Old Fashioned? Or Out of Fashion?

In the nursery industry, I keep hearing that demand for certain types of plants is cyclical. The “run-of-the-mill” rhododendron appears to fall into that category. Perhaps roses do, too. Do iris?

I was at Joy Creek Nursery for a new plant introduction workshop put on Maurice Horn and Mike Smith, co-owners of Joy Creek Nursery (they have experience introducing a variety of plants to the market, perhaps most notably Miscanthus sinensus ‘Gold Bar’). They have suspended their breeding of iris due to lack of demand for the plant. On the other hand, author, florist and retail nursery owner Thomas Hobbs is starting to breed bearded iri—perhaps just for himself—even though there are hundreds (thousands?) available to the home owners through mail order catalogs like Schreiner’s Garden. Mr. Hobbs mentioned as one of his favorites Iris ‘Champagne Elegance’, a subtle apricot and white bearded variety that he swears—and according to Scheiner’s—reblooms in late summer.

According to Wikipedia, “Iris is a genus of 260 species of flowering plants with showy flowers. They are perennial herbs, growing from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous irises), or, in drier climates, from bulbs (bulbous irises).” Some of the flowers are exceptionally subtle and others are as colorful as a circus. Tall and diminutive also describe various irises. Culturally and visually diverse, one would think any gardener could find an iris to suit their fancy and garden environment. I planted a native iris and was rewarded with a sky blue flower on a stalk that was only about a foot tall; a lovely surprise. [Note: In Oregon, yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus, also known as yellow water iris, is invasive in wetlands and shorelines. Not only does it grow in dense mats, spread by broken stem fragments and by seeds that float in water, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals.]

Walking the neighborhood and on garden tours, my eye was drawn to clumps of iris because they provide a strong punctuation point with their stiff upright foliage and unmistakable flowers. Use them in your landscape and in a few years you’ll have rhizomes or bulbs to share with your precious friends and neighbors. There’s no reason iris, rhododendrons or roses need to go out of fashion when you know they perform well and can add beauty and structure to any style of garden.