Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Spuria irises

Although irises are among my favorite plants, they share a common fault which tempers my enthusiasm for them: the flowers don’t last more than a few days, if that. Over the years I’ve explored the horticultural nooks and crannies of the genus, and a nice variety of irises now grows in the garden.

For various reasons some irises are a lot more popular in gardens than others. Availability has a lot to do with it: bearded irises are more apt to be handed over the garden fence than oncoregelias. The many bulbous irises so readily available from even local bulb sellers in the autumn are a lot more common in gardens than their long range prospects in most gardens would warrant. Should they disappear from commerce, they will quickly disappear from our gardens. “Irises” to most people simply means tall bearded irises, and you could do a lot worse than filling your space with these.

But even among those of us who have explored the genus, there are some groups of cultivated irises which remain much less common than their beauty and ease of cultivation would cause you to expect. A good example of this is the group known as spuria hybrids. These are robust, stalwart plants which bloom in a color range which includes the expected yellows and blues but also verges into unusual shades such as brown. It is the brown colored forms which quickened my interest years ago, although it was a long time before one actually bloomed in this garden.

The blooms of the spuria hybrids are sometimes compared to the blooms of the Dutch xiphium hybrids: they do look alike. And both groups offer hybrids in the bronze-brown flowered range. The handsome xiphium hybrid ‘Bronze Beauty’ is a favorite here.

The spuria hybrid shown above came from an internet friend three years ago. It’s blooming in this garden for the first time right now. It took three years for this to settle down and bloom. Now I think I understand why these otherwise easily grown plants are not common in gardens. One can mail-order tall bearded irises in late summer, plant them and expect them all to bloom beautifully the next year. Who wants to wait three years for something to bloom?

But then, take another look at that flower: I think it was worth the three-year wait.

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