Early-flowering iris are a beautiful but underused spring bulb. Nicola Oakey, Trainee Horticultural Journalist at 'The Garden' explores some of the exciting new plants available
The first flowers of spring bring a great sense of anticipation for the coming seasons. Daffodils and snowdrops are the usual suspects, although for gardeners looking for something equally as cheerful and easy to grow, irises could be the answer. Avid breeders have been creating dramatic cultivars with flower colours ranging from yellows and browns to speckled blues. Many of these exciting new cultivars are available in autumn for gardeners to plant and enjoy the following spring.
Spring-flowering irises start blooming from February, with individual flowers lasting between three and seven days, however the gradual succession of buds means that plants flower for around three weeks. A lot of irises produce their flowers before foliage, their overall height varies from 5-15cm (2-6in).
Iris ‘Eye Catcher’
- ‘Eye Catcher’ produces captivating flowers with blue spots and stripes patterning on the lower petals (falls). It is a shorter cultivar reaching a height of 5-10cm (2-4in).
- These petals also have a central yellow stripe.
- The upper petals (standards) are midnight blue nearest the centre of the flower, graduating to a marbled blue and white.
Iris 'Blue Hill'
- Ideal for anyone wanting a iris with fewer markings. The flowers are larger than most and stand taller, 10-15cm (4-6in) than other cultivars.
- ‘Blue Hill’ offers the most intense solid blue colouring with a single long yellow strip down the inside of the falls, although this is usually obscured by the standards.
- The petals are also more upright, compared to other cultivars where the falls fold over.
Iris ‘Sea Breeze’
- ‘Sea Breeze’ has thin, bright blue standards that look like they have been dipped in a pot of ink, contrasted by pure white tips and a white stripe down the centre of the standards.
- The falls have a bold yellow stripe similar to ‘Eye Catcher’, however the markings on the petals are not as pronounced.
- Reaches a height of 5-10cm (2-4in).
Iris ‘North Star’
- ‘North Star’ has falls with a strong yellow colour and small blue spots, graduating from a deep yellow to almost white at the edges.
- The standards are also yellow (but lighter than the falls) with a surprise blue flash nearest the centre of the flower.
- The intensity of the yellow contrasts well with blue cultivars. Height, 5-10cm (2-4in).
- ‘Spot-on’ has rich, slender purple standard petals. The falls are white with purple-blue stripe detailing and deep purple, almost black tips.
- The flowers have the classic yellow stripe down the centre of the falls, however it is usually hidden by the upper petals.
- It is a taller cultivar, 10-15cm (4-6in), which produces long strap-like leaves at the same time as it flowers.
Iris in the garden
Early-flowering iris are best bought and planted as bare bulbs in the autumn or as growing plants in the spring. They are small enough for a rock garden, perfect as a spring specimen in a pot, or planted at the front of a border. It is better to plant them somewhere where they will not be disturbed.
They are clump-forming and prefer a sunny position, but will tolerate light shade. Iris like to be moist in the spring when they are growing and dry during the summer when they are dormant. For gardeners planting them in a border, create a small mound of soil and plant the bulbs so they are raised by the mound, this allows better drainage during the hotter months.
With beautiful colours, elegant forms and unusual markings, there is no better way to welcome spring to our sleeping winter gardens than with iris.
These iris cultivars will be available to buy from Jacques Amand in autumn 2016.
Iris photographed at the RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair 2016.
See more information and supplier details for other dwarf bulbous irises.