New year welcome

by Adam Pasco

What a wonderful welcome to the new year to discover these beautiful seed pods on my Iris foetidissima. They really are a winter bonus, their bright shining seeds last for weeks.

Open seed pod of Iris foetidissimaWhat a wonderful welcome to the new year to discover these beautiful seed pods on my Iris foetidissima. They really are a winter bonus, their bright shining seeds last for weeks.

Apparently they are not attractive to birds; they don't appear interested, which is surprising when food is in such short supply. I know the seeds are poisonous to humans, so birds must know this instinctively, and I'm told rabbits stay clear of them as well.

Following flowers in early summer, the faded blooms give way to a seed pod, which slowly fattens with every passing month. Come late autumn the pod decides it's time to display its contents for all to enjoy, splitting to reveal its treasure. On a bright sunny day these red seed capsules glow brightly, enticing me in for a closer look. Glorious!

Don't be put off by their common name of stinking iris or stinking gladwyn. They really don't smell unless you crush their leaves, but I can't say I've ever noticed anything unpleasant.

Iris foetidissima is a strong growing iris that develops into a tight clump within a few years. Mine hasn't been divided for some time, so when the weather warms up in spring I really must lift the whole clump and split it up before replanting. There will probably be enough to give away a few bits to friends, too. If I wanted more I could save some of the ripe seed capsules and sow them to raise new plants, but I think one clump is enough.

Apparently you can find it growing wild in parts of southern England, especially on lime-rich soils and in dry woodlands, but it doesn't complain about a shady spot under a plum tree on my heavy clay soil.

The sight of this humble little iris in the middle of winter really lifts the spirits. As if we haven't already been lifting enough spirits to welcome in the new year!

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Gardeners' World Web User 07/01/2008 at 20:26

Sandra, I've always brought my Fuchsia 'Thalia' under cover for winter to provide frost protection. I do not believe this variety, one of the triphylla types, would be fully hardy. I'd recommend bringing it into a sheltered greenhouse, conservatory or even a bedroom windowsill. Water very little, just keeping the compost from going bone dry. Their leaves may fall, but water more when conditions warm up in spring and you'll get new growth, and can prune back any dead shoot tips.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/01/2008 at 16:15

I don't know why the birds don't eat it because they normally eat seeds. It's strange!

Gardeners' World Web User 01/08/2008 at 19:04

please can anyone help!, this house has been built on a bend, the front garden is uneven and slopes,being unable to apply myself to the care(handicapped)) could you advice how to keep it nice with hardy perennial ground cover,soil is poor and coastal

Gardeners' World Web User 20/02/2009 at 19:34

im loving my new look veg patch in my front garden but need advice on raising tomatoes beetroot and parsnips from seed

Gardeners' World Web User 23/02/2009 at 11:17

Michael, do search our web site for more information on these, and of course check Gardeners' World Magazine every month, especially my What To Do Now pages. Along with the free tomato seeds with teh March 2009 issue you'll find practical step-by-step advice on how to sow tomatoes.

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