We are in iris planting season, made apparent by the annual sales of the Monterey Bay Iris Society and the deluge of catalogs from iris growers.
Iris family (Iridaceae) is huge, with about 2,000 species distributed among 65 genera. The bearded irises, the most popular form, are hybrids based on the German Iris (I. germanica), the Sweet Iris (I. pallida) and the Hungarian Iris (I. variegata). Bearded irises are available in many sizes, colors, color combination and blossom types, thanks to the tireless work of professional and amateur hybridizers.
Today, we review the six horticultural classifications of the bearded iris, both to broaden appreciation of this popular garden plant and to suggest landscaping opportunities.
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris (MDB): These are smallest (up to eight inches tall), and earliest to bloom, with the crocus and dwarf daffodil. Each plant produces multiple stems, providing a great display that lasts for weeks.
Tall Bearded (TB): These, the largest and most popular of the bearded irises, grow to 27.5 tall and more. They are the last to bloom.
Medians: there are four “medians,” all created by crossing MDBs and TBs.
- Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris (SDB): Eight to sixteen inches tall. Blooms after the MDBs. As edging plants, they make a charming display. Their popularity with gardeners and hybridizers is growing, and new hybrids are appearing in great numbers.
- Intermediate Bearded Iris (IDB): Sixteen to 27.5 inches tall. Blooms over a long period, beginning after the SDBs and continuing during the TBs. These provide welcome smaller versions of the TBs for a different look in the garden.
- Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB): Also sixteen to 27.5 inches tall; blooms with the BBs and TBs, but produces smaller blooms. The MTB’s smaller flowers are perfect for smaller gardens and a more delicate look.
- Border Bearded (BB): Also sixteen to 27.5 inches tall; blooms late, with the TBs. This classification’s name suggests its role: these irises are desirable for the garden bed border, compact and floriferous, with ample colors and color combinations to support creative color effects in the landscape.
This quick review of the several kinds of bearded irises is drawn from Kelly Norris’s new book, “A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts.”
Last week, I mentioned the Annual Rhizome Sale of the Monterey Bay Iris Society, Saturday, August 10th (that’s today, from 9:00 to noon!). Visit the sale at Aptos Farmer’s Market, Cabrillo College, Aptos. It’s an exceptional opportunity to add tall bearded irises to your garden at very low cost, and chat with local iris enthusiasts.
Good mail order suppliers of iris rhizomes
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, near Salem, Oregon
Keith Keppel Iris, Salem, Oregon
Fred Kerr’s Rainbow Acres, North Highlands, California
Aitken’s Salmon Creek Gardens, Vancouver, Washington
Books on Irises (most available through Amazon.com)
The Iris Family: Natural History and Classification, by Peter Goldblatt and John C. Manning 2008
Irises, by James Parry 2006
Classic Irises And the Men And Women Who Created Them, by Clarence Mahan 2006
Irises: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia, by Claire Austin 2005
Wild Lilies, Irises, and Grasses: Gardening with California Monocots, by Nora Harlow, Kristin Jakob 2004
Iris, by Theodore James , with Harry Haralambou 203
Irises, by Sidney Linnegar, Jennifer Hewitt 2003
Iris: The Classic Bearded Varieties, by Claire Austin 2002
The Gardener’s Iris Book, by William Shear 2002
The Siberian Iris, by Currier McEwen, with Jean G. Witt 1996
The World of Irises, by Bee Warburton, Beatrice A. Warburton and Melba Hamblen (Eds.) 1978
The Iris Book, by Molly Price 1972
The genus Iris, by G. I. Rodionenko 1961
Iris culture and Hybridizing for Everyone, by Wilma Vallette 1961
The Iris, by N. Leslie Cave 1959
Iris for Every Garden, by Sydney B. Mitchell 1949
Irises. Their Culture And Selection, by Gwendolyn Anley 1946
The Iris: A Treatise on the History, Development, and Culture of the Iris for the Amateur Gardener, by John Caspar Wister 1930
The genus Iris, by William Rickatson Dykes 1913