Flower Arrangements Using Irises

We all know the Dutch flower paintings which include amongst them many fine examples of differently coloured irises. However, although this flower was represented in the carvings in Greek and Roman temples, and often included in medieval paintings (in the John Gerard herbal of 1599 no less than eighteen different irises were mentioned), it is only during the last hundred years or so that an enormous variety of irises have been put on the,market. This has led to many gardens now having a collection of irises. ‘Come and see the irises’, one’s host may say, as easily as he might say ‘come and see the roses’. Apart from a few of the larger gardens, this remark would not have been possible some years ago.

It is possible to have a different iris out during almost every month in the year, such is the scope of variety and colouring available. In the opening sentences of his lecture on Old and New Bearded Irises to the Royal Horticultural Society in June, 1965, Mr. H.T. Randall, C.B.E., extols their virtues both for spring and for cutting. ‘The genus Iris is of value and interest to the three main groups of gardeners in Britain today. First, to the great majority who wish to grow hardy plants which are not expensive, which give attractive flowers, and which do not require excessive care and attention. Secondly, to those who are keen on hybridising and the more scientific side of gardening. Thirdly, to that ever growing body of enthusiasts who indulge in the pleasant and harmless pastime of arranging flowers in receptacles of various kinds. The genus also provides excellent plants for every type of garden from the window box of the crowded city to the damp, untenanted spots in waterlogged places: for small or large pockets in rock gardens of any size: and for public and private gardens.Flower Arrangements Using Irises

For arrangements there can hardly be a more picturesque flower than the iris. Quite apart from the beautiful colourings, their shape alone, dignified and elegant, is of great value especially when they are to be arranged without other flowers. Added to this is also the charm and swordlike quality of the leaves. These are especially useful for contrast with other foliage.

Perhaps one small point about the lasting properties of the iris might be mentioned here. On the stem the flower which has been out longest may die a day or two after it is arranged, but if this is cut off, the other buds will open out and the whole beauty of the flower will come alive again. (This is only a small point, but I have seen a vase of irises looking sad and faded when all they needed was to have the dead flowers removed so that the buds could break open.)

Irises are one of the flowers which seem to approve of pin holders. Like chrysanthemums, they will last for over a week arranged on these as long as the water supply is kept well up over the base of their stems.

I have included here a list of specially recommended irises. These are known as ‘intermediates’ which means they grow, on the average, from about ten to twenty inches in height :

  • Austrian Sky, medium blue
  • Greenspot, white with a green spot on each fall
  • Lemon flare, creamy yellow
  • Lime grove, white with yellow edge to falls
  • Scintilla, pale ivory
  • Small Wonder, light blue

The following tall bearded irises are worth considering: (Many of them can be seen in the large collection at Kew.)

  • Arabi Pasha, deep cornflower blue
  • Belle Meade, blue plicata
  • Carnton, chestnut-red
  • Cliffs of Dover, milk-white, a great iris
  • Desert Song, primrose
  • Eleanor’s Pride, powder-blue
  • Elleray, bright yellow, tall, branched well but needs staking
  • Headlines, almost white standards and purple falls
  • Lady Ilse, pale blue
  • Lady Mohr, tall oncocyclus with delicate shades
  • Party Dress, soft pink
  • Patrician, a golden centred white
  • Patterdale, well branched, pale blue
  • Sable Night, black-violet
  • Starshine, blend of pastel shades
  • Staten Island, gold standards and reddish brown falls
  • Tarn Hows, cedarwood brown
  • Total Eclipse, tall, blue-black.

For additional information I shall again quote from the Royal Horticultural Society lecture already mentioned : The bearded irises are the most widely grown in gardens throughout the world : in these the greatest progress has been made by hybridisers during the last hundred years; and these offer, perhaps, the greatest scope for the hybridisers of the future . . . No one man or country can claim the exclusive credit for introducing hybrid irises to the gardening public ; but it is certain that during the nineteenth century nurseries in Western Europe were the first to grow and distribute them commercially and, what is more important, perhaps, to raise new cultivars in order to improve the genus. In France, for example, Jacques, Head Gardener at the Royal Neuilly Domaine near Paris, raised irises from seed before 1830, but he issued no catalogue and, as far as we know, gave no names to his seedlings. But in 1840 a French nurseryman named Lemon, who probably acquired some stock from Jacques, issued his first list of irises for sale.

‘Another great event in iris history occurred towards the end of last century when American gardeners began to import plants from Barr in England and Vilmorin in France. . .

‘Most of the bearded irises will do moderately well in partial shade but they all prefer full sunshine. They thrive in good soil which must, however, be well drained, and I cannot emphasize this requirement too strongly. In light or dark shades: rich brown irises are becoming more widely grown, and so are the reds which, I am glad to say, do not yet rival our post boxes in vividness: very dark cultivars, loosely called black, are adding depth of colour to many a garden, and so are the purple ones. In the past few years orange coloured seedlings have been raised, and while some gardeners think that these are too bright for the iris border, I predict a great future for them. Then we have a delightful range of orchid-pink and orchid-lavender cultivars which are destined for great popularity: the amoenas, with their white standards and coloured falls, of which Whole Cloth is a notable example : the ruffled, pale orchid lavender and white irises of which Rippling Waters was the first and might still be regarded as the finest . . .

‘The plants increase in size each year and should be dug up about every three years and divided. The divisions can then be replanted in well prepared ground and left for a further period. It is important in this country to leave the top of the rhizome (the hard body of the plant) above ground level and exposed to the sun, because the quality of the bloom each year is generally decided by the amount of ripening received by the rhizome in the previous summer. Should there be a shortage of sunshine in any summer — and this shortage has been known to afflict us in Britain! — it is a good plan to cut back iris leaves to half their length at the end of August so that the rhizomes may have a larger amount of the sunshine remaining . . . ‘A new race of irises, known as ‘filliputs’, have been grown at Wisley and in countless other gardens throughout the world. Paul Cook’s Greenspot, baria and Fairy Flax, together with Small Wonder, Lilliput and Tinker Bell by Geddes Douglas are popular everywhere because of their well formed and attractive flowers, their vigour and freedom of bloom and their reliability as garden plants.

‘Whereas years ago tall bearded irises were mostly off white or variations of mauve or violet (frequently mis-called blue), or variegatas with their yellow standards and brownish-red falls, or dullish yellows, nowadays they cover every colour of the spectrum. The white ones, like clothes washed by the latest detergents, have perfect whiteness: the blues have greater clarity, and range from pale Cambridge blue to the darker shades of Oxford.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.