Two of the most beautiful winter flowering bulbous Iris are, fortunately, two of the easiest to grow.
Iris ‘Harmony’ is a hybrid between Iris histrioides, from a small area in north central Turkey and the more widespread Iris reticulata, a native of the Caucasus, northern and eastern Turkey, north eastern Iraq and Iran.
‘Harmony’ has sapphire blue standards and royal blue falls. White stripes surround a thin raised yellow ridge on the falls. The flowers, held on 15cm tall stems, have a delicate primrose fragrance.
In my garden these jewels of the bulb world grow in a hot dry garden bed with small dry climate rock garden plants. This bed is watered only once or twice a year, just enough to keep the dwarf shrubs and perennials alive. The Iris themselves need no summer water at all. As my soil is naturally very acid I add a good dusting of ground limestone to the soil before planting.
The bulbs increase prolifically and where I planted single bulbs a few years ago there are now up to twenty flowering sized bulbs in each clump.
Iris ‘George’ is another hybrid from the same parentage with rich purple flowers. It is a bit taller and is just as vigorous. During the dull grey days of winter the colour can look a bit leaden but given a glimmer of sunshine it sparkles.
Iris histrioides grows wild in a small area in Amasya Province which, although close to the Black Sea has hot dry summers and cold winters due to its altitude. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ is only form of Iris histrioides I grow. The soft mauve grey flowers have an indescribable luminescence and the intricate spotting on the falls adds to its beauty. It is a little slow to build up but otherwise holds no terrors.
I grow about a dozen forms of Iris reticulata from the rather thin textured white of ‘Natasha’ to the dark ‘Purple Gem’ and the soft blue ‘Cantab’. All do well in my garden as long as their few wants are taken care of. They are planted 12-15 cm deep in well drained soil which is given minimal summer supplementary irrigation.
Whilst these Iris do well in pots for a season or so they are difficult to keep happy if grown this way in the long term. I do dig the occasional clump in when it’s in bud, put it in a pot and enjoy it inside the house for a week or so before planting it back in the garden. Sometimes I’ll split and replant congested clumps soon after flowering.