This week Paul shares some of the most beautiful Irises to adorn your garden. Don’t forget that Paul is only too delighted to ask your gardening questions…. please leave in the comments.
Iris was not a goddess but one of the titans- giants that ruled before the gods. According to Homer’s Illiad she was the gods’ messenger, flying between Mount Olympus and earth on the rainbow.
Iris by Yorkshire Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw
You would think someone using the rainbow for transport would have bright iridescent wings to catch the sunlight and cast it back in a myriad of colours. But Iris’ wings were golden. The glorious rainbow wings you would expect to be hers by right belonged to her sister Arke – the second faint arc of the double rainbow.
During the war in heaven when the titans and gods fought for supremacy, Iris chose to become the gods’ messenger while Arke remained loyal to her kin, the titans. When the gods defeated the titans, Zeus cast her into Tartarus with the rest of her kin and deprived of her beautiful wings.
In later stories Iris wears a coat of many colours that forms the rainbow as she travels. The goddess Iris lent her name to the flower because it came in some many varieties of colour.
The Iris was sacred to Juno, the mother of the gods. The French Royal symbol the golden fleur de lis (lily of the field) is an iris.
Originally irises were not simply grown for their beauty but for the medicinal properties of Orris Root, (the fleshy tuber of the common European Flag Irises such as Florentina and Gerrmanica and Pallidia). Orris root was used as an anti-inflammatory and a purgative.
If any of you remember Rosemary’s Baby, while poor Rosemary was pregnant with the devil’s spawn, her friendly neighbourly Satanist, Minnie, gave her a silver pomander containing orris root. Rosemary found the smell earthy and unpleasant and threw it away.
In fact the smell of orris root is reminiscent of violets. The longer the root is left to mature the more fragrant it becomes. Since Roman times, orris root was used as perfume fixative, to make the scent last longer. In this, it is like ambergris: sperm whale vomit of the undigested parts of squid that has matured in the ocean. Lumps found washed up on beaches are worth more than gold.
Orris root is used in cosmetics such as face powders but can cause an allergic reaction. It is also a flavour in gin, which is essentially a specialist vodka tasting of a secret proprietary combination of 25 different herbal extracts including orris root and juniper berries. Orris root is said to taste of raspberries.
The most common irises, and the ones bred in a variety of colours, are the flag, or bearded, irises. The beard is a ridged yellow double frill in the centre of the petals that act as runways for bees. These European irises grow from swollen stems that run along the ground. The roots grow underneath that tuber.
Irises are sun lovers. To flower, the ground hugging tuber needs to be baked by the sun and so should be left proud of the soil. When the plants clump the old central tubers become unproductive. Therefore every couple of years divide the clump. Discard the old dead central tubers and plant the new tubers on top of the soil in late summer. To help the roots form, you need to stop the plant rocking about in the wind, therefore cut the leaves in half on an angle.
Irises are a large family, and while some like to be baked some like wet feet. The native British Yellow flag is one. Yellow Flag grows in water and is used to purify water by absorbing pollutants like agricultural chemical run off. In some American States it is considered an invasive weed.
Japanese Irises (RHS)
Japanese irises (unbearded) also like wet feet so if you like irises but have a boggy area these are the ones for you.
Iris Confusa (Flickr)
A favourite which I have grown for 3 years, and withstands the wet Welsh winters, is Iris Confusa. This is a tough plant that will grow in semi-shade and damp areas and adds a splash of exotica to the garden as it looks like something belonging to a jungle with its bamboo stems and lush palm-frond like leaves bejewelled with a profusion of small pale blue or white iris flowers. Be careful cutting back the manky leaves after winter as the new leaves grow inside the old ones.
Irises are a huge family of 300 species, so before we go here are a few exotics to mention:
(Dutch Bulbs & American Meadows)
Ixia and Sparaxis are two South African reasonably tough early summer bulbs (although check them out for your area). Ixia (Corn Lily) and Saparxis (Harlequin flower) spread quickly and easily and you can pick up bags of them cheaply. Watch it, as they are from South Africa they don’t like waterlogged soils.
The late summer bulbs Acidanthera (The Abyssinian Gladioli or Peacock Flower) and Tigridia (The Tiger Flower) are also easily available and like a hot position.
Like many bulbs plant them where they are well drained, perhaps on a slope or even lay them on an inch of gravel and mix gravel with the soil so they do not rot.
A bit more specialist are Watsonia and Chasmanthe. Also from South Africa they too like it hot and dry. I have found these difficult to grow and they need protection from frost and winter rains.
Both the magical and delicate Dierama or (Angels Fishing Rods) and Gladiolus Byzantium are definitely on my want list
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.
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You can find all of Paul’s previous posts and gardening column in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/paul-andruss-myths-legends-fantasy-and-gardening/
Thank you for dropping in today and as always please leave your questions and comments for Paul… thanks Sally.