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The word iris means rainbow and is the flower of the Greek goddess iris who is the messenger of love. Irises come in many colours from white to near black and with over 200 species and countless cultivars there is plenty of choice for every gardener. The habitat of irises varies a lot some coming from desert areas some from swamps and others from cold northern regions.

Irises are classified into two major types, Rhizome and bulbous. Rhizome irises are thickened stems that grow horizontally either underground or partially underground these include bearded iris beardless iris and crested iris. Bulbous iris grows from bulbs that require a period of dormancy after they have bloomed. These irises are typically smaller than rhizome irises and usually produce smaller blooms.

Siberian iris is one of my favourite types, tall graceful beardless flowers with grassy foliage. They are suitable for borders wild gardens and along pond edges. Originating in an area spanning from northern Italy, across Turkey and into Russia, Siberian iris are one of the easiest to grow, their graceful stems, blooms and neat habit of growth make them the most adaptable iris for the perennial border. Their foliage is attractive without the addition of any flowers.

Siberians perform well in most garden soils but do best if you provide a rich soil containing plenty of organic matter. They do best in full sun as long as the soil does not become too dry in summer. Ones to try are Helen Astor and Butter and sugar. They can be propagated by division in autumn or by seed sown in autumn so it can receive a cold spell before germination.

Another favourite type is “iris ensata” or Japanese water iris which forms a dense clump of erect foliage with flower 10-12cm in width in mid-summer. These irises need a moist to wet soil to thrive and are at their best in the margins of ponds or streams. Propagate by division of the rhizomes from mid-summer to autumn. One to try is Rose Queen.

If you like dark colours try Iris chrysographes or black flowered iris which has very deep blackish –violet flowers in early summer and will tolerate dryer conditions than Siberian or ensata types. Propagate by division in early autumn or seed sown in early winter to germinate the following spring.

Guy Young

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