(1922) Irises by Grace Sturtevant

The American Gardeners' Chronicles, p.77, March 1922



The year 1922 marks an epoch in garden irises. International Iris Conferences are scheduled by the Societe Nationale d'Horticulture de France in Paris and by the Royal Horticultural Society in London during the blooming season, and the six hundred and fifty members of The American Iris Society plan to be well represented in the discussion preceding the acceptance of standards of nomenclature, classification, and description''

If you are not already an iris enthusiast you do not yet realize what visions of delight the word "Iris" conjures, what wonderful color effects are possible when the modem irises are planted in masses with your other garden flowers. This is the month for planning and I hope that all of you have marked a generous number of spaces on your garden maps with the magic word 'Iris'' and that already you have dreamed over the tantalizing descriptions in the catalogs of the specialist. The iris is best planted after the flowers are past, so reserve the space, not only by marking it on your plan, but also by placing a corresponding stake in the garden itself.
This late planting also permits you to visit exhibits and nurseries (the New York Botanical Garden has an official Test Garden and this year an exhibit on June 3rd), to select from the blooming plants not only the color, but the very height, or habit, that will perfect your pictured scheme.

I do not want a garden of irises only (a collection is another proposition altogether) but rather one where other perennials in contrast may enhance their delicate beauty of form and color; early bulbs, Arabis and Mat pinks with the Korolkowi- and Pumila hybrids. Phlox divaricata and tulips with the Intermediates, Sweet Rocket and Lupins in pink and purple and white, with the later irises with here and there yellow roses, Hugonis, Harrisoni. and Persian. Sometimes the peonies and rambler roses flower before the irises are gone and then, as is the case with some of the flaming oriental poppies, we must restrict our iris colors in the interests of harmony. A garden of irises alone should be in a secluded spot, a fairy land where one can visit in its glory and then leave to the gardener until another Spring.

For distant and mass effect clear self-tones in various colors are the best, markings on the falls reduce the apparent size and blended tones become a mere blur in the distance. Varieties with short, high branches that bring the blooms nearly on a level form a more solid sheet of color. But in the garden where the flowers are within reach and generally below the level of the eye, plant those with some outstanding quality of delicate color or unique marking, of form, substance, or satiny or velvety texture. There are varieties of blended tones where thin layers of lavender and pink and yellow in varying intensities seem laid one upon another, others where two sap colors seem actually combined in the cellular structure, and many whose beauty changes with every change of light. Some are most fragrant, redolent with the odors of grape or water lily. Select a few, too, among the whites, or plicatas, that are cream, or white delicately penciled with mauve and violet, for their airy grace when you brave the dew on a moonlight night. And lastly put the rich, sombre purple and maroon varieties and others with colors that do not carry well into the garden where they will add character as accents.

All these points and many more will add immeasurably to your pleasure as you become intimately acquainted with the charm of each individual iris.
The early Pumila hybrids make excellent informal borders next the path, and in drifts now running to the back, or reaching to the front, can be arranged the majority of the varieties that range from 15-36 inches in height; while behind and in selected spots can come the five foot stalks. These giants are mostly of recent* introduction and I call them of the garden "decorative type" as they seem best suited to planting in clumps that will reveal the branching habit and the poise of the immense flowers. In England they are often staked as a precaution against wind and rain.

The effect of light and shade on the different iris colors, or on even the same tone in different varieties, is a study in itself. In some the beauty is intensified by the flickering shadows from nearby trees : others reveal a vivid vitality in the sun of noonday which they lose when brought indoors : while an ethereal beauty envelopes my planting of Pallida Dalmatica "Princess Beatrice" when the level rays of the setting sun make translucent the flaring falls. And to an even greater degree are iris colors modified by artificial lighting. For cutting, use the pale colors, whites and near-whites tinted with blue, lavender or pink, mere touches of color that suggest combinations with darker tones. Do not neglect the decorative value of the foliage either within or out-of-doors.
An iris leaf seems one of Nature's bequests that cannot be bettered by man or art as an accompaniment to the iris flower : the contrast of the strength and simplicity of its upright, sword-shaped blade with the delicate tissue of rounded segments grouped in threes, the subdued frosted green with brilliant colors delicately lined in character with the whole bloom, form perfect counterparts.
For color in masses I should choose from a list containing Florentina alba. 'Ingeborg', Mrs. Horace Darwin, and Fairy; for white or pearl – Mrs. G. Reuthe. Glori de Hillegom. Pallida Dalmatica. Juniata, and Parc de Neuilly in increasing depth from white to violet ; Flavescens and Aurea, yellow selfs; 'Mrs. Alan Gray', 'Her Majesty', and 'Wyomissing' for delicate pinks; 'Caprice' for claret, and Loreley, Mithras, or 'Princess Victoria Louise', and the Blue and white 'Rhein Nixe' for bicolors.
For the garden beds I will tell you what I consider superfine, but I want you to remember that there are hundreds of good ones, much less expensive ones in fact, but as we" become more critical our appreciation of the following novelties grows; Ma Mie, Parisiana. Milky Way, Damozel, Cygnet, Mme Chobaut, Delight ; White Knight, Myth Avalon, Mile. Schwartz, Queen Caterina, Balboa, Halo, Neptune, Mme Cheri, Moa, Opera, De Guesclin, B. Y. Morrison, Prince Lohengrin, Reverie, Dominion. Tyrian, Wild Rose, Crusader, Rose Madder, Souv. De Mme Gaudichau, Shekinah, Prospero, Asia, and Ambassadeur. All these are of the best, among their varied colors each should be able to select his or her ideal.

Somehow we never think of the iris as a florist's flower and yet last year some of the finest window displays in San Francisco were of irises, bearded irises. My correspondent writes that the light tones were in fine demand and that, if cut in bud and delivered by hand the results were extremely good. Let us hope that in time the iris will become as familiar to the city dweller as it now is to all who have a bit of garden. Given plenty of sun and good drainage they will thrive for the most careless of growers. Their beauty is within the reach of all.

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

-- BobPries - 2014-06-23
Topic revision: r4 - 14 Mar 2017, af.83
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