Iris

It’s iris season. While some take prized positions in well-planned perennial borders, other tall bearded iris spangle parking medians, flash out of gravel wastelands in neglected foundation beds, march along driveways.

Iris shares its name with a Greek goddess of the sea and sky. In mythology, she is a messanger, able to travel from the underworld to the heavens and is associated with the rainbow. She brings water to the clouds. The water she carries is also poured on those who perjure themselves, putting them to sleep. Here she is depicted in Morpheus and Iris, an 1811 painting by Pierre Narcisse Guerin.

As a member of the garden pantheon, Iris has a lot to recommend her. Irises generally require little care, are long-lived, and multiply easily. And who can quarrel with the immense variety of color they offer?

Iris do best in full sun, and prefer a neutral, well-draining soil.

They perform best on a lean diet. A low-nitrogen fertilizer may be applied when bloom stalks appear and about a month after blooming.

Iris should be divided every 3-5 years. The best time to divide is right after blooming.

Remove dead leaves and spent bloom stalks, but don’t compost them. Leave the rest of the fan standing, as the greenery feeds the rhizome.

OK, it’s true: the bloom season is short, especially if the weather turns brutally hot and windy. A well-planned perennial garden, however, will have something to capture our hearts soon as the iris fade.

The Miserable Gardener , in a blog entry titled “After the Rain,” has written off iris. But even Mr. Miserable makes an acception: Iris pallida. My favorite variety is “Variegata.” The leaves glow all season.

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