On the Iris Trail

Sunset edged bearded irises at Chateau Rivau
Sunset edged irises at Chateau du Rivau

It was bearded iris time on our recent trip to France; also at last week's Chelsea Flower Show; and judging by my peeps into social media, it's currently iris time for many of you too.

I must admit I'm late to warm to these flowers. The earlier blooming Iris reticulata, then elegant Iris sibirica are usually my species of choice, but seeing so many fine bearded irises whilst away along with the steady drip feed of your photos finally got me thinking differently.

Then yesterday whilst sorting through my things, I found a leaflet from Cayeux nursery (which I picked up at Chelsea last week), which has answered all my doubts...

One section of Cayeux's bearded iris exhibit
I loved Cayeux's colour sectioned display at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Guess which one is my favourite?

Doubt #1: They don't bloom for very long

Cayeux says: "If you select a mixture of small, intermediate and tall varieties you can have irises in flower from mid April until early June... And even after the flowering season the stiff fan of leaves is attractive for much of the year."

Update: my friend Helen commented there are some varieties which re-bloom. That's definitely something to look out for. Here's Claire Austin's list of remontant irises (the technical term used for those irises which re-bloom) plus her notes on how reliably those varieties exhibit that tendency in the midlands.

Catherine Horwood also reminded me about the smaller Cedric Morris varieties via Facebook. I saw these exhibited at Chelsea a couple of years ago, and very fine they were too.

Doubt #2: They don't thrive on my limey soil

Cayeux says: "In fact bearded irises are fairly unfussy about the soil they grow in. Really good drainage* is more crucial than acidity."

Doubt #3: They struggled to flower when I tried them

Cayeux says: "You may have planted them in shade: irises need full sun for at least two thirds of the day, preferably on the rhizomes which should be visible above the soil. Or they may have needed dividing: after 3 or 4 years one rhizome can form a good clump."

* = I'm concerned about that too because of my clay soil, but I've also come to realise I have some sunny gravel areas in the garden which should provide better drainage than usual.

Conclusion? Perhaps I should try them one more time bearing the above points in mind.

One of the irises spotted at Chaumont
A case of mistaken identity at Chaumont, oops!

So which iris am I planning to buy? Not the one pictured above, fine though it is. I thought it was the Jardins de Chaumont variety pointed out to me at the time at Chaumont, but a quick check of Cayeux's website shows that one is much paler.

I think Jardins de Chaumont will be a good 'starter for 10' - a fine iris selected by Chaumont's director and a great souvenir of happy times. I must also ask Patricia Laigneau about the pictured varieties I've chosen to show from Le Rivau; such a magical time.

Massed white irises at Le Rivau
Massed white irises at dawn at Le Rivau

Where to see bearded irises in profusion

These are places for inspiration, whether you're a fan already, or need more persuasion like me.

If you're considering a trip to France - the Loire valley in particular - then their new Route des Iris trail is worth considering for May next year (or this year if you're quick!). It takes in 2 nurseries and 5 gardens, including Cayeux and Chaumont.

Claire Austin usually has open days at her Shropshire nursery timed to coincide with the flowering of her national collection of bearded irises. This year is no exception - you'll need to be there this coming Friday or Saturday (2nd & 3rd June 2017), 10-4pm. Tea, coffee and cake are also available to lure you there.

You may remember I visited an amazing collection of irises at the Laking Garden in Canada a couple of years ago.

The British Iris Society has a list (with links) of gardens and nurseries (UK and worldwide) noted for their irises.

Irises in combination
I have a similar site at home to this one at Le Rivau. Will their irises follow me here? Watch this space...
Update: Dan Pearson writes about irises and the Cedric Morris ones in particular in his Dig Delve magazine. His reminders about moving them and general iris care are worth bearing in mind.


  1. If you're going to give space to bearded iris, consider one of the re-bloomers, such as pure white 'Immortality' (there are others, but it's hard to beat that one for its name alone).

    1. Ooh I didn't know there were varieties which re-bloomed. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I have iris from my mother's and great aunties gardens, it is good to have them for that reason alone.

    1. That's a lovely way to acquire plants. I'm about to plunder my mother's garden. Sadly I can't take the willow tree the Birmingham Organic Gardening group planted in my dad's memory. He was a founder member of the group and always chuckled over the TLA ;)

  3. Mmmmm I could be tempted VP :) I only have one iris in the garden at the moment - a Pacific Coast iris which is only in flower for a disappointingly short spell but its markings always hold me spellbound. The annual show has just been and gone. I had an email earlier this week from Wottens Of Wenhaston in Suffolk, a nursery which grows a wide range of bearded irises. They have an open event today and tomorrow when some of the irises may still be in flower and will be available for sale. They also sell via mail order so I will be studying their list at some point soon.

    1. I'm studying Claire Austin's list Anna, especially those which re-bloom. I wonder if I saw your Pacific Coast iris when I was in Canada? They had some beauties there and I'm not sure how many of them have made it to this side of the pond.

  4. I have two substantial clumps from a friend of my mother. Sulking. Not flowering.
    Hmm need to get the rhizomes up to the sun. And move the yellow ones from the shady side to the sunny side.


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