Rodger Whitlock
Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:28:47 PST
On  9 Mar 04 at 9:31, Jane McGary wrote:

> The bulbous irises of the Xiphium section are represented in our
> gardens mostly by "Dutch" irises, which don't persist here over many
> years since their winter-growing foliage gets frozen. Far better is
> the "English" (actually Spanish) Iris latifolia, which comes in a
> number of color selections and doesn't make growth until spring. It
> should be a standard border plant in Mediterranean climate gardens.

"English" irises are derived solely from the Spanish native I.
xiphioides (I. latifolia), and their color range is restricted to the
blue-purple axis, with at least one good white cultivar 'Mont Blanc'.
They have a reputation for being temperamental, in that they sulk
and die away in some gardens while thriving in others, for no
discernable reason. They do well in my garden, and I suspect that
they do not like intense summer drying off. (My garden was a swamp
forty years ago and to this day there's a hint that water lies not
too far below the surface.)

"Spanish" irises constitute a third commercial group derived solely 
from I. xiphium iirc (if I recall correctly). A more limited color 
range than the Dutch irises. (This group seems to be almost 
impossible to buy anymore, though the late Doris Page once remarked 
that sometimes the boxes of "Dutch" irises sold cheaply in grocery 
stores would turn out to be Spanish irises. I've never been so 

The point of my remarks is that while it's true that "English" 
irises are Spanish in their ancestry, to call them "Spanish" irises 
conflicts with established usage and may confuse the unwary.

For the record, "Dutch" irises are hybrids of complex origin,
including I. xiphium, I. tingitanum, and perhaps others in their
ancestry. They come in a wide range of colors: white, yellow,
purple/blue, bronze, etc. 

> Iris unguicularis is increasingly grown in the Pacific Northwest,
> though it can be expected to suffer in our colder winters. (I keep
> some in the bulb frame as insurance.) 

It's been in cultivation here in Victoria for as long as my knowledge 
goes back -- nearly thirty years -- and, I suspect, for much longer 
than that.

I've read that it flowers more prolifically if you cut the foliage 
away in July so the summer sun can bake the rhizomes.

> Its close relative I. lazica is more cold-hardy and flourishes
> here, as do most plants from the Pontic region, its home. It grows
> well in part shade but flowers better in sun, though its evergreen
> foliage can sunburn in the latter situation. It blooms in early
> spring and unlike I. unguicularis has little fragrance.

I. lazica is a good doer: I have enormous clumps that were planted
out 15 years ago and have done well even in conditions of not-very-
good winter drainage. Unfortunately, it is an unkempt plant not
suitable for the more carefully groomed gardens. Moreover, the
rather washy flowers appear at a time when much else is flowering; I
cannot place it in the front rank of iris species. 

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate

on beautiful Vancouver Island

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