Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why think about iris in July?

The July garden around here - as far as perennials and shrubs go - is mostly about black-eyed Susans, garden phlox, Oriental lilies, tiger lilies, althea and the beginning of the Hydrangea paniculata season.  So why on earth would you think about bearded iris, which bloom in April and May?

The reason is that many mail order firms cut off their ordering season for bearded iris on July 31.  That's because the plants are dormant and can be safely dug and shipped.  Also, getting them in the ground then will allow for establishing good clumps the next year.

In the photo above is one of my favorite bearded types - 'Dusky Challenger'.  This beautifully branched iris was introduced in 1986 by Schreiner's in Oregon.  In 1992, it won the prestigious Dykes Medal for the best bearded iris.  The flower stalks measure 39 inches tall and produce large, dark purple flowers.  I'm pretty sure the flowers are a deeper color in cooler climates than Georgia.  Still, this is a stunning flower for the April-May garden.

I have long had a love for dark purple irises.  I have an exquisite Louisiana iris that is deep, deep purple and looks like a jewel; I don't know its name, as it was given to me by a friend who had gotten it from another friend.  I once thought I had hit the jackpot in the dark bearded iris category.  I had gone to a garden in Michigan and had fallen in love with a deep purple,  almost black bearded iris.  I gave the gardener a check and asked her to send me five fans when the time came to dig.

I planted the iris in a large container, and the next year, strong healthy leaves emerged.   I could hardly wait to see my black beauty.  But when the color started showing, I realized there was nothing dark or purple about the flowers.  They were instead a two-toned brown and mustard.  I do believe this is the last iris on earth I would have ever chosen to grow.

All was not lost, though.  Mixed in with the rhizomes were some roots of a lovely blue aster I've enjoyed now for years.  It blooms twice - in June and again in September - and withstands our Georgia heat and humidity well.

The above photo was furnished to me by Argyle Acres, an iris grower I visited on a trip to Texas.  They're a good mail order source, and you can also buy 'Dusky Challenger' from Iris City Gardens, a vendor in Primm Springs, Tennessee, outside Nashville, Tennessee.

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