Sunday 25 February 2018

Beautiful purple flag heralds summertime

German iris, also known as purple flag
German iris, also known as purple flag

Gerry Daly

ALREADY in flower in some places and soon to show elsewhere, the German iris is one of the great plants of early summer. This flower is also sometimes known as purple flag, although it is more blue than purple. The beautiful large flowers are outstanding, and the plant is easy to grow.

The flowers are very distinctive with three blue-purple petals rising upwards and three darker violet-purple lower petals. The lower petals have a yellow 'beard' at the throat of the flower.

The flowers are carried at the top of upright stems, about 60cm to 90cm tall, which makes them very visible and effective.

Although the German iris is named as a species, it is considered to be an ancient natural hybrid, possibly originating in Italy or other part of the Mediterranean region where similar wild species still grow. Most forms of this plant are sterile and do not make seeds, and true species have to be fertile so they can reproduce. The flowers are fragrant while many related kinds are not.

This iris was widely grown in cottage gardens and still crops up in old gardens, although it is not much seen for sale. It was one of those plants that was passed around by friends and neighbours.

German iris, also known as purple flag

It is very robust and free of diseases that affect other related irises. It can survive well in gardens even when completely neglected, being strong enough to cope with weeds.

The German iris has a lovely summery look and it is followed by other beautiful irises in the coming weeks. It flowers at the same time as peonies and Oriental poppies, other large flowers with a summery appearance, and its blue colour looks great with their reds and pinks.

Because it is sterile, this iris has not been much used to raise new varieties, but other similar species have been used to create a phenomenal range of colours.

Every shade and combination of red, pink, purple, yellow, toffee, orange, blue and white has been bred. There are frilled kinds and many with veining and splotches of white or yellow. And there are different heights, small, intermediate and tall.

The small kinds are good for the front of border, the medium and taller kinds further back.

Varieties come and go with new ones appearing constantly. The best thing to do is visit the garden centres to see which kinds are in flower and buy the ones you like. Choose a sunny spot with good drainage and soil that is not too rich.

Sunday Independent

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