Birthday Blues

Reading time 5 minutes

This may not be an especially significant birthday (there are no 0’s or 5’s involved) but I still hadn’t planned to spend it at home in bed with a cold. It looks like I am swapping Bollinger for Benylin, dressing up for a dressing gown and a night on the town for a night in front of the telly.

Among my presents from Him Indoors is Monty Don’s ‘Gardening at Longmeadow’, so that’s my afternoon on the sofa accounted for. I like to read Monty’s books with his mellifluous timbre running through my head: more soothing that hot lemon and honey. Meanwhile I need to muster the energy to call the nice man from RV Roger to pay for three espalier apple trees which are already out for delivery. I am sure he’ll be delighted to hear me coughing and rasping down the line.

Whilst I do have a touch of the blues on this dull, wintry day, life is not all bad. At least I am warm, dry and safe, unlike so many people in the world. Hence I have chosen an off-blue flower to head-up this post, the incomparable Iris unguicularis.

Better known as the Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis can also be found growing in Greece and North Africa. I call it incomparable because I know of no other plant like it in terms of habit or flowering behaviour. Despite its Mediterranean originsย the Algerian iris is perfectly hardy in the UK and thrives on neglect. On the roughest, stoniest piece of ground you can find (preferably alkaline) plant it in full sun and then forget about it. From a coarse tussock of slim evergreen leaves will emerge a sequence of scented mauvey-blue flowers from Christmas until April. Each is as fine and gossamer-thin as the most delicate summer bloom, and sweetly scented too. Cannily, Iris unguicularis produces flowers sporadically so as to avoid them all being damaged by adverse weather. A wise strategy for any plant growing in a UK garden.

A purple flowered variety named ‘Mary Barnard’ has slightly shorter leaves than the species and is therefore tidier, whilst heavily scented ‘Walter Butt’ produces ice blue and lavender flowers in abundance whatever the elements have to throw at it. A pure white variety, ‘Alba’, is less vigorous than the species and is available from Avon Bulbs. This gold medal-winning nursery also offers a cultivar of Zimbabwean origin called ‘Marondera’ which carries larger, darker flowers than most. Brighton Plants, a specialist in rare and unusual plants for dry, alkaline soils, offers a sublimely elegant variety named ‘Peloponnese Snow’ (image below – I want one!) as well as another garden-worthy species, Iris lazica, which boast neater foliage than I. unguicularis and tolerates a degree more shade and moisture.

“Patience seems to be the only manure these irises need”, observed the great 20th-century gardener and plantsman E.A. Bowles “the older a clump grows, the better it flowers”. My parents have had a clump in their garden for 34 years, never touched, and still it flowers heartily every winter. Patience seems to be what my cold needs too, albeit the older I get the worse the colds become!

Iris unguicularis 'Peloponnese Snow' (image: Brighton Plants)
Iris unguicularis ‘Peloponnese Snow’ (image: Brighton Plants)



Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Perennials, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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22 comments On "Birthday Blues"

  1. Happy Birthday! Sending healing thoughts! The iris is lovely…wish I had a clump : )
    P.S. Been doing the whole pre-biotic pro-biotic thing with fresh veg and keifer, kimchi and super green pro-piotic poweder and while I did get my usual stress induced cold over the holidays it was much milder. Otherwise I am feeling great and my last birthday include Zero and Six : )

  2. Happy birthday 2u…๐Ÿ‘ฏ๐Ÿ™€๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ’๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒผ๐ŸŒท๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒปthat’s about everything floral I can deliver from HK ….with British twist…. Tony and I have had the shaken not stirreds 4 u๐Ÿ˜˜ now off 2 bed. Hope u r on the mend soon xxxxxx

  3. Happy Birthday and get well soon, colds are miserable at this time of year but you are so right in thats not so bad compared to much that is going on in the world, especially when you have both Monty and these Iris’s to enjoy.

  4. Happy Birthday Dan and I hope you feel better soon. You are not missing much outside at the moment it is so cold and miserable. I love Iris unguicularis too. I haven’ t seen that lovely Peloponnese Snow before. Gorgeous! In my garden Iris lazica outdoes unguicularis for sheer flower power.
    Have you heard Monty live? He is mesmerising and much more entertaining than on telly.

    1. No I haven’t, really, but I did see him interviewing Dan Pearson at last year’s Chelsea. Looked like two old pals having a good natter. I did go outside today (in my dressing gown: scandalous!) as I had a sudden concern that my pleiones might freeze overnight. Nothing keeps a good gardener down for long eh?

    1. I’m glad to hear you are better Judy. I am on the mend tonight, returning to work tomorrow. We are having a low-key evening and will celebrate in earnest next week. Thank you for the good wishes x

  5. Happy Birthday Dan. I have some little clumps of the lovely Iris unguicularis too, given to me by a friend a couple of years ago they are just beginning to come into their own. Now that I know that they will flower for me might look out for the white ones.Have a Sophora in full bloom, climate change certainly seems to be with us, doesn’t it?

  6. D..a..a..nnn, whilst you’re not doing anything… you know what/which seeds will grow in Shanghai? I’ve asked big companies – no replies. My son and his family live there, grandson’s birthday coming soon (6 yo) and he and his sister lack for nothing! Please don’t get well till you’ve answered this (one way or another)! Ann

  7. So you buy from R V Roger as well ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anyway, sorry to hear you’re unwell on your birthday but hope you’ve been enjoying reading!

  8. A very happy birthday to you and what a shame you are feeling unwell…cancel your birthday and have another one when you have recovered!The queen has two birthdays so I am sure you can too! Hope you are soon feeling better Dan.

    1. Thanks Anne. You are quite right, I need a second birthday. May or September would suit me, or perhaps I could have one fixed and one moveable birthday each year? We have moved the main celebration (dinner for two) to next week, so all is not lost! I’m all for stringing celebrations out.

  9. A cold on your birthday? Not fair! Hope you feel better soon! Because Bollinger tastes much better than Benylin!
    Love the irises! If they’re scented, I must have one! Walter Butt possibly?

    1. No, not fair at all! I am high as a kite today on a heady concoction of blackcurrant glycerin tablets and Assam tea. Way more stimulants than my body is accustomed to! Walter Butt is a very good choice. You can get it from Avon Bulbs, but you should plant in autumn, not spring, as that’s when Mediterranean plants put their roots down and get established best. Dan

    1. Thanks Marian. I have almost lost my voice, which might be a relief to some, but has made work interesting today. I have such a long list of plants that need a little bit more sun than I can offer them! Enjoy your iris ๐Ÿ™‚

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