For the five years we have lived at this house, I have admired two lonely little Iris reticulata which are planted under the bay window.
I have to make a special visit to this pair of dwarf irises, as they cannot be easily seen from inside the house. February weather means that I often get dressed up in coat, gloves and scarf just to make the 3 metre journey to admire these beautiful specimens.
So this year, I decided to grow a couple of little pots packed full of Iris reticulata, and to place them just outside the French windows in our kitchen. They can be greeted and admired with ease, from the cosy warmth of the kitchen table, with a steaming mug of tea in my hand.
This was the best garden plan I have ever made! Their little green snouts started to push up through the gravel in late December, and they have been providing joy ever since!
They are the most photographed bulbs ever, and that was even before a single flower made an appearance.
Yesterday, without any warning at all, this happened!
Like with so many spring bulbs, you spend hours watching over them, singing to them, telling them little stories, begging them to open. Then just as your back is turned (you’ve put the kettle on, or just nipped to the loo), Boing! The most magnificent little flower has sprung open!
What a handsome little flower it is. It seems designed to show off its three-dimensions, with three sets of petals each setting out along a different plane.
Iris reticulata has three upright ‘standard’ petals. These are the three paler blue petals that are rolled up and vertical, at the centre of the flower.
There are three larger lower ‘fall’ petals. They shoot out at a diagonal, and become more horizontal as the flower ages.
The lower lip has dramatic tie-dye markings, in white, yellow and darker blue. The petal is curled inward like a slipper. Each of the three ‘falls’ has its own upturned hood, which is paler, and is slightly fringed.
Here it is even closer.
This petal got damaged in the high winds, but it is still beautiful.
Injury often reveals a new dimension. This little iris is no exception. We can appreciate the stripes and spots all the more for being downward-facing.
A couple of hours after the first Iris opened, it was joined by a friend. I have a whole potful to look forward to, though of course they will wait until my back is turned before springing open.
I am watching out for another variety, ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ to open. In my gazing, I noticed that you can see the markings of the ‘fall’ petals through the bud!
Do you see the blue veining?
I think I am going to have another supermodel soon…
Iris reticulata could not be easier to grow. I chose a terracotta pot that is fairly shallow and wide, but you can use any container. I mixed multipurpose compost with horticultural grit and planted the bulbs in two layers. They should be planted at least twice the depth of the bulb, but you can go deeper. Then I topped the pot with a couple of centimetres of grit, to deter moss or weeds from growing, and to look nice.
The bulbs were planted in autumn, and then have been just left alone. Apart from me gazing at them longingly.
My favourite varieties of Iris reticulata are:
‘Alida’ : pale blueish lilac
‘Katherine Hodgkin’: ice-blue and white with a hint of turquoise
‘George’: rich purple
‘Pauline’: an even darker plush purple
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