Sunday, April 15, 2007

Siberians - more than the hardy alternative

Iris sibirica 'Fond Kiss'

Iris sibirica 'Raindrop Melody'

Of all the cold hardy Iris, Siberians are my favorite. They are tough and can stand up to a lot of abuse from a northern environment. They are dependable and long-lived, growing well without much fussing. And like ornamental grasses, they add structure to beds, borders, and naturalistic plantings. Whether an Asian themed garden of contemplation, an eclectic cottage garden, a smartly dressed up townhouse, or a composition of meadow and wildflowers, Siberian Iris will be at home.

Iris sibirica 'Here Be Dragons'

Iris sibirica 'Banish Misfortune'

I bet I could even make them work in a garden devoted to succulents and cacti, taking into consideration their need for even moisture. Regular watering and full sun are their main requirements for good health. They appreciate a light feeding but it isn't crucial. Mine haven't been fed for four years and bloomed incredibly last year. I don't dead-head and leave the seed pods on, not for seed saving but because I like the way they look and their contrast to the foliage. A clean up of old foliage is really the only thing they require to be good looking for an entire season.

Iris sibirica 'Summer Revels'

Iris sibirica 'Pennywhistle'

Long ago, after a long day of volunteering at the Arboretum, I noticed Beth holding a small plant in her lap on our way home. Calling it modest looking was being overly complimentary to it as it looked like a few sprigs of a rough grass. As head of the bulb department, Beth had an excellent relationship with the head nurseryman for the Arboretum. When I asked about the plant, she said Alec had given it to her as a special gift and I had to believe her as it looked very demure. After consideration for its needs, we found a spot for it and planted it out.

It grew well but surprised me by going dormant that first winter, something I didn't know Iris did because my experience with Iris at that point had been with Beardeds and PCNs. Beth let me know that dormancy was the best time to divide Siberians as they don't like it and prefer to remain in place without being disturbed. She also said dividing can set back their flowering. I was not being impressed with this little plant.

Spring came and our little plant grew, sending up more shoots than the previous year, and I could imagine it becoming a robust specimen in the future. I also, I swear, thought I could see it becoming a bit saucy. We were proud of it and my interest grew alongside it.

It flowered its first spring with us and it knocked me in the head with what an Iris could be, that the world of them was a great deal larger than I had imagined. They were deep blue, in a shade between navy and royal, and looked like tropical butterflies had graced us with their visit. Such a pretty plant.

A piece of the original Iris has been in every garden since, and is highlighted in a prominent bed in the front garden here in New York. It grows like a dream with minimal care and is a joy to have. It is also a living reminder of many special people, places, and times.

Iris sibirica 'Ships Are Sailing'

Iris sibirica 'So Van Gogh'
This is the perfect name for an amazing plant

The plants in the pictures are the incredible work of Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer of Joe Pye Weed's Garden. Their hybridizing is boldy breaking a trail that hasn't been traveled before and they must be using an unknown alchemy to achieve these results. Horticulture Magazine wrote an article about them here and here.

Additional information can be found at The Society for Siberian Iris, including a list of commercial sources. The Society also has a page here devoted to awarding-winning Siberian Iris.

My final thought is this: there is no letter "e" in sibirica but there are 3 "i's". Anything else is wrong.

Tomorrow: More Iris - the lesser knowns and forgotten ones.


Apple said...

I have always loved irises. I have some purple bearded that I was given two years ago that are multiplying. I enjoy the foliage after the flowers rare done. If the weather even improves I hope to help myself to some that my son has growing at his house.

Kathy said...

The Siberians are the easiest for me because of our high water table and clay soil. I have one called Jay Bird, and I just saw several others that I must have.

Craig said...

I am always hoping when I read other posts or create my own that they are inspirational in some way. I started following the developments at Joe Pye Weed's Garden 7 years ago and it has been pleasurable spectating for me.

However - their plants are not cheap, in fact I would say they are some of the priciest plants around and real budget busters. Many of their plants run in the $10-$18 dollars per plant range with their newest '06 and '07 releases topping out at $35 each. My beds are very full now so I don't buy many plants anymore. For that reason, I might want to splurge for a few of their Iris, knowing they would be my only plant purchases for the year.

Do I think they are worth the money? Absolutely! I just wish I could afford to buy every plant they offer. I'm not questioning their pricing, only my inability to buy everything I've seen.

Linda Lunda said...

WOW... those are stunning!
I would like to have them al in my garden.