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Heirloom Iris

From America’s Expert Source for Heirloom Flower Bulbs
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Order these spring-planted bulbs NOW for delivery SPRING 2021.


ENDURING PERENNIALS — Tough, beautiful, and diverse, heirloom iris thrive without care in old gardens and graveyards across America.

TO BLOOM THIS YEAR — Though iris are usually sold bare-root in summer and don’t bloom till the next, we ship freshly dug plants in April that, with good care and a bit of luck, may well bloom their first summer.

HISTORY & TIPS — Grown here since colonial days, iris became one of the “it” flowers of the Arts and Crafts era. They like full sun and well-drained soil. Learn more.


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IMMORTAL IRISSampler

Icons of the late-spring/early-summer garden, bearded iris are easy to grow and richly diverse. Give them full sun and average to well-drained soil and they’ll reward you for close to forever. We’ll send you 3 of our favorite heirlooms (a few possibilities are pictured here), all different, labeled, freshly dug from our Ann Arbor micro-farm, and great for zones 3a-8a(10aWC).

For more of each variety, order additional samplers. Iris care.

COS-33
1/$24
2/$45.50
3/$65
Limit 3, please.

CAPRICE, 1898It’s Back!

“‘I smell ripe grapes!’ cried a freckle-faced boy” in Ella McKinney’s 1927 Iris in the Little Garden – but it was actually this richly fragrant iris he smelled. It’s richly colored, too, a pure, deep, glowing rose that drew me like a beacon when I first saw it at our local Farmers Market many years ago. Just 24-26 inches tall, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from our Ann Arbor micro-farm. Chart and care.

IR-18
1/$8
3/$23
5/$36
10/$68
25/$160

COLONEL CANDELOT, 1907It’s Back!

With velvety falls of deep oxblood to burgundy, this small-flowered French iris was the “reddest” of its era, and it’s still a knockout today. Strong-growing and floriferous with a light fragrance that’s been compared to honey locust, it’s an iris that, as Lee Bonnewitz wrote in his 1926 catalog, “I believe all American iris lovers will be glad to own.” 30-32”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-35
1/$10
3/$28.50
5/$45
Limit 5, please.

FLAVESCENS, 1813It’s Back!

Lauren Springer in Passionate Gardening tells of collecting a bit of this incredibly tough, moonlight yellow iris from “two shimmering clumps” at an abandoned homesite in Wyoming, way out in the middle of nowhere. “Perhaps someday,” she muses, “it will be all that remains of my house and garden.” (See a triumphant swath of it gone wild in Kansas.) Lemon fragrance, 30”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-06
1/$9.50
3/$27
5/$42.50
Limit 5, please.

GERMANICA, 1500It’s Back!

This iconic flower could be called the original bearded iris. Fragrant and tough, it was grown in ancient Rome, carried east on the Silk Road, and by 1629 was so widely planted in England that Parkinson called it “the common purple flower-de-luce.” It’s also the iris immortalized by Van Gogh in his masterpiece Irises which sold in 1987 for a record-setting $54 million. 30-36”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-19
1/$10
3/$28.50
5/$45
10/$85
Limit 10, please.

GRACCHUS, 1884It’s Back!

At Wave Hill, the legendary Marco Polo Stufano championed hundreds of little-known but fabulous flowers, including this classic iris. Just two feet tall, it melds happily into perennial gardens where its luminous, pale gold standards over a lacework of raisin-purple give it a regal presence. Tough and floriferous, 20-24", zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-01
1/$9
3/$25.50
5/$40.50
Limit 5, please.

HONORABILE, 1840It’s Back!

This tough little charmer, carried across the country by the pioneers, flourishes today in thousands of old gardens, cemeteries, and abandoned homesites from Bangor to Santa Barbara. Although our photo may make it look brassy or plain, in the garden here its small, cheery flowers of chestnut and gold have won it many fans. Some experts claim that, due to a mix-up 150 years ago, its real name is ‘San Souci’, but we’re unconvinced — and whatever you call it, this is a richly historic and rewarding iris. 20-24 inches, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from our Ann Arbor micro-farm. Chart and care.

IR-11
1/$8.50
3/$24
5/$38
10/$72
Limit 10, please.

LAVANDULACEA, 1854It’s Back!

Subtle and small-flowered, this rarely offered beauty will never be mistaken for a modern iris. It’s an intriguing blend of soft lavender shaded at the edges by even softer brown – yes, brown! – and brightened by a glow in the center that spills out on its golden beards. Due to limited space in our micro-farm, we’re offering it one time only, so get it while you can! Aka ‘Dove’, ‘Agnes Sorrel’, ‘Pluton’, ‘Rosamond’, and ‘Candicans’. 22-26”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart.

IR-40
1/$9.50
3/$27
Limit 3, please.

MONSIGNOR, 1907It’s Back!

Introduced by Vilmorin-Andrieux et Cie, the famous French seed company, this sumptuous iris features violet standards over deep, velvety, claret purple falls with vivid white reticulations and an orange beard. But popularity and survival depend on more than good looks, and ‘Monsignor’ – like many cherished pass-along plants – grows with great vigor and blooms abundantly. Fragrant, 28-32”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from our Ann Arbor micro-farm. Chart and care.

IR-31
1/$11
3/$31.50
5/$49.50
Limit 5, please.

MRS. GEORGE DARWIN, 1895It’s Back!

The perfect size for bouquets, and luminous in the garden, this elegant small iris is named for Maud du Puy, the Philadelphia-born wife of one of Darwin’s sons. Although often confused with its sister ‘Mrs. Horace Darwin’ (which we offered last year), it’s laced with gold and purple (not just purple) and blooms later (extending the sisterly season). 24”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart, care, and learn more.

