As the tall bearded iris come into bloom in our area, I am again amazed at the number of old fashioned iris still thriving where they were planted decades ago. Most are of the pale lavender or the pale yellow variety. Since these iris came into popularity many changes have developed in the iris world.

If you look at blooming cultivars in plant centers or mail-order catalogs, the variations in iris color are amazing. Iris can be found in white, and a purple so dark it is called black. Cultivars come in yellow, red, blue, orange, and purple, or the colors of the rainbow (justly so as Iris was the rainbow goddess). Only daylilies can compete with iris in hardiness and in the color range of flowers, which is why they are also so popular.

In iris the standards, or the three upward reaching petals, can be of a different color from the falls, or the three downward extending petals. If the standards are white and the falls a different color, the iris is an amoena type. The petals can be ruffled, laced, veined, plicata or solid. Plicata is when the falls have a second color dotting or stippling over a base color. The beards, or fuzzy mounds on the falls, can also be different in color from the fall. Colors can gently wash into another or be streaked as in the blue and white iris, ‘Batik.’

Finding a favorite is difficult, but every year the American Iris Society’s members’ vote on their favorite iris. These are published as the top one hundred iris of the year.

If you want to check out other favorite iris go to their website. The site also contains photos of new iris and many links to iris growers. The many iris award winners are listed here, too, including the very prestigious Dykes Medal winners. Each year only one iris is selected as the best iris. Each iris considered for the Dykes Medal has to have won another iris award and proven itself in the garden. Iris judges determine the winner.

If you want to see the flower before you buy, you can purchase iris grown in containers. However, you can mail order iris in the fall. They are planted in July or August to allow the roots time to reestablish before cold weather. Choose a location that gets at least a half-day of sun. They are planted with the top of the rhizome or fleshy root, showing. If you get them a little too deep, the iris will probably adjust themselves. Irises often skip blooming the season after they’ve been planted, but need to be divided every three to four years. You will soon have plenty of iris to share.

When the iris bloom they are so wonderful I want to buy many more. In mid-summer when they are very ugly, I swear I’m going to rip them all out. Iris don’t do well in mixed flower beds as they don’t need the gardener to water them in the summer. They are susceptible to fungal diseases and rots, and their leaves can get ratty looking over the summer, so a bed by themselves often works best. They don’t do well in very damp sites, and need full sun to bloom their best.