Soon our gardens will be filled with the spell-bindingly beautiful colors and forms of the iris. Some of the earliest (and smallest - the iris cristata) welcomed May. The variety is bewildering, the colors dazzle the eye, the fragrance of some is seductive. In addition the varieties in our area are hardy and some have wonderful histories.
But before we enjoy 'iris trivia', let's learn to speak the language of the iris - or at the least call the various parts of the plant by their correct names and describe different varieties clearly.
It is easy to see that the iris flower has an upright part - the petals rising upwards and named the standards. (It helps to remember that 'standard' is often used synonymously with 'flag' or 'pendant'. The petal that fall down are (cleverly) named the falls. The fuzzy caterpillar at the top of the fall is the beard. For most persons knowing the names of these three parts is enough.
But as the hyper-salesmen say, "Wait! Wait! There is more!" In catalogs and other descriptions of iris, they can be identified by other indicators. The abbreviations are as follows:
E - Early blooming iris
F - Falls
M - mid-season bloomer
L - Late season bloomer
Plic - Plicata
RE - Rebloomer
S - Standards
SA - Space Age or Space Ager
In addition, there are classifications for both size and bloom time.
MDB - Miniature Dwarf Bearded: up to 8" in height, very early bloom season.
SDB - Standard Dwarf Bearded: 8-16", early season.
IB - Intermediate Bearded: 16-27 1/2", mid season.
MTB - Miniature Tall Bearded: 16-27 1/2, mid-late season.
BB - Border Bearded: 16-27 1/2", late bloom season.
TB - Tall Bearded: over 27 1/2", late bloom season.
For a person smitten by iris or senselessly in love with them, it is great fun to describe them accurately. Thus Amoena (pronounced a-mean-a) means white standards and colored falls. Bicolor means light to medium standards, darker contrasting falls. Bitone means two tones of the same color. A Blend is two or more colors blended together. Flounces are appendages extending from the tip of the beard like little petals. Hafts are the top parts of the falls (surrounding the beard). Horns are spears extending from the tip of the beards. Luminata describes a wash of color in falls with paler veining; clear unmarked area on hafts; usually paler edge to petals. Neglecta describes blue standards and darker colored falls. Plicata describes a stippled or stitched margin color on lighter ground color. A Rebloomer is an iris that blooms in any other season in addition to its normal spring bloom time; also called remontant. Self describes an iris of one color. Space Ager (or Space Age) is an iris with flounces, horns or spoons. Spoons are spoon-shaped appendages extending from the beard. Style arms are the small stiff segments above the beards. Variegata describes a bloom with yellow standards and reddish colored falls.
Searching for the Perfect Iris
Now is a great time to plant iris. Look in the local greenhouses for some splendid varieties that are currently thriving in pots. Be aware that many of us routinely lift and divide some mature clumps after blooming and those rhizomes can be trimmed, cleaned, washed with a dilute bleach solution, dried and replanted. Ask around to other gardening friends to learn who is giving away well-established iris.
One of the best, and perhaps not well-known iris gardens offering rhizomes for sale, is that owned by Tina Muller and her daughters in Billings, Montana. Their website is informative, colorful and easy to use. The advantage to those of us who love these flamboyant plants is that she sells (very reasonably) rhizomes from plants that are cultivated in her garden, in the climate conditions of Billings. This means, at least to me that the plants are well adjusted to our cold winters, hot summers and generally wierd and unpredictable weather.
Tina offers a catalog by mail (request on the website) and she ships in late summer just in time for fall planting.