Magazine article Sunset

Our Own Wild Iris ... in Your Garden

Magazine article Sunset

Our Own Wild Iris ... in Your Garden

Article excerpt

Our own wild iris . . . in your garden

The native iris of the Pacific Coast--and their hybrid offspring--combine the toughness of native plants with a gracefulness and color range that few exotic perennials can match. This is the month to see and buy them in bloom in nurseries or at native plant sales. It's also the time to take a walk or a drive near the coast and see expanses of wild iris in full bloom (as in the large photograph at left).

Of the many species of Western native iris, I. douglasiana has been most widely used in breeding programs. It grows from central Oregon to Santa Barbara, usually within 10 miles of the coast. Look for its lavender-blue to purple-blue flowers and evergreen foliage fans in open woodland or pastureland; they show to great advantage in pastures because cattle and sheep crop the grass around them. Its contributions to the hybrids are evergreen foliage, branching flower stems, and a strong constitution.

Other species are also notable parents. I. innominata, native to southwest Oregon and northwestern California, contributes a golden yellow color and pronounced brown veining. I. munzii, a rare native of the southern Sierra Nevada foothills, passes on unusually pure blues.

These and other species, variable in themselves, cross freely, yielding a kaleidoscopic range of colors. Fanciers have selected the best of these and bred from them. Advanced hybrids now have nearly the color range of tall bearded iris--including white, cream, yellow, gold, orange, pink, coppery red, bronze, brown, lavender, and blues from sky pale to deepest violet. Most are feathered, veined, eyed, or stitched with contrasting colors, and many are ruffled or pleated.

Where to grow Pacific hybrids

Near the coast, these iris succeed in full sun; inland, they do best in open shade or afternoon shade. They require good drainage, neutral-to-acid soil with humus, and ample water in winter and spring. Mature plants near the coast may need no irrigation during the dry season; inland, give them occasional water.

Use them on hillsides, among shrubs with similar water needs, at woodland edges, in rock gardens, or as the springtime color feature in a garden of native plants. They are especially useful along paths or by stairs or sitting areas where their colors and markings can be observed in detail.

Once clumps are established, they spread, becoming broader and more floriferous year by year. Group them in masses of one color (as in the garden shown in the center photograph, left), or mix them up for a cottage-garden effect. At this stage, plants yield lots of flowers for cutting (and these last well in water). …

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