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Iris, The Rainbow Flower, Poor Man’s Orchid, Grandma’s Flags…the number of names proclaims the affection of gardeners for the iris family. Irises are hardy, quick to multiply, easy to transplant, come in many colors, and make wonderful bouquets. Plus, the family is so large that some kind of Iris will grow anywhere in North America, and indeed, in most of the world.
Selection: We have grown well over 1000 varieties of irises. At one time there were over 500 varieties of Tall Bearded (TB) irises (the so-called German iris, the one you think of first) here. Nowadays we are more selective, offering about 100 varieties of TB’s by name. We still have several hundred varieties because we also offer many smaller-than-tall bearded irises, bloom beginning in early May, and many beardless species, especially Siberians, which start blooming in early June with the TB’s; spurias and Louisianas, at the same time, and Japanese (I.ensata), which bloom late June and early July.
Value: We offer well-grown plants, free from disease, and provide complete and accurate information on culture, all at a competitive price. In the case of irises, we offer something more. John and Helen have grown irises for over 40 years. They are life members of the American Iris Society and trained as iris judges. We are assembling collections of the award winning irises in each class, and can recommend those that do best in Central New York. Bearded irises can be dug while in bloom and transplanted bare root. We also provide some bearded irises and all beardless types in pots, for convenience and ease of planting at any time during the growing season.
More About Irises: Where to begin? How about our favorites? Most of the Schueler family like Siberian irises. They are super hardy, have good clean and graceful foliage that is an asset to the garden even when not in flower, and they come in many colors besides purple: white, many shades of blue, red-purple, pink, lavender, and yellow. The roots of Siberians must be kept moist during and after transplant, but, once established, they are rock-hardy. There is the remnant of a famous iris farm (Indian Springs) near us, where Siberians are growing and blooming with abandon, untouched by humans since 1947.
Then there are the smaller-than-tall bearded irises, which begin blooming in early May. Standard dwarfs (SDB’s) bloom from mid-May to early June. They are 8 to 16 inches tall, and come in all the delicious colors that TB’s do. They are great in rock gardens and borders, and can be planted in deciduous shade, because they flower before the leaves come out. They also clump up quickly, and don’t need to be divided as often as TB’s.
We also are especially interested in historic irises at Phoenix Flower Farm, and belong to the Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS), so if you are looking for a sentimental favorite that Grandma grew, come see us. If we don’t have it, we may be able to put you in touch with someone who does. If you grow an iris that you know to be over 30 years old, and want to know its name, by all means ask. (Bring a rhizome in bloom—there are over 50,000 irises out there!) Helen is always ready to “talk irises”.
The American Iris Society (AIS), as do many plant societies, maintains a system of awards and honors, determined by qualified judges and based on the experience of those judges with the variety as a garden plant in their own region. AIS gives awards annually for 14 classes of iris. You can see examples of all but three of those at Phoenix Flower Farm. NOTE: Our neighbor south of Geneva, NY, Dana Borglum was honored with the highest award for Siberian irises, the Morgan Award, for his ‘Lake Keuka’. We carry ‘Lake Keuka’ and several other Borglum irises, which are indeed fine.
There is also an active local affiliate of AIS which does a show each year (June 7 in 2003) and offers tours and other events. If you join AIS (which has sections devoted to each class of iris) through the Farm we will give you a $10 gift certificate and some free irises to offset the cost of membership. Please also let us know if you would like a reminder of the annual sale by the CNY Iris Society, in July. You can also go to the AIS website for more information on irises, and to locate affiliates in other parts of the country.
We all know there can be “worms” in paradise. In iris heaven, the “worm” is an iris borer. We have a detailed care sheet on irises at the Farm. The short answer to preventing borer damage is plant hygiene—cleaning up and disposing of leaves in the Fall, and observing your plants after bloom for signs of borer before it reaches the rhizome (toe, tuber where food is stored). Only if you have a massive borer problem should you resort to an approved pesticide—Merit is now recommended--for one season, but it is much better to prevent the problem by good garden practice. Armed with knowledge and vigilance, you will not find it difficult to keep the borer under control in a normal sized garden. If you occasionally find a young borer it doesn’t mean you’re a bad gardener—irises growing wild along our rivers are always a source of infection. That’s why you keep your eyes open during the summer.