We’re back today in Harriet Robinson’s beautiful Maine garden, today exploring her collection of irises:
I started collecting irises when I joined the Maine Iris Society about 12 years ago. I joined not so much for a love of irises as for the fact that this group had a lot of experienced gardeners as members. My iris collection grew facilitated by swaps from members, door prizes at meetings, and purchases at auctions and sales. I began to love irises, especially siberians which fit nicely with other perennials, historic bearded irises that are less frilly than modern ones, and Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB) and Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB) irises which bloom earlier and are easier to transport to flower shows. I now grow SDB irises as edging plants, other median (especially Intermediate Bearded, IB) and Tall Bearded, TB, irises in 4 dedicated iris beds for a selection to take to our yearly flower show. I grow siberians with other perennials in mixed gardens, and a collection of hybridizer Currier McEwen’s (the father of the modern siberian iris) siberian irises in dedicated beds.
Here’s an example of SDBs used for edging in the beds in front of my house. ‘Tiny Beacon’ is the MDB in the foreground next to SDB ‘Inviolate” and then ‘Rainbow Rim’ and euphorbia ‘Bonfire’. I particularly like the bright yellow ‘Cache of Gold’ beyond the steps but enjoy placing all of them with color combinations in mind. (The troughs on the front steps contain rock garden plants.)
The largest of my bearded iris beds has a mix from recent to historic irises and blooms for 5 or 6 weeks starting with IB and ending with TB. Among my favorites in this bed are ‘Code of Honor’, an IB introduced in 2013.
Yellow ‘Coronation’ from 1927 is a great grower and keeps flowering for 3 weeks or more. Here it is with TB ‘Shipshape’ from 1968, a Dykes winner, the highest award the American Iris Society gives.
The small iris bed was the first one I put in and includes mostly historics. ‘Stepping Out’ (1964) (purple and white) and ‘Blue Sapphire’(1953), both historic Dykes medal winners, are in this bed. The lower purple and white to the left is ‘Frosted Velvet’, a 1988 Miniature Tall Bearded, and the lower yellow to the right is ‘Kaleidoscope’ from 1926.
I have a small area dedicated to hybridizer Bee Warburton. Her granddaughter has given me a selection of Warburton SDBs and IBs. Pictured are the IBs after the SDBs in the front row finished blooming. This bed is an extension to a long border. My preferred mulch for bearded irises is pine needles which help some with weed control.
I began collecting hybridizer Currier McEwen’s siberian irises for a small public garden near me. As the goal of the collection grew from collecting a representation to trying to find all of the extant ones, I had to add large beds to my garden to contain up to 100 cultivars. This is a work in progress as I continue to seek the ones I am missing. ‘Sally Kerlin’ (registered in 1968 and introduced in 1970) was McEwen’s first registration and has the first place (lower right) in these 3 long beds. This iris is one of the very first ones I planted in the pool garden long before I had any idea I’d have a collection of just McEwen cultivars. It remains a favorite of mine.
‘Snow Bounty’ (1973) is front and center here with others in the collection around it.
My current favorite McEwen is ‘Romantic Lady’ (1984).
Other favorite siberians include ‘Dirigo Indigo’ (2004). It is a wonderful companion to peonies, cranesbill geranium ‘Brookside’ and amsonia in the pool garden. It blooms later than most of the Siberians in the pool garden.
‘Swans in Flight’ (2006) is the first siberian to win the American Iris Society’s top award, the Dykes medal. Here it is with peonies in the pool garden on a clear day that shows of the White Mountain view.
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