Could this be the most photogenic flower ever?

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.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’ in bud

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!

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

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.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

There are three larger lower ‘fall’ petals. They shoot out at a diagonal, and become more horizontal as the flower ages.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

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.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

Here it is even closer.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

This petal got damaged in the high winds, but it is still beautiful.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’ with a damaged petal

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.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’: petal detail

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.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

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!

Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ in bud.

Do you see the blue veining?

Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ in bud.

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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53 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    Ah, what a joy these bulbs are and your photos convey your delight in them too! Lovely!

  2. What joy! It looks like the middle of spring in your photos. I will have to try and find some of these for next year to plant in my window box outside my kitchen window. I didn’t know there were iris that bloom this early. Well, this early for you – not so much for us. Thanks for spreading the cheer.

    1. If you can get hold of them I am sure you will love them, Cindy.

  3. We have these, too. They provide such early delight

    1. I’d forgotten they were so early. So lovely to have some blue. Next year I need some daffodils alongside.

      1. They go well together

      2. I love this about gardening – what you learn from one year feeds into the next, then you might forget it for a while and make the same discovery all over again!

      3. And what we learn from each other, too. ~ Jo

      4. Yes, it is lovely to share our experiences and compare notes, and enjoy one anothers’ little treasures!

  4. Susan Beard. says:

    I have a couple of lovely pots of Irises too.

    1. Aren’t they gorgeous? They will be a permanent fixture now!

  5. Ann Mackay says:

    The best ‘boing’ in the world! What a happy sight! 🙂

    1. It is, isn’t it? They’ve all opened now, and are really lovely.

  6. bcparkison says:

    Beautiful blue color. Kinda like waiting for a pot to boil.

    1. It is – like milk, it suddenly goes!

  7. It is the most gorgeous flower!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it too, Angela!

  8. Christina says:

    Mine have just opened here too. I often miss them in the garden plus they don’t always come back each year for me (you’ve been lucky with your two in the garden) so I decided to plant into pots, just like yours they always manage to open their buds when my back is turned.

    1. I noticed today that the ones in the ground seem to have multiplied – bonus!!

  9. Angela says:

    Gorgeous. I adore iris of any lineage.

    1. These are the only one I grows, but I am always tempted by the big bearded ones.

  10. I think I might grow some next year…

    1. I would really recommend them. They are so easy to grow (like all spring bulbs, I suppose), but they just have such intricacy.

  11. I think it is! Irises are such beautiful flowers!

    1. Aren’t they? It is a group I maybe need to explore more of!

  12. M.B. Henry says:

    Wow!!! That’s some nice color to add to a winter day! Beautiful shots

    1. They make it very easy for me!

  13. Such exquisite detail on such tiny flowers Ali. What fabulous photos of iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ in bud waiting to unfurl and stretch in the sun.

    1. Isn’t it? You only notice these details when you grow them at home and have them planted close to the window, I think.

  14. Heyjude says:

    I have these and George and Harmony and J S Dijit which is similar to George, but slightly smaller and with orange markings. So lovely to see this early in the year.

    1. I like the ound sof ‘J S Dijit’! Love the name too!

      1. Heyjude says:

        I must get a decent photo of it, the last one I took was too blurry. Maybe I will take the macro lens outside today whilst it is sunny and quiet.

      2. Thank you Jude for photographing it – it is beautiful, and will go on my wishlist for next year!

  15. Such fabulous shades of blue. Mine have come up for the first time, very exciting, now I shall have to choose some more for next year.

    1. I love this about spring bulbs: that you can just grow new varieties next year, then you might rediscover old favourites the next year. Nothing is ever the same twice.

      1. The joy of gardening

  16. I do love these iris and my first one this year certainly went ‘boing’! One thing I’ve learnt, however, is try not to mix your purple varieties – they can clash rather oddly! I didn’t do it on purpose but the squirrels did it for me and I didn’t like the result!

    1. Yes, I think ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is quite difficult to combine. I will try to punctuate them with Narcissi next year I think.

  17. Gorgeous photos, I didn’t plant any iris reticulata so I’m vicariously enjoying yours! ☺ I just love how stylish and bold they are with their spots and strips at this time of year when everything else seems muted.

    1. They are incredibly stylish, aren’t they? I am really enjoying having early excitement in the garden.

  18. Clare Pooley says:

    I adore iris reticulata! I have a very dry, sunny and stony flower border and they love it there.

    1. Yes, they seem to really like those conditions, don’t they. I think I will try planting these bulbs out in all my dry, sunny, stony spots, after they have finished flowering.

  19. Cathy says:

    The close up of Katherine’s unopened buds are fascinating – I don’t think I have noticed before that you can see the veining before they open

    1. It is well worth having the pot near the window – I have noticed every little detail!

      1. Cathy says:

        I shall be potting up some irises for the Coop next year…

      2. Oh, lovely. I look forward to seeing them!

  20. lorna smith says:

    I retired and moved to the tropics, and what I miss most is Spring and the joyous renewal of life. The pics and descriptions of this Iris made me so happy; your description of the flower and its composite, each marking, pure poetry. ahhh and yes, i see the blue markings..
    So beautiful.flower and post; thank you.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Lorna. I am glad you enjoyed this post.

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