One of the fundamentals of gardening is that it is a long-term exercise. If you want to make changes, the ideal time to do the planning is often as much as a year ahead. So June is a good time to reflect on May, a month that in my view belongs to the glorious iris.
May is undoubtedly a tricky month in the flower garden. The early spring excitement of snowdrops, primroses and bulbs has gone. The mid-summer promise from roses, clematis, and perennials has yet to come. So what do you fill it with?
Arriving at Flintstones a year ago was a revelation for me. An epiphany almost as I was introduced to the spectacular beauty of the iris. Not just one iris mind you but an impressive flow of them that emerged through May from the otherwise overgrown wilderness that our garden had become.
Spiky iris sentinels
Amidst all the early chaos of flower beds choked with weeds and lawn that had reverted to meadow, the spiky sentinels of the iris suddenly burst into vibrant life. First came a stand of mauve /yellow siberica Blue Magic against the almost black leaves of a 15-feet high Sambucus nigra.
A few days later came a smaller iris of delicate beauty – Delft Blue with its hazy blue pattern against a white background. Last year, it had been almost swamped by an invasive grass and just a few blooms came through. This year, with much more light and space, it flowered prolifically.
Close behind that came a much larger stand of tall bearded mauve irises that I am still struggling to put a name to. These live at the very top of our terraced garden and are all of five feet high – a great thick mass of flowers.
Incredible iris colours
Last year, I must have missed perhaps the most beautiful colour of them all — a small group now identified for me as Pacific Coast hybrid. But I certainly didn’t miss them this May! The petals of this low-growing star are mauve, fading at their edges to lilac and with a vibrant yellow-flecked tongue. And there’s the problem with irises — how to describe the incredible colours and the complexity of their shape with three lower and three upper petals.
Given the spectacular colouring, is no surprise that in ancient Greece the goddess of the rainbow was named Iris. In those days, people believed that the root could prevent tooth decay and cure a snakebite, while also overcoming fever and even epilepsy. Today, this versatile plant is used as a base for perfumes. An iris is undoubtedly much more than a between seasons gap-filler — for me it’s one of the stars of the entire year.
Fancy some? You can buy and plant irises in October / November and again in February / March. If you already have some, you can divide them in August once they have recharged from this year’s flowering. The man to tell you about technique is undoubtedly Monty Don. Check out this Gardeners World video.