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surprise vintage iris

This white iris started blooming in my garden this week. I have never seen one so early. Although I planted nearly 200 irises in fall of 2008, this was one of the bunch that already existed in my garden. Most of the irises that came with the house were planted in an area of overgrown shrubs, and were in too much shade. The rest were along the driveway, also an area of mostly shade.

Like many of the existing bulbs that came with the house, I suspect they were planted several decades ago, before fences and apartment buildings and overgrown shrubs. And I had never seen them bloom. So I moved them around, threw some out (irises divide rather quickly and I was running out of room). A few of them bloomed in spring of 2008, and were a yellow color, so I assumed they were all this way. But I’m grateful I didn’t throw more out, or I would have missed this lovely huge white iris!

What a joy to be continually surprised by one’s garden, to have these “freebies” popping up. I thought I had seen the last of the surprise bulbs until a strange tazetta appeared last spring. Even after 6 years of living in our house, there are still flowers left to be discovered. Now if only the heirloom crinums would bloom.

From my experience, irises don’t bloom the first year after you plant them. I’ve had one or two rare exceptions. I have moved some in spring, and they didn’t even bloom the following spring. It seems to me they need at least a full year in the ground, probably two. Most of the time irises are purchased and planted in fall–from what I can gather, the best time to plant them here in Texas is around September. In spring it’s possible to buy potted iris plants in nurseries, and I often see Louisiana irises sold this way.

But the great thing about the bearded iris types is they are pretty indestructible. It seems like they can live for years off the nutrients in their little bulbs. I’ve thrown teeny broken bits of iris rhizome on top of compost piles and they went on to grow new leaves without even rooting. They’re very easy to divide and multiply. Their only fussy requirement is that they don’t usually like overly wet soil and it’s standard practice to keep the rhizomes visible on the soil surface; otherwise they may rot. So I have to be careful about mulching and composting over them.

  1. Kathy #

    Your white iris is most likely an ancient one from the Middle East, dating backt o 1400 BC, known informally as the Cemetery Iris or scientifically as Iris albicans. It is a very well known early spring bloomer. I recently acquired one myself and I look forward to seeing its return each spring.

    March 18, 2012
    • Amy #

      Thanks so much, Kathy! Since I last wrote this, many more have appeared, in part because I removed some trees so the irises have more sun. I’ve since discovered that the Iris albicans is very popular in Texas and was a common heirloom plant in the 50s and 60s. I am so happy to have so many of these bulbs surviving in my garden!

      November 6, 2012

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