Iris Reticulata ‘Pauline’

In an exciting new development, the following post can now be enjoyed as a podcast as well as in text and photographs.

Cultivars of Iris reticulata have enjoyed regular and enthusiastic coverage in this blog over the years. There are two good reasons for this. First, they bloom in February when few other plants are making an effort, thus providing a subject to write about while the rest of the garden is waking. Second, they are not snowdrops. Snowdrops, whilst undoubtedly charming, are almost exclusively white and green. (Galanthophiles will relish the opportunity I have just presented to inform us that there are, in fact, both yellow and pink snowdrops, if you are interested in such subtleties.) White is a shade without which no garden would be complete*, but I am drawn to bright colours like a magpie. Iris reticulata, Iris histrioides, their cultivars and hybrids, come in a delightful spectrum of colours from ice white through to deep purple and clear blue, enlivened by flashes of yellow, gold and orange. Such visual riches are not to be overlooked, particularly during the winter months.

A third reason for loving these diminutive spring flowers would be price: a couple of hundred bulbs might only set you back £10 or so. For a modest outlay one can create an eye-catching display only a few months after planting. Over a few seasons that display can be expanded into rivers and pools of saturated, velvety colour. It’s impossible to plant too many, and I generally curse myself for not having been bolder. The picture below, taken from Monty Don’s Instagram feed, demonstrates precisely why more is more when it comes to these little gems.

Potted irises in Monty Don’s garden a Longmeadow (from Monty’s Instagram account @themontydon)

Because of their height – often no more than 4″-6″ in bloom – reticulated irises are best featured in rock gardens, gravel beds, troughs or pots. If you hope for them to come back year-after-year they should be planted in well-drained soil that dries out in summer. This is because the original Iris reticulata hail from Turkey, Iran, Iraq and the Caucasus, where they might typically be found flowering along the snowline on a remote mountainside. Such harsh habitat implies, correctly, that Iris reticulata are both hardy and tolerant of snow (already in bloom, Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ barely flinched at a week of subzero temperatures and thick snow, perking up the second the thaw began). In the summer and autumn months, dormant plants are deprived of water and baked by the sun, ripening the bulbs in preparation for a long, cold winter. Each bulb has a netted casing, hence the species name ‘reticulata‘, which means ‘divided or marked in such a way as to resemble a net or network‘.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ is an especially pretty cultivar, displaying rich purple colouration adorned with attractive white and inky-blue blotches. She is slim and bolt upright, presenting her Cadbury purple standards (upright petals) and aubergine falls (splayed petals) with effortless grace and elegance. A more poised and balletic bloom it is hard to imagine. Her bee guides are egg-yolk yellow and not as pronounced as some other varieties. Her leaves are slim, grey-green and grassy in appearance. The hooked, white tips help them to pierce the snow as it recedes. Whilst her foliage starts out nicely in proportion to the flowers, it quickly becomes long and straggly. For that reason I normally plant the bulbs so that they are hidden from view after flowering. ‘Pauline’ appears to be one of the earliest irises to flower, during the first weeks of February. Depending on the weather, each bloom might last for a couple of weeks.

For pot culture, or a guaranteed colourful display every year, new bulbs should be purchased from a reputable source each autumn, and either disposed of or planted out in the garden after flowering. Iris reticulata cultivars will not rebloom reliably from one year to the next unless all their needs are met, although cultivars of Iris histrioides are reputedly more reliable in this regard.

So, take heed, this summer, when you place your spring bulb order, put a generous number of Iris reticulata bulbs in your shopping basket …… then double the quantity, then double it again. When spring arrives, you may still wish you’d been braver, but you’ll be happy you didn’t skimp. TFG.

*Be it a fleeting blossom, a sparkling reflection, a gauzy summer cloud or a pristine garden bench, one can’t escape white in any landscape.

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9 thoughts on “Iris Reticulata ‘Pauline’

  1. Only today looking in my garden I made a note to myself to plant more I. reticulata this autumn. My gardens on the Lower Greensand ridge so a summer bake is becoming the norm and they return so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful iris ! I can’t stop gazing at my Harmony and Katharine Hodgkin (who are at least two years old and in a pot). I added grit this year and they are much better. Now I need Pauline !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great plants! Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkins’ is the top performer here and has increased very well over the years in the open ground in the garden.

    No match for snowdrops though!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. She certainly is a beauty. I haven’t had much luck with them in the past. I should get a few pots and try them this way. I don’t think they are so inexpensive here. Maybe they have to be shipped over here.

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  5. Monty certainly has a few! I have several pots of them, Pauline included, and Katherine Hodgkin this year. I planted several kinds in my raised bed last year but only a couple came back. George left in pots has come back for the second year so maybe those pots were in the right place. I did remove a lot of irises from pots in the summer and replanted them and they have returned, so maybe that’s the way to do it, though a faff. Buying new each year might be the easiest way. And I definitely want some new ones! I love the purple ones, but so far Alida is my favourite – such a wonderful blue.

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  6. Although white is my favorite color, I do not understand the cult following of snowdrops. I am regularly reminded that I would understand if I worked where winters are harsher, and there is nothing to bloom through the worst of it, and that snowdrops were the first flowers to bloom in a long time. I am not convinced. I would like to grow a few, but I really do not need to collect a bunch of obscure cultivars with differences that are so slight that I need to inspect them with a magnifying glass to see them. For now, I am satisfied with snowflake. Anyway, that blue is awesome, and that purple is rad too. It is amusing to see grape hyacinth also. I just got a clump of some that were already very well naturalized when I met them in 1976, but then mostly eradicated over the years. I would be delighted if they naturalized here. They can not get very far without water.

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