1896, Irises In An Irish Garden by Burbridge

The Garden p.417, May 30, 1896


Under the name of German Irises there is grown in gardens a host of very variable and beautiful varieties, the best rivalling even the tropical Cattleyas and Laelias in size and colour, while they are far more easily grown and also more elegant in habit of growth and blossoming. To grow them no artificial heat nor shelter is requisite, since they are amongst the hardiest of all hardy evergreen flowers, and every cottager with a strip of front garden may readily have them before his door.

The so-called German Irises are supposed to be seminal forms of Iris germanica, but most of the finer and more variable forms bloom much later than that type and seem to be hybrids from other species, such as I. sambucina, I. squalens, and I. pallida. Another distinct species belonging to this group is I. florentina, an Italian plant with milk-white flowers, that has long been grown in Italy and S. France as the source of Orris root, a fragrant product afforded by the sun-dried rhizomes. I. albicans (Princess of Wales) is similar to the last, but flowers much later, and is of stronger growth with broader foliage, and it has large pure white floweis. Well planted on dry, warm soils all these German or Flag Irises are beautiful all the year round, for even when not in bloom their soft glaucous, sword-blade-like leaves are bold and eflfective in form. But these Bearded or Flag Irises may be grown in many beautiful ways. In Normandy you may see them happy and flowering freely planted on the tops of mud walls and on the ridges of the thatched cottages, and travellers tell us that in flowery Japan Iris tectorum (L tomiolophia) is grown in a similar manner. All these Irises may be planted in road-scrapings or mud or any good earth on walls and over gateways or doorways anywhere, and it is a new sensation to many to see their glaucous leaves and dainty flowers high up against the blue sky. There are but few plants better adapted for culture in window boxes, and masses of Flag Irises and Carnations or blue Pinks, the Irises growing up and the Carnations hanging down, are not easy to surpass in permanent effect of leafage and in beauty or fragrance when thsy are in bloom. Then by growing the early flowering dwarf or pigmy Flag Irises, such as the varieties of I. pumila, I. olbiensis, I Chamasiris, I. nudicaulis, etc.,you may obtain successional bloomicg from February till June. I saw lately a most beautiful collection of these Irises in Mrs. Burrow's garden at Dornden, near Merrion, Dublin, where they were planted some eight or ten years ago.

There are two broad rows of them, 50 yards long or more, an enormous clump of each kind, planted on either side of a sbghtly concave grass path, and backed here and there by fruit trees. I have seen flowers in the tropics in both forest and garden; I have seen Orchid houses full of colour at Chelsea, at Kew, and at St. Albans, but I never yet have seen such a superb picture of translucent Iris flowers in any garden before. I was so charmed that I took garden-loving friends to see them, and they also agreed that they never saw such exquisite Iris beauty before. It is the old story of old-fashioned flowers well and simply planted in a suitable position, and then left alone. All the great clumps are well flowered a yard or more across, several bearing thirty to fifty spikes apiece, but one special clump of a lovely lilac variety bore no less than eighty-three spikes thickly set with buds and open flowers. Besides the two great rows the Irises have wandered here and there to other portions of the garden. In one little border there are five or six great broad patches of I. pallida dalmatica bearing enormous soft lilac flowers, scented like Orange flowers. Here are great clumps of the white and dark velvety-purple Victorine, and on the other side the walk big masses of the delicate white and lilac Madame Chéreau. One of the best flowered kinds is the soft yellow I. lutescens or flavescens, and there are the exquisite wine-coloured Queen of the May and forms of I. sambucina having falls of chocolate-purple and standards of bronze or the darkest of old gold colours.

The flowers of I. sambucina and I. squalens have an odour somewhat like Elder flowers. There are here also great leafy masses of the old I. graminifolia or I. prismatica with shot-purple blooms hidden amongst the foliage, and having the delicious odour of Nectarines or the lipest of Green Gage Plums. So perfect is the deception, that even the early wasps and flies are deceived, and buzz and hum expectantly around these rainbow-like blossoms as they glisten in the warm sunshine.

The garden at Dornden is a quiet and simple one. Howth Head, Merrion Strand, the blue sea and distant Clontarf lie behind you in the golden sunlight as you walk up the shady winding drive, with meadow grass and shade trees on either side and pink Hawthorn, red Pavias, Laurustinus and Laburnums in full bloom. A flowery lawn lies south of the house, and throush shadowy Rose-fringed or Honeysuckle arches you enter the kitchen garden so-called, but a garden that is really as full of flowers almost as it is of fruit trees and vegetables. It is sheltered from the south-west by trees and to the south lie the softly-rounded slopes of the Dublin mountains rising over the distant trees. Beyond the hedge you get peeps at a tree-fringed mead, where the cattle are knee-deep in the Buttercups, and beyond is St. Helens, the Dublin residence of the late Lord Gough, of Indian fame.

Early as it is in June, the Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) is in full bloom, and so is the golden double Persian Rose, each yellow boss of petals so rich and tempting to look at, but having the disagreeable odour of rancid olive oil. Far sweeter is the double Ramanas Rose of Japan, and sweeter still the great tufts of white Pinks in long rows under the towering spikes of blue Delphiniums, lit up here and there by the vivid scarlet lamp-like flowers of Oriental Poppies illumined by the setting sun.

Once more, loth to leave such a (quiet and peaceful scene, I turn to the long grass walk and take a last lingering glimpse of the Iris flowers as now, translucent in the last rays of sunlight, they shimmer in the warm breeze of early June. Once again I pass through the green arches of Rose and Honeysuckle and down the shady drive, thankful that there are still left to us such homely bits of Arcady as is Dornden, with its simple kitchen garden, made richly sweet and beautifully homely by its Iris-fringed grass walks and the most fragrant of old-fashioned flowers. F. W. Burbidge.

For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at

-- BobPries - 2014-11-06
Topic revision: r2 - 28 Aug 2016, af.83
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