It’s amazing I grew up in four different homes on Eastside Boulevard with a paternal grandmother who couldn’t read or write. Growing up in Kentucky, she was taken out of school the third day of the first grade to help her mother raise twin brothers. In spite of no education, she certainly knew how to plant a garden. Her favorite flowers were Bearded Iris.
Given my 20-year association with Holland, I’ve long favored Dutch Iris. But it’s the Bearded Iris that intrigues me now. This breed really does look like the Iris has grown a beard. What makes these Iris different? Several sources note, “These flowers have upright petals called ‘standards’ and cascading petals called ‘falls.’
Running down the center of each “fall” is a beard that resembles a fuzzy caterpillar. Their leaves look like flattened swords. American gardeners are most familiar with Holland’s variety of Beardless Iris. The bearded variety has a trio of plant relatives — rhizomes or roots, which prevail in Dutch gardens.
This variety is the smallest of the species and is perfect for edging borders in your garden. It’s also the earliest to bloom, providing that first note of color in spring. Delving into the plant’s history reveals a family tree that has cousins around the globe, from Japan and Germany to Siberia and Louisiana. There are also two breeds named Northern Blue Flag and Iris Sanqueras. It’s amazing how this flower has been a world traveler.
These perennials grow from thick, fleshy roots or rhizomes. They favor an environment that has large clumps of vigorous growing upright plants. Another plus for these Iris plants is their ability to look good all season long, giving you great value for your money spent on bulbs to plant. Even after their blooms are gone, their stems make an interesting garden feature.
A smaller variety is perfect for creating garden borders, or even lining the edge of a small pond. These are the first to show their blooms as summer approaches. They are ideal if you just want a pop of color to outline a special garden area. These flowers are also perfect in rock gardens, or small cottage gardens. They also have history, having inspired the famous fleur de lis symbol of French culture.
Micki J. Shelton is a Muskogee native and master gardener.