The dwarf irises which usually flower later in February have all come out early this year. The first to bloom is as usual Iris danfordiae in lovely deep yellow. If you peer down its throat you can see it has green spots on its tonsils.You have to buy new ones each year because like the giant lily: Cardiocrinum giganteum the bulbs split up into tiny non-flowering bulblets. I suppose you could grow these on and indeed I have done this with the giant lily but I have never bothered with the iris they are so cheap to buy.
I love the combination of pale blue and yellow with dark purple spots on Iris Katharine Hodgkin. It is a cross between Iris danfordiae and the tough little Iris histrioides. It is beautiful and with a bit of tender care you can keep it going for several years.
A very similar iris has been bred with the same parents. It is Iris histrioides Sheila Ann Germaney. It has a much narrower yellow strip and doesn’t have the dark spots. It is just as beautiful though. There is some confusion about the parentage of these two irises. Some authorities say they must be the offspring of Iris histrioides and the delicate pale yellow Iris winogradowii.
Iris reticulata which means the netted iris because it has a fibrous net round the bulb comes in many lovely shades of blue and purple. They all have lovely markings on the falls. I love the deep wine colour of Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ with the white and purple tips to the ends of the falls.
My favourite is Iris reticulata ‘Halkis’. This beauty was found in 1990 in Turkey. It has scented flowers and a winning combination of sky blue with inky purple falls with a yellow flash.
Most of these lovely irises are widely available, although ‘Halkis’ may take a bit of seeking out. One of the most commonly found is the lovely Iris ‘Harmony’ which is such a gorgeous shade of blue.
If you want your dwarf irises to come back year after year it is essential that they have good drainage and a semi-shaded spot. I give them plenty of gravel mixed up with their soil. They must be planted deep to do well and I give them a high potash fertiliser when they have finished flowering. They are also great for pots as many of them are delicately perfumed and you don’t always want to get on your hands and knees to sniff them in February.