IR-25
1/$9
3/$25.50
5/$40.50
10/$76.50
Limit 10, please.

PLUMERI, 1888It’s Back!

This fragrant little iris is a fascinating mix of jewel-like colors that photos can only hint at. “Coppery rose” over “velvety claret” is how the legendary Bertrand Farr described it in 1920, while other have called it “rosy mauve with metallic sheen” over “red-violet, edged gold-brown.” Early and free flowering, it’s an iris we look forward to every year. (Please note: Recent research by Anner Whitehead has convinced us that ‘Plumeri’ dates to 1888, not 1830.) 28-32”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-26
1/$9.50
3/$27
5/$42.50
10/$80.50
Limit 10, please.

QUEEN OF MAY, 1859It’s Back!

One of the first “pink” irises, this Victorian favorite isn’t really pink but a soft, luminous, rosy lavender that’s distinctly different from the many lavender-blues of iris season. It’s fragrant, free-flowering, and still – as Ella McKinney summed it up in her 1927 Iris in the Little Garden – “old, early, and good.” 28-32”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. Chart and care.

IR-17
1/$8
3/$23
5/$36
10/$68
25/$160

WYOMISSING, 1909It’s Back!

One of the oldest American iris, petite ‘Wyomissing’ debuted in the very first catalog of Bertrand Farr, the visionary Pennsylvania nurseryman who sparked America’s love affair with iris in the early 1900s. It’s a dreamy, uniquely-colored iris with warm white standards blushed lavender-pink and richly patterned falls of a deeper, rosier lavender that blurs and fades into mist at the edges. 22-24”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from our Ann Arbor micro-farm. Chart and care.

IR-45
1/$10
3/$28.50
5/$45
10/$85
Limit 10, please.

PALLIDA DALMATICA, 1597

This is the iris of my childhood, and maybe yours – tall, pale lavender, tough as nails, with a Concord grape fragrance that, as Elizabeth Lawrence wrote, “fills the borders and drifts into the house.” In his monumental Herbal of 1597, Gerard called it “the great Floure de-luce of Dalmatia” and praised its tall stalks, “faire large floures,” and “exceedingly sweet” scent. Even its leaves are beautiful! Stately but down-home, it’s a quintessential iris – and somehow makes everything around it look better. (See it farmed in Italy for making perfumes and gin.) 36-38”, zones 3a-8a(10bWC), from Ann Arbor. We hope to offer this variety again in 2021. If you’d like to be notified when it’s back in stock, sign up for an email alert.


IRIS HISTORY — Native from Europe to Nepal, bearded iris are one of the world’s oldest cultivated flowers. They were carved on the walls of Egyptian temples, grown by the monk Walafrid Strabo in the ninth century, and included in Gerard’s great Herbal of 1597.

Colonial gardeners grew a handful, but the real glory days for bearded iris began in the mid-1800s when breeders in France developed scores of exciting new varieties such as ‘Madame Chereau’. British and American enthusiasts soon joined in, and by the 1920s iris ranked as one of the top three perennials in American gardens.

HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! We’ve been members of the terrific Historic Iris Preservation Society since its founding in 1988, and if you love heirloom flowers we think you’ll find it well worth joining.

IRIS ARCHIVES — For customer tips and raves, the stories behind the flowers, links and books, history, news, and more, see our Iris Newsletter Archives.

IRIS AS CUT FLOWERS — For tips for longer lasting bouquets, see our Bulbs as Cut Flowers page.

IRIS PLANTING AND CARE — Unlike most sources, we ship our iris as bare-root plants in the spring. (See an example here.) Plant them right away. They’re freshly dug the day we ship them, they can take light frost, and to bloom their first summer they must get growing again ASAP. If necessary, store in the fridge for 2-3 days or “heel in” briefly in moist sand or soil.

Iris like lots of sun. Give them half a day, at least, or more for increased bloom and better health. Good drainage is essential, too, so plant in sandy to average soil. Avoid or improve heavy (clay) soil or plant on a slope or in raised beds.

Space 10-18 inches apart. Iris grow/expand outward from the leaf end of the rhizome (bulb), so keep this in mind when arranging and planting them.

Don’t plant too deep! Leave the top of the rhizome exposed. Dig a hole, mound soil in the center, set plant on top, and spread roots down the sides of the mound. Fill in and firm soil, making sure that the top of the rhizome remains exposed (or barely covered in extremely hot climates). Water well.

Though iris are drought-tolerant and will rot in soil that’s too wet, they’ll need regular moisture the first few months after planting as they reestablish themselves. So water them, but not too much. Let your green thumb be your guide.

After flowering, cut bloom-stalks to the ground. Weed carefully to avoid damaging shallow feeder-roots. For best bloom and health, trim or remove dead or disfigured leaves (but not healthy green ones!), especially in late fall and early spring, so air can circulate freely and sunshine can warm the rhizomes.

After a few years of vigorous growth, your iris may get so crowded that their bloom and health begin to suffer. To thin or divide them, wait 4-8 weeks after bloom and then either open up the clump by removing the oldest rhizomes from the center, or dig it all, replant the best new rhizomes, and give away or destroy (don’t compost) the others.

Iris have relatively few pests or diseases that trouble them. You can get helpful advice on the most common ones — iris borer (which is a problem east of the Rockies only), leaf spot, and root rot — at the excellent Iris Garden website sponsored by the iris societies of New England.


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