Irises have been grown and admired since the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis I, who ruled around 1500BC.
These elegant plants now number hundreds of species with new hybrids being developed every year with the most common ones grown in our gardens the bearded, beardless and bulbous types.
Beaded irises have broad sword-like leaves arising from the rhizome in the shape a fan. The flowers are comprised of three upright petals called the ‘standards’ and three dropping ones called the ‘falls’.
Beardless irises, particularly Iris Kaempferi, grow in partial shade but must have rich, fertile soil.
The velvety colour range is vast with streaked contrasting shades and a distinctive yellow patch at the base of the petals. They are attractive planted near ponds and water gardens.
Bulbous irises include varieties known as English, Dutch and Spanish.
These have true bulbs with generally slender, curved-in stiff green leaves and flowers in which the petals are also recurred to a varying degree. The colour range includes blue, yellow, cream and white.
Other very interesting irises worth growing include the Pacific coast hybrids. These low-growing, vigorous plants like to grow in filtered sunlight in well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic soil.
The flowers come in white, yellow, blue, brown, violet, pink, apricot, mauve and red, some deep veining, many bi-coloured and bi-toned.
They like to grow in filtered sunlight in well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic soil.
Transplant when the roots are actively growing and are white in colour – this is generally from mid-May to early June. Keep the soil moist while transplanted plants are establishing. Mulch around the plants to provide a cool root run.
These Pacific coast hybrids were introduced into Britain by the Scottish botanist and explorer, David Douglas along with approximately 240 other species of plants.
Over 80 species of plants and animals have douglasii in their scientific name in his honour.
Iris douglasii, the Californian bearded iris in colours of lavender, blue, purple, violet and salmon and the Douglas fir are two that immediately spring to mind.
Regarded as one of the greatest botanical explorers Douglas was reported to have died in Hawaii in 1834 when he accidentally fell into a wild bull trap.
Iris sibirica is believed to have first been collected by Siberian monks in the Middle Ages and was introduced into Britain in the late 1500s.
The colour range is of varying shades of blue with newer cultivars in yellow, brown and orange. They are at their best when planted in large groupings near ponds and streams, in the herbaceous border or left to naturalise in woodland gardens.
The evergreen Iris foetidissima has small, lilac flowers in early summer, but the main attraction is its showy seed heads.
When the pods open, bright orange seeds are exposed and last for many weeks. It grows about 60cms high and will thrive in any soil in sunny or shaded positions.
You should be able to obtain these plants from specialist nurseries that stock hardy perennials.
Irises, especially the bearded varieties, can be lifted, divided and replanted this month or February.
With so many beautiful irises available suiting most growing conditions, no garden should be without these stunning plants.
January 26, 27: North-West Tasmanian Lilium Society Latrobe Lilium Show, Memorial Hall, Gilbert St. Saturday 1pm-4pm, Sunday 10am-4pm. Bulbs, plant and seed sales, demos, flower auction Sunday 4pm. Admission $4. Accompanied children free.
Daily: The Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden, Burnie. Open 9am to 5pm. Tea room open 10am to 4pm.