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The Bearded Iris: Early Summer’s Colorful Show

 
 
  ‘Coral Sunset Tall
Bearded Iris
 
 
  ‘Conjuration’ Tall
Bearded Iris
 
 
  ‘Celebration Song’
Tall Bearded Iris
 
 
  ‘Mesmerizer’ Tall
Bearded Iris
 

In the legends of the ancient Greeks, Iris—goddess of the rainbow and a messenger of the gods—shuttled between heaven and earth atop colorful arcs. Wherever she stepped on earth, iris flowers sprang up in all the hues of the rainbow. To modern gardeners, these beloved flowers are, in a sense, gifts from the gods.

Of the many kinds of iris, the bearded ones, which are perfectly at home in both rambling cottage gardens and formal borders, are by far the most common.

The orchid-like flowers of bearded iris have six petals as do all types of iris. The three inner ones that point up are called standards, and three outer ones that point down are called falls. The beards are the hairs that grow in the center of the falls. A healthy flowering stalk produces 9 to 12 buds on short side branches, and each flower lasts about three days.

Most bearded iris have one bloom period, lasting about a month, but some newer introductions have the capacity to bloom a second (or third) time. Reblooming iris are extra-vigorous growers. They bloom in spring, earlier than normal, then again in summer, and, depending upon your climate, perhaps again in fall. Plants in coastal gardens can bloom continuously for 9 to 10 months, though 4 to 5 months of bloom is more typical. Most of these are tall types, while a few dwarf kinds also qualify as re-bloomers.

Iris are available in virtually every hue: sky blue to the deepest ocean blues, luxurious lavenders, regal purples, blazing coppers, radiant reds, saffron yellows, and soft to rosy pinks. Then there are the innumerable intricacies of color combinations, multi-hued beauties, contrasting beards, and other unique color patterns.

All bearded iris spread from rhizomes, roots that spread horizontally right at the soil’s surface. The gray-green leaves are long, flat, and pointed, and they overlap in a fan shape.

Plants range in height from 4 inches to more than 36 inches, a characteristic that gives iris enthusiasts a convenient way to categorize them: dwarf (4 to 15 inches), intermediate (15 to 28 inches), and tall (more than 28 inches). The tall types, far and away the most popular, bloom in April in mild-winter regions, and as late as June in the north, but in most of the country their peak bloom is May.

Considering their beauty, long bloom period, durability, and range of colors, there’s no reason not to include iris in any sunny planting!

Some tall bearded iris varieties feature two colors on one flower for an interesting color contrast.

 
   
   
‘Edith Wolford’
Bearded Iris
  ‘Moon Journey’ Tall Bearded Iris  

Credit: National Gardening Association