Daily Flower Candy: Iris histrioides ‘George’ AGM

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I don’t know about you, but my green fingers fail me when it comes to keeping early spring irises flowering from one season to the next. The tiny bulbs, mainly cultivars and hybrids of Iris reticulata and Iris histrioides, are about the size, shape and colour of a garlic clove (‘reticulata’ refers the the protective net of fibres on the exterior of the bulb). They reward me in the first year with blooms aplenty, only to disappoint the next when they produce nothing but tufts of narrow, nondescript leaves. Over many seasons I have learned that there’s absolutely no point nursing these lovely little irises through the summer months and so I put them unceremoniously in the bin after flowering and start again with fresh bulbs every autumn.

Iris 'Eye Catcher', Polegate Cottage, February 2016

Thanks to breeders such as Alan McMurtrie, the number of reticulate irises available to gardeners is steadily increasing. Gone are the days when the choice was between shades of blue and violet; the spectrum now extends to white, yellow, brown, orange and even pale lilac. It takes 10-15 years to bring a new variety to market, so no surprise then that the bulbs can initially be rather expensive. I’ve indulged in a few, including I. ‘Spot On’ (below) and I. ‘Eye Catcher’ (above), but for everyday planting in spring containers I tend to opt for cheap, cheerful and easily replaced cultivars, in particular Iris histrioides ‘George’.

Iris reticulata 'Spot On', February 2014, The Watch House

George is a hardy fellow, tolerant of cold and wet weather, producing velvety, royal-purple flowers at about the same time as the snowdrops and aconites. (They would make a very fetching threesome planted cheek-by-jowl, although the irises prefer to be dry during summer whilst the others like to stay damp.) Just today poor George has withstood rain, sleet, hail and strong winds off the sea, coming out the other side looking distinctly better than I. This is why George has an AGM (Award of Garden Merit) and I do not! If the weather had been calm enough I’d also have been able to detect a subtle perfume, another element of George’s allure.

I like my irises planted in pots so they can be displayed on a table or staging where I can really appreciate them, but in the right conditions they will flourish, and even repeat flower, perfectly well in the ground.

Iris histrioides 'George', The Watch House, February 2016

If you are interested to find out more about these lovely little irises then I can recommend this month’s edition of ‘The Garden’ and forthcoming March issue of ‘The Plantsman’ which will take a more in-depth look at Alan McMurtrie’s hybridising work. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week (February 16th and 17th 2016) we’ll be treated to more stunning displays of reticulate irises by Jacques Amand International at the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair in Central London (picture of I. ‘Blue Note’ below, taken here in 2014). Naturally all reserve will go out of the window and I’ll set my sights on a bevy of new iris varieties to plant this autumn …. and shall do so, safe in the knowledge they’ll be another one hit wonder.

Other posts about early spring flowering irises:

  1. Portrait of a Lady: Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’
  2. Daily Flower Candy: Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germaney’
  3. Daily Flower Candy: Iris reticulata ‘Spot On’
  4. Daily Flower Candy: Iris reticulata ‘Blue Note’


Iris reticulata 'Blue Note' in foreground. RHS London Plant and Design Show 2014


Categories: Bulbs, Container gardening, Flower Shows, Flowers, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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18 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Iris histrioides ‘George’ AGM"

  1. I have just today put outdoors a pot of Iris that had finished flowering on the kitchen windowsill. When the ground warms up I will plant them out and hopefully they will come up again and flower outdoors. I’ve done this in the past and it seems to work. That is if the pheasants ignore them! I planted loads of anemones last autumn which were just beginning to flower and today I noticed that the buds have all been chomped off…the pheasant shuffled his feet and looked the opposite way!

    1. Commiserations! I imagine if I were a pheasant I’d find anemone flowers a tasty treat. I kind of wish we had pheasants rather than foxes that dig everything up and trample the rest. Hope your irises come back for a repeat performance.

      1. Yes pheasants better than foxes I guess but peacocks are worse! We used to have a couple of them visit, they managed to silently creep up behind you then display their tail feathers whilst you were bending down doing the weeding!! Their tail feathers rattled like sabres and they were quite grumpy, and believe me they are big birds when you are stuck in the middle of a box parterre and they won’t let you past!!! Fortunately they have stopped coming they just have a sit down protest in the road around the corner!
        Us gardeners have a lot to contend with don’t we…?

      2. We do. Peacocks are magnificent creatures but they have a very high opinion of themselves! I did laugh back in early December when my little niece approached one and it started rattling its tail feathers to scare her off. She wasn’t the least put off!

  2. I too find George the only dwarf iris that reliably flowers in a second year. Why is it that we don’t value the good-natured plants so much as the rare and difficult ones? ‘Tete-a-Tete, has become ubiquitous so we are snooty about it, (I’m as guilty as the rest). But those flowering bravely in my garden ahead of any other narcissus are quite lovely.

  3. Nice irises – I have never tried to grow them in my garden. Must look for them at my local nurseries. I hope you will be successful with them this time. How is your cough by the way? Hope it’s finally gone 🙂

  4. As it seems the only Irises that turn up the next year to bloom again, are the ones with histrioides genes, like f.i. George, Lady Beatrix Stanley, Major and Katherine Hodgkin. That is, they do in my garden. Romke Van de Kaa also writes about in his book “De getemde wildernis”. Don’t know if there exists an English version.

  5. I had the same problem with Iris Danfordiae but not with the Reticulata.

    I kept them wet during flowering soil only slightly gritty, and they were in semi shade with modest watering after flowering. I also used a little bone meal and potash in the soil. They kept their leaves until July.

    I saw something on gardeners world indicating the advice to grow them sunny is wrong. The lady concerned got the retics and dandfordiae to flower year after year in semi shade.

    Hope that helps.

    I was tempted by ‘spot on’ too maybe next year and to paraphrase Madonna, am desperately seeking George for my new garden. He often flowered very early.

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