Iris danfordiae: Yellow is the new blue

Yellow dwarf iris

Iris danfordiae are a yellow-flowered reticulata iris.

One of my favourite early spring flowers is Iris reticulata. I love everything about them–their scent (as sophisticated as any French perfume), their size (so cute!) and their deep bluish purple colouring accented with a bright yellow stripe and delicate black spots running down the centre of each petal. Then I discovered Iris danfordiae.

These equally small, beautifully scented, hardy and easy-to-grow dwarf irises have one singular attribute that makes these a must-have in the early spring garden–you can actually see them. There’s no losing sight of these babies in a dark, leaf strewn bed. Planted in a grouping, they’ll glow like fireflies in an otherwise sullen garden.

Despite the fact that they look quite fragile, Iris danfordiae are pretty resilient. They’re happy in average (albeit well-draining) soil located in full sun to part shade. Glen Echo Nurseries reports that they’re even “somewhat” tolerant of urban pollution. Since they grow only 4 to 6 inches tall, you may want to pot some up in a raised container or plant them in a terraced rock garden to bring them closer to nose height.

Iris danfordiae are early risers, poking up in Southern Ontario in March. Even though they’re bright, they are small, so to get maximum show from them, try these ideas:

Amp up the contrast: Plant a lot of them in a single grouping and add a dark mulch (as seen in the photos) to emphasize their colouring.

Get the timing right: Create a natural, woodland-like grouping by planting them randomly (but in a tight grouping) with other early spring blooms like snowdrops and early crocuses.

Think like a fashionista: Play off colours and double your fragrance power by planting up a deep blue-glazed container with a mixture of Iris reticulata and Iris danfordiae mulched with lime green glass marbles (or English ivy if you can get your hands on it).

I have one word of caution about these plants: You won’t get consistent blooms year after year, unfortunately. Their bulblets need several years to mature. So if you want a fairly reliable show every spring, hedge your bet by adding new bulbs to your bed every fall.

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