Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some familiar netted iris

Above you see a series of netted (reticulate) irises which gives an idea of what is readily available among these plants. Throughout my life I watched some of these go from expensive rarities to improbably inexpensive staples of the bulb trade. In common with so many other bulbs raised in their millions by the highly skilled commercial growers,  these irises do not get the respect they deserve from most gardeners. They are so dependably available year after year and so inexpensive that few gardeners evidently think them worth the bother to take seriously. And as the indifferent gardener soon discovers, simply planting the bulbs in the garden and then walking away is the short cut to eventual disappointment. Most do not persist without some help.
Yet there is one which does persist: the old form of Iris reticulata which was the only readily available form when I was a boy. And how long does it persist? There are plants here which were planted in, I think, 1963. But that one is the exception.

They thrive in an easily penetrated, high mineral soil of high pH; summer drought is essential. Pot culture with annual re-potting and summer storage of the pots under cover of some sort of rain cover sometimes works well. One summer I dug some after the foliage had ripened and stored them (with their numerous offset bulbs clustered around the big ones) for the summer in improvised paper envelops made of newspaper; these were stored in the basement. When I examined them in the autumn, I was amazed that even the smallest bulbs were still plump and ready to go.

In the early twentieth century all the variants which appeared were generally regarded as forms of Iris reticulata. Several of these very old cultivars are still in commerce (or the names are!): 'Krelagei', 'J.S. Dijt' and E.A. Bowles’ ‘Cantab’. Later introductions show the plain influence of Iris histrioides and we can safely call these hybrids. These include such handsome forms as  ‘Joyce’ and ‘Harmony’. With others such as ‘Spring Time’ and ‘Pixie’ it’s hard to say. In any case they are all well worth having.

In the photo above you see left to right, in the top row, Iris danfordiae, Iris winogradowii, 'Katharine Hodgkin', 'Cantab' and 'Harmony'.  In the bottom row are 'J.S. Dijt', 'Joyce', 'Pauline', 'Spring Time', 'Pixie' and 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'. I hope I've got the names right!

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