I’ve always thought irises were otherworldly. So it didn’t come as a surprise when I learned that, in Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow. With this in mind, planting some of these flowers in your garden might be a good idea on several levels.
What was more surprising to me was that the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service had gone into great detail about this flower’s romantic background. Iris, back in the day, was married to Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. She was also mother of Eros, the god of love. The article goes on to ponder the appeal of love being a child born of the rainbow and the wind. Who knew the USDA could get so warm and fuzzy?
Purple prose aside, irises can be a practical choice for the garden as well as a beautiful one. Here are a few reasons why:
• They love hot, dry conditions which is a good thing considering the forecast for this summer’s weather.
• Irises come in a gazillion colour combos. These include some of the best choices in purple-blacks for those who love a touch of Goth in the garden (click on ‘Before The Storm’, below, for one example).
[FULL DISCLOSURE: I always thought I wanted to come back as the person who makes up the names for lipsticks and nail polishes. But now I’d be happy naming irises. Though I’m not sure I can do any better than Love Power, Art Project, or Before The Storm.
• You can have blooms almost all summer long. Work with an iris specialist when making your choices and, with a combination of irises, you can have an evolving show of spectacular blooms from late April to the end of June and then from late summer into fall.
• Their long, blade-like leaves are pretty amazing, too. Irises are unusual in that both sides of their leaves are used for photosynthesis. Their long, tall, elegant shapes make them a lovely flower to blend with tall grasses for a soft look or, if you want drama, contrast them with mounding perennials like sedums.
In Southern Ontario, check out Trails End Iris Gardens, a ten-acre iris farm close to Brantford. If you want to drop by, time your arrival during the weekend of June 6th, 7th and 8th, the peak bloom period for Tall Bearded varieties of irises. (Dwarf irises, like those shown in the photos above and below, have already peaked at this point.) At any other time, you’ll need to call to make an appointment. For other nursery options in Ontario, visit the Canadian Iris Society for a brief list of reputable options.
Here are some of my favourite dwarf irises. Click on any photo for details.