Iris Envy

Rich Plum Bearded Iris in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Rich plum bearded iris with fiery throat (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Although this holiday is considered to be of Japanese origin, Iris day is celebrated annually on May 8th here in the United States.  Due to the great popularity of irises, this date was set aside to acknowledge the beauty of these beloved spring bloomers.  Iris are a favorite because of the wide variety of colors and combinations, which is why they were named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.  Many are sweetly fragrant (like grapes), come in a vast range of sizes (from 6 inches to 4 feet), and have the ability to thrive in wet to dry and sunny or shady locations.  The flowers may be upright, ruffled or drooping, some with fluffy bearded sections.  They are all wonderful garden companions, but many are great naturalizers in meadows or in wetlands as well. Most are deer resistant, yet attractive to bees and butterflies.  I grow many and find them to be one of the most intricately exquisite flowers on earth.  Here are a few options to look for at your local nursery:  

Iris sibirica (Siberian Iris) produces blue, mauve, purple or lavender flowers that grow up to 3 feet tall, some with narrow, blade-like leaves that may reach 4 feet tall. Iris siberica loves wet, boggy soil, but will be equally content with moist, well drained conditions in full sun in zones 4-9.

Pearly Blossoms of Bearded Iris in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Pearly white blossoms of bearded iris (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Iris cristata (Crested Iris) is a wild form native to areas of North America. It commonly bears violet blue petals that graduate to medium purple with orange accents in May, but there are white or purple selections as well.  Crested iris is a shorter (up to 1′), clump forming plant that will tolerate dry soil in shade from zones 4-9.

Iris ensata (Japanese Iris) is happiest by a stream or wetland, but can survive in poor soils like acidic clay with some watering.  The curious, flat topped broad (6″ across) flowers range from wine red, to royal blue and white combinations growing over 3 feet tall in sunny locales in zones 5-9.

Flag Iris in Nearby Pond in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Flag Iris in nearby pond (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Iris pseudacorus (Yellow Flag Iris) grows vigorously in wet places and **is considered invasive in Connecticut. Flag iris, native to Europe, Asia and Africa, has been transplanted into well-watered gardens all over the world and has widely escaped.  Like cattails, yellow iris colonizes into large numbers, forming very dense stands, out-competing other plants. Two inch canary yellow flowers appear on stems up to 4 feet tall in late spring to early summer in zones 5-8.

Iris Fulva in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Iris fulva’s gorgeous russet blooms (Photo: Kathy Diemer)

Iris fulva (Copper Iris) is native to Central United States, and bears 4 inch slightly downward curved petals of copper, transitioning to wine red, with a pale, beardless yellow center on stems to 3 feet tall.  I fell in love with this unusual specimen at Hillside Garden many years ago, and treasure it dearly now that the nursery is closed. Copper iris will gently spread over time, prefers moist soil and a good amount of sun in zones 4-9.

Iris cv. (Tall Bearded Iris) Bearded iris stand out from the rest with their intricate petal shapes and the intense color detail within.  The color choices for these exquisite beauties is beyond belief: pink, purple, mauve, fuchsia, burgundy, cherry red, midnight blue, sky blue, violet, copper, orange, bronze, gold, creamy white and ivory white.  Then, consider that a variety of these shades are combined in one flower: violet and indigo blue, canary yellow and wine red, white and purple, tangerine and cream, to name a few.

Iris 'Lenora Pearl' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Iris ‘Lenora Pearl’ (photo: Kathy Diemer)

One of my personal favorites is ‘Lenora Pearl’, a fragrant, petite (2′) pink (with an orange beard) that reblooms with adequate moisture in the summer.  ‘Lenora Pearl’ received the Knowlton Medal for the best Border Bearded Iris in 1996.  Bearded iris range from 3 to 6 feet tall, typically bloom in late spring, adore sun and thrive in zones 3-8.


  1. Wow! I had no idea there were SO many varieties of Iris! They’re beautiful….

  2. I didn’t know there was an Iris day!
    I would add iris versicolor, the native Northeast N.A. iris. and iris pallida and…. I am in constant envy of a garden close to my house, which has the most gorgeous fence-line garden of iris and oriental poppies. If I could have them all….

    • I agree, versicolor would have been a far better choice than pseudacorus! As far as iris pallida, I haven’t had luck with that one personally. Foliage fine, but never flowers. Perhaps too much sun? And, I too adore oriental poppies . . . there will be a post next week on them, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks again for your comments, Anne. I always love to hear from my readers~

  3. Beautiful gardens!! Love the iris, I grow alot of bearded iris and a few Japanese iris.

    thanks for sharing,
    My Japanese Iris Pictures

    • Thank you, Michael. Like you, I enjoy sharing photos and stories about my gardens, the visitors to my gardens and local gardening related events. I adore my iris and find them incredibly intricate and beautiful. I visited your blog and you have some great pictures, loved the turkey and dragonfly, the copperhead-not so much. (I have some huge 5-6′ northern water snakes living in one of my gardens-yuk). I appreciate you taking the time to write, please visit me on Facebook for general pix around the farm, and feel free to share my blog as well!

      • Hi Kathy,… I also enjoy sharing photographs! Your iris are beautiful, my bearded iris didn’t do so well this year due to all the rain. We had over 14″ in July and it looks liike August is going to be just as much.

        Thank you for visiting my blog, I wish you had made comments there!! I just started my blog in June, not so much yet and very few comments. Wow, 5=6foot water snakes, I bet you don’t go down there very often! I will share your blog and plan to visit often.


        • I finally did comment, Michael. But don’t take a lack of comments personally. I’ve been blogging for over a year and have less than 150 comments. If you can watch your reader count, as long as that number is going up, you’re on the right track. Please pass my blog on to your friends and I’ll do the same. Good luck!

          • Hi Kathy,
            Thank you for visiting and commenting. I was reading an WordPress SEO article and it said that you should have 50% of your visitors leave comments… Wow – That crazy! I will add your blog to my favorite links on my site and pass it along to my friends.

          • Thank you! And yes, 50% is more than crazy-it’s ridiculous. Have fun and the rest will follow. Best of luck!

  4. Shirley J. Siana says


    Loved the Iris article information. I shall forward to many friends who also admire the elegant and beautiful Iris,
    I eagerly await to read, ‘A Garden For All’, and learning more garden knowledge from you.
    Warm regards,

    • Thank you so much, Shirley, for your kind words and for taking the time to write to me! I’m so happy you are finding my website informative, as my goal is to provide knowledge and inspiration to anyone wanting to learn about gardening and nature. Don’t hesitate to write me if you have any questions, I love to hear from my readers!

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