Friends and family who visit
my garden when
the Iris is bloom, often exclaim, “Aren’t these
colorful! What type of Iris are they?” They are
referring to the Siberian Irises, which are planted
in long drifts above the bog garden path. Apparently,
for all their graceful beauty, with flowers poised
like resting butterflies on tall, reed-like stems,
they are not truely known to the, average gardener.
Many times in recent years I
wonder if this type of Iris obtains all the attention
it deserve. Not only are Siberians unsurpassed
for delicate beauty when planted enrnasse,but
individual clumps of them make excellent companion
plant in the perennial border. They flower at
the same time as the Tall Bearded varieties but
for the most part are at their peak just -after-
the latter have passed the height of’ bloom. When
established they require less attention than almost
any other perennial, and are virtually free from
disease or insect troubles and make charming cut
flowers.The original Siberian Irises came from
Central Europe and Asia, where they grew as meadow
plants. The present day hybrids will do well in
almost any type of soil, whether it is clayey
or sandy, provided adequate amounts of humus are
mixed into the soil and the drainage is good.
While they are not water loving (like the Japanese
type) they will tolerate water better than Bearded
Iris, and therefore can be used equally well in
dry spots or beside pools or bogs. They thrive
best in full Sun.
The preferred time for planting
Siberians is late September. Where possible, it
is better to buy small clumps or divisions of’
about five sets of leaves each rather than single
roots. These Irises resent being moved, and if
the subdivisions are too small they require considerable
time to become established and may not bloom until
the second or third year after planting. If the
divisions, which you receive from a nursery, are
very small, plant three or more of them, not more
than two or three inches apart so that they will
quickly form a clump. When planting Siberian Irises,
always keep in mind that they show off to better
advantage if left undisturbed for five or six
years, so be careful to select the best spot for
them before planting.
The roots of these Irises are
long and fibrous, resembling those of other types
of perennials rather than those of Irises. Accordingly,
the roots must not be allowed to dry out at the
time of planting. Be sure the hole is deep enough
so that the roots can be spread out and the soil
firmly packed around them to give anchorage. To
minimize heaving, it is advisable the first winter
to cover the newly set plants with light material,
such as bark or some type of local mulch.
Early in the spring, the old
withered foliage on established clumps of Siberians
should be removed promptly by cutting it off close
to the ground. This is quite necessary to give
the young foliage a chance to make its growth.
Be sure that the clump is kept free of weeds.
Otherwise, grasses -particularly Crabgrass
-may get a foothold right in the midst of a clump
of Siberians, pass unnoticed for a time, and easily
become so firmly entrenched that it is hard to
remove them without mutilating the clump.
To help older clumps maintain
their vigorous growth, a top-dressing of compost
and manure may be applied in the spring or after
flowering. Do not use lime. Siberians prefer
a neutral or slightly acid environment.
Because comparatively little
hybridizing has been done with Siberian Iris,
there are not the many varieties to choose from
at the local nursery than there are in other types
of Irises. The range of colors, up to the present
time, is more or less limited to various shades
of blue and purple, white and purplish red. For
the most part, these are cool, crisp, clear-cut
colors much needed in the garden.
Most of the modern varieties
can be obtained for a six dollars or less, and
it is better to buy three or more of one variety
in order to make an effective clump. A good collection
can be made up of the following varieties:
MABEL CODAY – Ruffled medium
blue with white signal
ERIC THE RED-Wine color, closest
approach to red.
CAESAR’S BROTHER handsome deep
purple, tall and startling.
SNOW QUEEN – Crisp white collected
form of I. sanguinea imported from Japan in 1900.
LADY VANESSA – Ruffled red-violet
falls, standards and styles light wine-red. White
TEALWOOD – Flaring velvet purple,
narrow upright foliage.
HELEN ASTOR -bright mauve pink.