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Iris in the sunshine
Iris 'Gordon'
Iris ‘Gordon’

What a difference a fortnight can make! When I wrote about my hyacinths two weeks ago, they were a glimmer of indoor hope as I battened down the hatches for yet another day of lashing rain.

Now we’re into February, the evenings are just starting to lengthen, the sun feels a little stronger and people have begun to dare to say it feels as though spring is on its way. Right on cue, my first outdoor bulbs have come into flower –a delicious little dwarf iris called ‘Gordon’(see photo).

Irises are named after a Greek goddess who carried messages from the god Olympus to earth along a rainbow: appropriate really, as irises come in almost every colour imaginable. Despite the range of colours, irises are easily identified as they all have flower parts arranged in threes, and all have sword-like leaves. There are varieties for sun, for shade, for rockeries, borders and even some that will grow next to a pond or in a bog garden.

Iris in the sunshine
Iris in the sunshine

Generally those with bulbs like dry places, (e.g. the dwarf spring-flowering ones like ‘Gordon’, and the taller summer-flowering Dutch iris), and those with coarse roots like wetter environments (including the Siberian iris, and our native yellow flag iris).

Bearded irises are a law unto themselves; they have big chunky rhizomes close to the soil surface –they like a hot, sunny position. I have a soft spot for bearded irises –they grew abundantly in the poor, chalky soil of the south-facing garden in Buckinghamshire where I grew up. Their soft, papery, lilac-coloured flowers meant the start of summer proper; and their delicate scent, somewhere between plums and parma violets, always makes me smile. Just thinking of it now makes me long for June…

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