Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thriving Siberian Iris

It is time to get this blog going again! A lot has been happening in my garden, Kingwood's garden, and gardens I visit and follow; so let's go:

I revisited irises over the last week in anticipation of using them as a topic for my next Kingwood Center Plant Talk television show. My special infatuation with irises started about ten years ago during which I acquired a flood of various iris for work and home. The enthusiasm tempered after a few years, so now I am looking back at which irises survived and thrived over those ten years and which have diminished and/or died.
First introduced in the 1930's 'Tropic Night' offers the old fashioned if yet gratifying traits of being tall, narrow leaved, basic blue and most importantly from the standpoint of this essay, vigorous. 

While gratified by the ones that hung in there with me I am surprised at how many have dwindled away under common circumstances. This is especially true of Siberian irises. The exciting new color forms have been especially susceptible to 'failure to thrive". Under what I would call the normal bumping and bruising of garden competition many Siberian iris just don't compete. It is primarily the old, species-type blue flowered Siberians that thrive. Some of the successful competitors are tetraploids, such and 'Blue Pennant', 'Coronation Anthem', and 'Teal Velvet'. Others are old diploids with the typical tall stature, narrow leaves and dark blue flowers like 'Tropic Night' and 'Tealwood', but all five of the varieties mentioned are more or less the basic blue you would expect from a Siberian iris. The white colored 'King of Kings' and the yellow 'Welfenschatz' (forget the ubiquitous 'Butter and Eggs') do a pretty good job, but, alas, would almost never be seen at a garden center. Garden centers offer horrible choices in Siberian irses. There is the default Siberian iris  ('Caesar's Brother') which does very well and is that old typical blue diploid I spoke of above, but other than that it is a total roll of the dice whether you get a Siberian iris that will thrive in a dense garden.
'Coronation Anthem' Siberian Iris, a long term survivor
'Welfenschatz' is certainly the most obscure variety mentioned in this article, but it is the best yellow of several I have tried and it is still available on line. 
'King of Kings' has been with me for about a decade and it performs beautifully, if perhaps not as vigorously as something like 'Tropic Night'.  

Then there is the issue of the leaves standing upright or flopping after flowering. The floppers not only look bad but drown their neighboring plants. You will have to dig for information about this essential trait, and don't bother digging at the garden center; they don't know. As I recall all the varieties I mentioned above do not have a late season flop problem.

There is an easily accessed group of iris specialists who will not only have these otherwise obscure but superior varieties, but some will also tell you which ones will stand upright throughout the summer. If you want good Siberian iris other than 'Caesar's Brother', do your research and order by mail from a small scale iris specialist or just buy 'Caesar's Brother' and be done with it.

'So Van Gogh', a clever name, an unusual color combination, but where did it go? Two years, maybe three and it was gone. It failed to thrive.