Midwest gardeners know and love bearded irises. They're the irises that have hairy tufts decorating the center of each arching petal, and few gardens in the region are without them.
But Kevin C. Vaughn thinks we're missing a bet by not also planting more of the beardless type. Some of these have large, spectacular blossoms. Others thrive in an environment that would be death to bearded irises, such as wet soil.
In his book "Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation" (Schiffer Publishing, 2015, $29.99), Vaughn says there's at least one type of beardless iris to fit any site you have. If you think you know irises, you may be surprised that this book covers 60 different species and subspecies of beardless irises that grow from rhizomes. The book's gorgeous photographs may make you wish you could grow them all.
Siberian irises are probably the most familiar of the beardless types. Vaughn says there is almost no easier garden plant.
Unlike bearded irises, they can be left in place for years without dividing. Even when not in bloom, their upright clumps of handsome foliage look like ornamental grasses. And Siberian irises "play very well" with other garden plants. They range in height from 6-inch dwarfs to 4-foot-tall specimens. Some are repeat bloomers.
I always thought Louisiana irises would be too tender for my Midwest garden, but Vaughn says these hardy plants thrive as far north as South Dakota. They also produce some of the brightest flowers of any iris.
But Louisiana irises are not a good choice for a drought-tolerant garden. Natives of swamps, they'll need plenty of water and fertilizer throughout the summer, then lesser amounts as autumn approaches.
Spuria irises have proven their worth in my garden as easy landscape plants. Vaughn calls this type of iris "one of the few you can plant and forget." In fact, it works best if you do because spurias resent transplanting.
Most spurias are tall, back-of the-border plants, often growing 4 or 5 feet tall and thriving in full sun or partial shade. Color choices include white, yellow, lavender, purple and near-black, with many beautiful bicolors.
While almost all of the beardless irises make good cut flowers, Vaughn says spurias are some of the best.
Japanese irises are the last to bloom, stretching the flowering season. Their flat flowers are spectacular, growing a foot in diameter. The plants require consistently moist soil.
This book offers something for everyone, from easy-to-understand cultural information for the novice to instructions on undertaking an iris hybridizing program of your own.
Contact the writer: www.midwestgardening.com