PICK OF THE BEST: TALL BEARDED IRIS
Tall with dazzling flowers, but what are the six best?
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.
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).
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).
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...