Gardening: Plant Hunters Article - April/May 23
Bearded Irises: The Ultimate Showstoppers by Martin Blow
Every May and June I am bewitched by the sheer flamboyance and beauty of the bearded irises in the borders of gardens I visit. The large, showy blooms come in many colours and it’s a shame that we don’t have “smelly-vision” as most are sweetly scented.
They are called “bearded” because of the line of hairs on the lower petals. These beards are often in a contrasting colour to the petal and act like runway lights to guide bees to the nectar and pollen.
With bearded irises it is important to give them the right conditions if you want them to thrive and flower.
They grow from a knobbly rhizome – a sort of modified root. These need to be planted so that they are not completely buried – maybe halfway up their thickness. They like a sunny spot: this year’s sun makes next year’s flowers. The ground must be free draining: add grit below the rhizomes if your soil is moist and forget about growing them if it’s boggy – there are plenty of other types of iris you can grow!
You can plant pot-grown bearded iris at any time but often nurseries supply them bare rooted as they are difficult to keep nice in a pot. There are many hundreds of varieties in a range of heights and colours to choose from.
The flowering season starts in late April with the very dwarf varieties. These are less than 16in or 40cm tall and best suited for a rockery. Next come the Intermediates (16in – 28” / 40-70cm) that flower from early May. Then later in May the tall, bearded types (28-48” / 70-120cm) and these have the showiest flowers.
After flowering you can cut the flower stems off as close to the rhizome as possible using a sharp, sterile knife since leaving them on can cause rotting of the plants.
Bearded irises are tough, drought tolerant plants very well suited to modern as well as traditional gardens looking equally as good as drifts or as single, statement plants and with so many heights and colours to choose from there’s no reason why every sunny garden shouldn’t have some.
Janet & I organise Plant Hunters’ Fairs, specialist plant fairs at wonderful locations. Please see www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk for a full list of our 2023 plant fairs. Please check our website for ticketing information and all the latest updates before travelling. Plant Fair Dates for your diary 2023:
Bodenham Arboretum, DY11 5TB on Saturday 1st April, free entry to plant fair. Middleton Hall, Nr Tamworth, B78 2AE on Sunday 16th April, entry to Gardens & Plant Fair only £3.50 (special reduced entry price). 1620s House and Garden, Nr. Coalville, LE67 2FW on Saturday 22nd April, entry to Garden & Plant Fair £1. Weston Park, TF11 8LE on Sunday 30th April & Monday 1st May, entry to Gardens & Plant Fair £4 ticket/£8 on gate. Arley Arboretum, DY12 1SQ on Monday 29th May, free entry to Plant Fair.