I received the iris for the garden (all bearded and mostly tall bearded) last August I have been impatient to see their first flowers. The poor plants had a tough start to life in Ireland. They were planted temporarily in a holding area and then moved again, when the summer flowers had been removed to make way for the permanent residents of this part of the garden, in October. This is much later than I would like because bearded iris make two lots of roots every year, in March and in August/September which is why August and September are the best time to plant them – so they get their roots down and hold the plants steady should they flower the next summer.
The plants are in rather heavy soil which is not perfect, and of course we had the wettest winter on record here and the ground was very, very soggy. Some looked decidedly jaded by the time spring arrived. But I did my best for them and made sure the rhizomes were positioned on the surface and then also ensured the rhizomes were pointing south, with the fans of leaves to the north, so the leaves would not shade the rhizomes so they could get as much sun as possible.
I have not given them any extra feed yet – they will get a high-potash boost after flowering to coincide with the production of new roots.
Anyway, I have a winner in the race to bloom first, though there is a very close runner up.
This iris, with its odd name is unmistakably the child of Brad Kasparek and his Zebra Gardens. He is renowned throughout the world for his efforts in producing iris with broken colours and for giving them comical names based on African animals and puns. His nursery in Elwood, Utah, USA is still producing a stream of novel iris although he has recently turned his attentions to spuria iris. ‘Gnu Blues’ was introduced in 1994 and won awards soon after (HM – Honourable Mention – 1996, AM – Award of Merit – 1998). It is supposed to be a mid-season bloomer at a height of 90cm but this year it is early for me and is only 75cm high but then the fan has produced two spikes so that could explain the slightly shorter stature.
The flowers are moderately sized and the hafts (top) of the falls* are rather narrow. I would say the flowers are slightly old-fashioned in form. The colour is often described as blue-violet but that seems an exaggeration too because the colour is quite pale. The ‘breaking’ of the colours is a bit subtle too although there is a darker streak on one of the falls that you can’t see in the photos. I do agree that the flowers have a pleasant fragrance. In fairness to the plant the flowers do have nice form in that the falls, though not very flaring (horizontal) are in proportion to the standards* which are nicely arched and domed to present a slightly ruffled, classic iris shape. The gold-tipped beards provide some pleasant contrast.
‘Midnight Majesty’ is from the famous Schreiner’s nursery in Oregon. I have visited several times and it really is an amazing place. Their show gardens are world-renowned and I am not ashamed to say that I have just been planting aquilegias among the iris for a similar display to theirs next year. This iris was introduced in 2001 and received an HM in 2003. I like this one because I have to admit that, all things being equal, I like ruffled flowers. These are big and showy in inky violet. The standards are paler than the falls and the beard is almost the same colour as the standards. The ruffled flowers do mean the standards are rather open and time will tell what they look like after rain. The flowers are rather darker than the photos suggest.
The official height for this iris is 90 – 100cm and this first stalk is about 80cm. Its parents are Schreiner’s ‘Best Bet’ (1988) which is a beautiful reblooming (remontant) Neglecta with very pale standards back-crossed with its parent ‘Titan’s Glory’ (1981), also from Schreiner’s, a big, bold, dark award winner. It all seems a bit incestuous but the result is good.
This colour pattern is called Neglecta and describes an iris in the blue or purple range with paler standards than falls.
* Iris flowers can seem a bit complicated at first but the three outer petals unfurl and hand down or are held horizontally and are called the ‘falls’. The top of the falls is called the haft and this area is often striped. Stripy hafts were usually seen as a bad thing, being close to the patterns on wild iris but increasingly they seem to be accepted. The three inner petals – inner because they are held within the falls when in bud – usually remain upright and are called the standards. Iris, and all the plants in the iris family, have three stamens (that hold the pollen) and in iris they are held under the stylar arms (style arms). These are the three ‘arms’ that arch out from the centre of the bloom, above the falls, and you can usually clearly see the style crests (divided into two parts) and the stigmatic flap under this- they can be clearly seen in the photos of ‘Gnu Blues’.
As the insect crawls into the bloom to get to nectar, it is forced up by the beard and it will rub pollen off its back onto the stigmatic flap which will be pulled open as the bee pushes in. It will then pick up pollen on its back as it pushes further but as it backs out it cannot put the pollen from that bloom onto the stigmatic flap because it will be held shut – thus ensuring cross pollination.