Another grey week and another plant hunt for something special. Usually I have a list of plants in mind but right now it is hard because some of the plants I wanted to do were damaged by an unusually hard freeze which came in early November last year. At that time many of the plants were not hardened off for the winter with the damage especially seen by broad-leaved evergreens which have much browned and dead foliage now. In my wandering last week I stumbled upon two plants of the same family which are stars at this time of the year. They are the Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis) and the Stinking or Gladwyn Iris (Iris foetidissima). They are the stars for different reasons as you will see!
The first stop we make is with the Algerian or Winter Iris with its lovely large violet blooms. It was first described by Botanist/clergyman Jean Louis Marie Pioret (1755-1834) in his journal ‘Voyage et Barbarie’ in 1789. He had been sent to Algeria by Louis XVI between 1785-6 to study the flora. The lovely Iris is more widespread and found in area from Algeria and Tunisia across north Africa into Turkey, Greece Crete and Malta. In the vast area it is known to live int there is some variation in color and form.
Algerian Iris produce new leaves in late spring and through the summer. Often you can clip the old leave edges back when they get looking tattered. Iris unguicularis likes the sunniest, driest spot in the garden with the grittiest soil. At Government House in Victoria the plants are perfectly place in the terrace garden which is on a southern exposed rock-face. The warmer and drier the summer the more blossoms will be produced. One thing about these plants is they hate to be moved or have their roots disturbed in any way.
The Gladwyn Iris is from more northern areas from southern England, Ireland through Portugal, Spain Canary Island on to Italy and finally the island of Malta.
The ‘Stinking Iris has gained an unfair reputation from its name. One has to crush the leaves and the flower to obtain even a faintly unpleasant scent. Iris foetidissima is a plant which has long been with us. It blooms in the traditional Iris time of late May and June, but, the flowers are small and often hidden in the foliage. The colors range from a creamy ochre into plummy shades.
The Gladwyn Iris is a plant of the woodlands, hedgerows, scrubs and cliff edges and other rocky sites. It is a plant which likes chalky and limestone heavy locations. Gladwyn Iris can grow in the sun or dappled shade and like average soil. They like sufficient water when they are growing in the spring and then dry conditions the rest of the year.After blooming it produces larger than average seed pods which ripen through the summer and into early winter when they burst. Inside the pods are usually bright orange seeds which remain colorful throughout the winter. The other day I noticed pods recently opened and others still green and waiting to split. Just like the flowers there are other known seed colors which are sought after and they range from golden yellows to creams and white. Probably the most want of the Gladwyn Iris is Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’ with beautifully uniform cream stripes running up the leaves.
Algerian and Gladwyn Iris are about the same height 45-60cm.(12-18 in.) and width They also share the same temperature tolerance to 15 c. (5 f.) or zones 7 through 9. Both plants are drought tolerant when they have been established. They are rabbit and deer resistant but can be damaged by slugs and snails. They make excellent specimens, accents s, mass evergreen plantings and work well in containers. Both of these species are not easy to find in plant centres or garden shops, the best bet would be to find them at garden sales or from specialty Iris growers.
This Odd Couple of the Irises:
Pacific Bulb Society has interesting note on both plants on this page, look down the page to find the species you are interested in: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/BeardlessIrises
Wild in Malta: http://maltawildplants.com/IRID/Iris_foetidissima.php
……See you soon when we travel the path of plants again…..