This heirloom iris, ‘Flavescens’, was growing at my former 19th century farmhouse when we moved in. I had to dig it up and divide it to see what color flowers it had, as it was so crowded it didn’t bloom that first spring. It bloomed every year once I started caring for it, but rather sparsely. Oh, well, I thought to myself, it’s an old variety. What can you expect? After all, isn’t that one of the goals of breeding programs, to have more flowers on each plant?
It is doing so much better here, it makes me wonder what I was doing wrong at the old house. Maybe it didn’t get as much sun there. Or maybe this iris just likes my not-much-fuss garden bed preparation, which I had not perfected back in the early days of my gardening life. In September 2012, this gorgeous clump started out as a measly two fans.Now it looks smashing with true-blue perennial flax (Linum perenne), fragrant dianthus, and variegated dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’ Ivory Halo®). I just can’t get over how great it looks this year and every time I come around the corner from the garage, my heart does a little leap. These front borders are finally coming into their own.
An iris with a history–and a shady past
Old House Gardens and Restoring American Gardens list it as being introduced in 1813 as a cultivar of bearded iris. The Pacific Bulb Society calls it a hybrid, but they don’t say why they think that or which species it’s a hybrid of. Its origins seem to be shrouded in mystery. Of course it doesn’t affect how it performs in the garden, but I like to identify plants correctly when I write about them, and I was a little bit perplexed as to the correct nomenclature.For more stories and photos about this heirloom iris, check out Old House Gardens newsletter archives. (You might want to subscribe to their newsletter, as it is always full of interesting tidbits about heirloom flowers.) And if you have other flowering bulbs that were growing at your old house when you moved in, or were handed down to you from older gardeners, you might want to take a look at the Pacific Bulb Society’s list of Legacy Bulbs.