Winter iris

by James Alexander-Sinclair

One of the very earliest of flowering bulbs in many gardens is Iris reticulata, which is flowering away right now.

Blue Iris reticulata flowersWhen we think of irises our minds tend to wander towards May and great swathes of big, brassy flowers over sharp-sided, sword-shaped leaves. Either that or drifts of yellow flag iris on the sides of pools and streams. We tend to ignore February. Big mistake.

One of the very earliest flowering bulbs in many gardens is Iris reticulata, which is flowering away right now. It has the same shaped flowers as its early summer cousins with hanging falls, but without the distinctive beards (more like Siberian iris). The flowers vary in colour from pale blue to deep violet, with yellow-spotted splashes down each petal.

Some of them share names with the engines of Rev. Wilbert Awdry, so we have I. reticulata 'Edward' and I. reticulata 'Gordon' although, sadly, no I. reticulata 'Sir Topham Hatt'.

Others worth growing include I.  reticulata 'Cantab', I. reticulata 'Violet Beauty', I. reticulata 'J.S.Dijt' and I. reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin'.

They look particularly fabulous in gravel, as the flowers stand out better against a pale background - the darker varieties in particular get a bit lost against the naked soil of February.

These irises are terribly easy to grow: plant the bulbs in autumn at about twice their own depth and wait. Clumps can be divided in summer to produce more plants. The tricky bit is remembering to order them in August, so long after they've actually flowered.

Make notes, Ladies and Gentlemen, always make notes (says the man who always forgets everything).

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/02/2009 at 18:01

I bought a deep violet iris reticulata last spring at Hodstock Priory and it is now in full flower in my rockery. What a beautiful site it is, especially after all the snow we had earlier in the month.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/02/2009 at 19:26

They just cheer me up when I see them. The yellow centres are definitely like the first rays of spring sun.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/02/2009 at 21:18

Thanks for the tip re planting them in gravel. That's where my spoils from the RHS show last week are going to go.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/02/2009 at 09:38

I have my mini irises as i call them in front of the kitchen window. near my bird feeders - a good start to the day! CAN we have a blog about natural water gardens or rather gardens working around natural water, i have a small lake a beck runs through it and the level rises and falls by approx 4/5 feet I have various water irises planted around it, what else other than grass buttercups nettles and brambles will survive?

Gardeners' World Web User 28/02/2009 at 16:18

Saw my first iris opened today and others on their way,Spring is nearly here!!

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