My poor irises…

I love irises. I’ve loved irises for years, ever since I had to draw one for A level art. ‘Really look at your flowers, girrrls,’ said the art teacher, sounding disconcertingly like Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie, and I did. Wonderful things.

A couple of years ago P and I created a new iris bed, and I was able to prove to him that you can move irises and have them flourish the next year as long as the rhizomes are moved quickly and there’s no messing about. They love their new bed and flower their socks off.

I was waiting for the big white fleur de lys to flower, and it almost got there:

And then we had hail. Big hail. Oh – and horrendous gales. And it was cold.

So you can imagine what that flower looks like now. (Sigh – but that’s gardening; you’ve got to develop a certain level of fatalism, plus there are lots more flower heads, and the weather should improve. Shouldn’t it?)

Of course, the rest of the irises weren’t immune from damage, so it’s just as well I’d been taking shots earlier in the week:

I should say now that I have no idea what variety these are, so if anyone can help, please let me know (not even sure of the category: they’re either a short Tall Bearded or a tall Intermediate). When I moved into my last flat, the garden had been part of a building site. It was wild, about 6ft high in nightmarish overgrowth, except for one patch where the builders had kindly built a huge bonfire. I was working on the house, so I left the garden till the very early spring, and then we slashed and burned what had not died back. This process revealed the presence of a small patch of irises right at the very back, so I dug them up, split the rhizomes, moved them to a sunnier spot, and they took off.

When I moved here in 2002 I brought a couple of the irises with me in pots, and they stayed in their pots while I worked on this house. I put them in the garden a couple of years later (sorry, irises), and they liked it, but I chose the wrong place – too windy and not quite sunny enough. Now they are in the best possible place, though perhaps I should build them a shelter!

They bring a painterly touch to the bottom garden, even on the gloomiest day:

I have others, of course, and I’m always on the lookout for more, though quite where they would go, I’m not sure. Some bearded irises can be a bit thuggish, and one of the reasons I particularly like these is that they are not. And the markings on their velvety deep-purple falls are glorious.

Not bad for a freebie.

I must admit that I actually bought the big white, at a friend’s NGS open day. I’ve got some Langport Wren which I also bought, this time at a plant fair at the Tradescant Trust where the Iris Society were selling some unlabelled plants from a deceased member’s garden – but they’re over now and, to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much I like them.

But when I left my last garden I did make a huge gardening mistake. I got the wrong iris patch and inadvertently brought two of the same kind. I had meant to bring some from a clump of beautiful brown irises – sounds bizarre, but they were gorgeous. Again, I’ve no idea what they were, and they were more freebies. I didn’t inherit them, though. They’d been thrown in a skip at the Chelsea Flower Show. I took them out when we were packing up (I used to be involved with a specialist bookshop, and one of the major perks of the dreadful hours, vast crowds, sheer hard work and often-inappropriate weather at the Flower Show – we would start some days with a hot toddy at 7 in the morning, just to warm us up – was being there at the end for the crash down). I’m still looking for them in catalogues, but I’ve never quite seen them again… One day, one day…


14 Comments Add yours

  1. That’s a stunning iris, such a lovely combination of colours. There was a gorgeous brown iris at Malvern that both gardening SIL and I fell in love with. We both have rather shady gardens with heavy soil, but plan to grow irises as and when we can create a sunny border with good drainage. Your iris and that brown one would look stunning together, with the right companions. Mmm…

    1. kate says:

      It’s a smasher, isn’t it? It did look lovely with the missing brown – you’ve motivated me to hit t’internet… (since I couldn’t go anywhere near Malvern, grrrrr)…

  2. Harriet says:

    Beautiful irises – did any white ones survive the stormy weather? One day when I’m very rich(!) I’m going to have an iris bed. But for the moment it has to be tulips – they’re a bit cheaper! Love your description of working at Chelsea – I can just imagine the awfulness of it all.

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they lovely? The second flower is just opening on the Big White, and it’s not too badly damaged – yet…

      Some day I’ll have to do a ‘spilling the beans on Chelsea’ post – the crowds, the bad tempers, the need for whisky at 7 in the morning, the diva-like behaviour of some star gardeners – my lips are sealed – and the upside, too… I don’t expect it’s changed much since I did my last stint!

      1. Oooh, that would be worth setting up a new anonymous online identity, just to spill the beans!!

        1. kate says:

          Hmmm – but my experience at Chelsea was some time ago. I did, however, have the pleasure of meeting one of my gardening heroes – Geoff Hamilton (sigh). Perfect gentleman, and a delight to work with. Still got my signed Organic Gardening. Ditto C. Lloyd. They stood out.

          So did the nightmares. Especially XX, who threw a wobbly because it was a bit cold and we couldn’t provide a lap rug while she sat and signed books. Obviously her garden was centrally heated.

      2. Well I’m glad Christo and Geoff Hamilton didn’t disappoint. Perhaps I’m better off not knowing who the divas were, in case some of them are currently heroes of mine…

        1. kate says:

          If we meet in the real world I might tell you more!

          We always reckoned you could tell what ‘celebrity gardeners’ were really like by how they behaved towards – um – ‘the little people’, if you like. Not me or my colleagues running the shop – though some were universally unpleasant – but the ordinary assistants. CL and GH were sweet to everyone. And you’re right – bad, drama-queen, diva behaviour can put you right off. I’m just glad I haven’t got a dry or damp garden, ahem.

      3. Oh no, really? I think that was the sound of one of my heroines falling off her perch… I used to work in an IT research lab, with loads of literally brilliant people (not me, btw, I was just management!). It was appalling the way most of them treated the support staff, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to do our jobs. My boss created a culture where this just wasn’t tolerated, and we became know as the people that treated “the little people” like, well, people. Funnily enough, we also got amazing help from them all… I hate arrogance. It would still be great to meet you in the real world though, even if you do topple a few more heroes!

        1. kate says:

          (Hm. Could be… hang on to the thought that maybe she was having an off day.)

          That’s bang on – exactly what I mean! I was brought up to believe that no one is better than anybody else, and ‘do as you would be done by’, and it was a real shock when I discovered how some people behave. I’m not surprised you got help back, because – to bung in another cliche – what goes around really does come around.

          (Sorry about you know who…)

  3. Tony says:

    Hi Kate,

    Your iris’s look real nice, as does your blog. Nice clear pictures as well.


    1. kate says:

      Hi Tony, and thanks — but I only managed to get clear pictures of the iris because it was held down by two stakes…

      (Love those cacti in your latest post!)

  4. Lovely pics. Talking of G. Macrorrhizum albums – I was just in my friends garden and she was moaning about the self-same plant, saying that it had taken over the pot it was in and hidden two grasses that were planted with it – and after she had cut it down to nothing last autumn. What I would call a ‘thug’

    1. kate says:

      Thanks – and I’m glad I’m not the only moaner! It is definitely a thug, possibly even a Thug with a capital T. I had 17, gave 6 away – how come I’m back to 15 then?

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