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My favourite irises


by James Alexander-Sinclair

This is prime iris season; a few weeks when these hugely flamboyant flowers come into their own. I grow two different sorts of iris in my garden: the Siberian iris and the bearded iris.


Iris flowerThis is prime iris season: a few weeks when these hugely flamboyant flowers come into their own. I grow two different sorts of iris in my garden: the Siberian iris and the bearded iris. Siberian irises are smaller flowered, have thinner leaves and work well as part of a mixed border - I have a lovely white iris called Iris sibirica 'Snow Queen' and a blue one called 'Emperor'.

These are fine, but they pale into insignificance compared to the huge, complicated flowers of their bearded cousins. Each flower consists of standard petals (that stand upright), 'falls' (unsurprisingly, petals that slump downwards) and the 'beard', a strip of coloured hairs running down the centre of each falling petal.

Of course, there are lots of varieties in almost every colour, from frilly-knicker-pink and daffodil yellow, to navy blue ruffs and watery marmalade. Some seek to combine all the colours of an ice-cream shop in one flower - which I think is a bit of an insult to a noble stalwart. Personally, I prefer the simpler ones in plain colours.

My absolute favourites are:

Iris 'Deep Black': this iris has the softest, most velvety petals the colour of polished blackcurrants wearing taffeta jackets.

I. 'White City': the whitest of the white. This gives Persil a real run for its money.

I. 'Jane Philips': a classic variety that is lofty, elegant and a trifle supercilious, probably the only supermodel who can get away with having a beard.

I. 'Butterscotch Kiss': a wonderful yellow with just a tint of caramel (we liked this so much that we named a very lovely Tibetan terrier after it: the one in the foreground, the other is Lily, her mother).

My number one iris, however, has no name (as far as I can find out). It has been handed down from my mother-in-law, who got it from her mother, who got it from somebody else, etc. Such is the way with shared plants; they lose their smart Linnaean names along the way and become known as 'Granny's rose' or 'Auntie's violet'. If you know what it is, then I'd love to know.



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