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The World's Finest Oregon Iris
In Greek mythology, Iris was both a messenger to the gods, and because her rainbow was a bridge between heaven and earth, she was named goddess of rainbows. The rainbow symbolizes a promise, and the regal Bearded Iris is aptly named. Iris planted in the fall promise to add an extraordinary range of magnificent color to the garden from spring well into summer. Some hybrids will even produce a second flush of bloom in fall.
Tall Bearded Iris are descended from the German Iris (I. x germanica), a favorite of Victorian cottage gardens. Today's modern cultivars are refinements of this tough, easy-to grow plant.
They bring to the garden bold festoons of color and arresting patterns of multi-colored designs, but Bearded Iris also help to articulate texture. The upward slash of their swordlike leaves and their unique three-parted shape, which inspired the heraldic symbol fleur-de-lis, are distinctive elements in the perennial border. As spring breezes ruffle through their voluptuous blossoms, the subtle fragrance of iris fills the air and heralds the fullness of summer.
The Tall Bearded Iris grow from a rhizome, or thick, fleshy stem, planted just beneath the soil surface. They have minimal requirements: give them a place in full sun. (Iris will tolerate some shade, but too much reduces flowering.) They like nearly neutral pH soil, and shouldn't be planted too deeply. Their most important requirement is good drainage - this keeps the rhizomes firm and healthy. Tall Bearded Iris will absolutely not tolerate "wet feet." But they're quite hardy, growing in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10. All Bearded Iris are perennials; take a little extra attention when you plant them in the fall, and your garden will reproduce a rainbow of colors year after year.
After three to five years and bloom production decreases, it's time to divide the iris plants. Carefully dig the rhizomes and cut them apart, making sure that each section has at least one healthy fan of leaves and intact feeder roots.
Plant Iris in late summer or early fall to give them enough time to get established before winter. Prepare a bed in a sunny spot that drains well. Dig a shallow hole, big enough to fit the rhizome. Set it slightly above soil level. Spread the feeder roots around the mound. Cover roots with soil and water thoroughly.
For maximum impact, it's best to plant at least 3 rhizomes in a cluster and space these clusters 18 inches apart. You have then set the stage for your perennial rainbow to present its spectacular show each spring.
For many, gardening is all about anticipation and surprises. Like Tulips and Daffodils, Iris are planted in the fall. You have to be patient, because you can't expect to see the fruits of your labor until spring. But think of a child at Christmas - the anticipation in the days before is half the fun. Many get that same exciting thrill of anticipation when they plant new iris in their gardens.
The surprise comes when the flowers open in all their glory. You will see firsthand, in full bloom, in their true colors, the varieties that caught your eye and your imagination in a catalog or in another garden last season.
And even though you're expecting them, you will still thrilled by the first Iris blooms in spring. Imagine how surprising it is to see Bearded Iris blooming again in fall! And not in your everyday yellows, golds and oranges, but crisp, pure white, pink, sunny yellow and deep purple.
Reveling in anticipation and experiencing new surprises each year - for many, this is truly one of the greatest joys of gardening.