. H: 32in (80cm).


Large, gen­tly waved flow­ers are deep indigo-blue with ma­roon over­tones, es­pe­cially to­wards the mar­gins of the falls and the base of the stan­dards. One of the dark­est, it’s highly scented with a blue-black beard. H: 38in (95cm). Stan­dards and falls may be the same colour, sim­i­lar colours or com­pletely dif­fer­ent. The beard is the shaggy area at the heart of each flower, one at the top of each fall, of­ten in a con­trast­ing colour. Now you see how irises cre­ate such lovely colour com­bi­na­tions.

Bearded iris (there are thou­sands of them) are grouped into six types ac­cord­ing to height and flower size. The big­gest are th­ese tall bearded irises, which reach about 3ft (90cm) in height, with flow­ers up to 6in (15cm) across – a few va­ri­eties are even taller, with even larger flow­ers! Then there’s a range of shorter plants (with cor­re­spond­ingly smaller flow­ers) that open ear­lier.

Of all the types, it’s th­ese tall bearded irises that have real piz­zazz, with colours so daz­zling you’ll be reach­ing for your sun­glasses. And what’s wrong with that?

Soggy soil is re­spon­si­ble for the ma­jor­ity of iris prob­lems. Al­ways en­sure drainage is good be­fore plant­ing. If it’s not, add sand or grit, or grow in raised beds. Irises of­fer a mas­sive choice of colours, from soft pas­tels to jewel brights, plus...

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