As a group, early flowering Iris have very different growing requirements to the moisture loving and woodland types we normally grow. They prefer open sunny spots in free draining soil. Generally we grow ours in south facing spots in the ‘Alpinum’ rock garden. Normally they are planted in clumps or closely packed drifts to give the best effect. The bulbs are planted just below the soil surface with a generous covering of gravel over the top. This reduces weeds and helps with drainage, we also find digging plenty of sand into the soil beforehand is a help.
Generally these types of Iris have rounded leaves rather than flattened fans and look very like onions or leeks. They tend to be short - about fifteen centimetres in height, although there are some types that grow to about a meter tall. They have typical Iris flowers and come in shades of blue, purple and yellow. Some also have a combination of colours or are two toned in the flowers. Most also have exquisite scents that are quite different from other perfumes, although they are subtle so you often need to be on bended knee to enjoy them.
Some of our favourite types are Iris bucharica and Iris reticulata ‘Joyce’. The taller types do tend to fall over in our rich soil but they are still well worth trying. Generally the first ones come into flower at the end of January and can often be seen poking through late snow falls, which like frost never seems to damage the flowers.