Plant irises and watch them shine in your garden

Flamboyant, exotic, colourful and extrovert, Iris are the rock stars and pantomime dames of the garden border and want to catch your attention as you pass by with their gorgeous good looks, demanding to be stared at.

In the Iris family, there are essentially two definitions of plants: bearded and beardless. Generally, the size of these plants corresponds to when they flower so the taller the plant, the later it will flower. Dwarf bearded irises will flower from April, intermediates in mid-May and tall irises in late May through to early June. Some repeat flower in September and are known as remontant irises. The most widely grown variety is the bearded Iris, where the ‘beard’ refers to the thick bunch of short hairs looking like a long furry caterpillar and found on the lower petal of the flower. Reaching heights of over 1m, tall bearded Iris are the most grandiose of all and produce many buds per stem and flower from late May to mid-June. This category has the greatest diversity of flower shape and colour, including qualities such as ruffled edges, vibrant colour contrasts and charming markings, and there has been much breeding of flower type over the years, and older varieties often have an exquisite scent. There’s a huge range and diversity of colour available, and whilst bearded Iris enjoy a dry, sunny site with a well-drained soil other species of Iris suit different areas of the garden, from shade to water to clay soils.

Great British Life: A flamboyant lilac coloured Iris (c) Philippa PearsonA flamboyant lilac coloured Iris (c) Philippa Pearson

In the beardless group, you’ll find many species and different types of plants including Iris ensata, Iris foetidissima, Iris louisiana, Iris sibirica, Iris spurias, and Iris unguicularis. Some of the beardless types like moist conditions, like pond margins, and flower earlier in the year. Iris sibirica are easy to grow and thrive in any soil and a sunny position. Also know as Siberian Irises, these are a good choice for the beginner, and flower from June to July and reach up to 1m in height depending upon the variety. Once established they will thrive in boggy soil, clay soil or even dry sandy soil. Quick to establish and easy to divide from Autumn to Spring. Traditional hybrids come in a range of purples and blues, more modern hybrids come in a multitude of colours. This architectural plant is a favourite of many garden designers.

In bloom in during spring and early summer, Iris are traditionally planted between July and October. The main reason is that the rhizomes make their new root development in late autumn and early winter. If you haven’t bought new plants for next year’s display, now is the time to buy them and planted into position. You’ll find plants available at garden centres and plant nurseries across the county, and for bearded or any Iris that have thick rhizomes as their roots do make sure you remove any soil from this when planting and plant with the top of the rhizome showing above soil level, and then water well afterwards. Iris sibirica are less fussy on planting conditions. Bearded Iris dislike being crowded in with other plants and need an open position where they can feel the breeze. To flower well, bearded Iris need full sun for at least six hours a day. During the winter, the irises’ leaves will die back and remove these throughout the dormant season . Continue to do this in spring and weed carefully. When the leaves are about 15cm. tall, sprinkle around the plants a natural phosphate feed and during flowering time spent flowers should be removed daily.

Great British Life: Iris reticulata 'Harmony' is perfect for a late winter display (c) Philippa PearsonIris reticulata 'Harmony' is perfect for a late winter display (c) Philippa Pearson

If you have existing bearded irises, they need to lifted and broken up at least once every three years and the best time to do this is late summer. One of the great joys of growing irises is that they reproduce new plants every year which will give you loads of new plants for your own garden as well as presents for friends and family. From a large clump, break off and retain only large healthy rhizomes with broad leaves from the edge and then trim foliage to about 20cm high.

Look out for bulbs of tiny Iris reticulata and similar species on sale now. These winter flowering irises are suitable for large and small gardens, flower from January to March and are suitable for borders, where you can plant in large quantities to create a carpet of colour under deciduous trees and shrubs. They grow well with snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Cyclamen coum. They are also great for window boxes and in small containers in courtyard gardens and garden rooms. They reach just 20cm in height and range from blue, purple, yellow and white in colour.

Great British Life: Plant irises together for an effective display (c) Philippa PearsonPlant irises together for an effective display (c) Philippa Pearson

Where to buy irises

Daisy Roots, Jenningsbury, London Road, Hertford SG13 7NS

The nursery is open Friday and Saturday, 10am to 4pm from March to October.

The Hertfordshire Garden Centre, Redding Lane, Redbourn, St  Albans, Hertfordshire, AL3 7PS

Open daily.

Notcutts, Hatfield Road, Smallford, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL4 0HN

Open daily.

Van Hage Garden Centre – Great Amwell, Pepper Hill, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, SG12 9RP

Open daily.

Van Hage Garden Centre – Chenies, Near Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, WD3 6EN

Open daily.

Bickerdikes Garden Centre, Norton Road, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, SG6 1AG

Open daily.

Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Hitchin Road, Codicote, Hertfordshire, SG4 8TH

Open daily.