A recent visit to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, coincided with peak bloom of its wonderful collection of Japanese irises (Iris ensata, Zones 3–9). Unlike their more popular cousins, the bearded irises, which are best suited to well-drained soils, Japanese irises grow happily in anything from moist garden soil to shallow standing water. Happiest in acidic soil with lots of fertilizer and full sun, Japanese irises are well worth any effort to make happy as they have some of the largest, most astonishingly beautiful flowers you can grow. They’re an obvious choice for gardens in the southeastern United States, as the climate in that part of the country is very similar to the irises’ native Japan.
Growing in a huge mass like this, Iris ensata ‘Pinstripe’ makes an incredible statement in the garden. It is easy to see where this variety got its name, as each petal is covered with a tidy network of fine, purple lines.
Iris ensata ‘Shei Shonogon’ is a simple Japanese iris, looking much like the species did in the wild before Japanese gardeners started breeding and selecting new and improved forms. It and varieties like it are good choices for a wilder, more naturalistic garden design. View our Japanese Iris plant guide here.
Iris ensata ‘Nikko’ invites closer inspection of the intricate pattern in each flower. What a work of art! View more ideas for using purple in your garden.
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