Despite the enormous range of colours we have seen so far, and the erratic additions of horns and flounces in the Space Agers, all the flowers of the iris have been very recognisable, with three standards and three falls. But if we think of the Japanese iris (Iris ensata), we do not see the traditional, wild flower shape but the huge, clematis-flowered iris with six falls, making a dinner-plate flower with a bunch of style crests in the centre. It is only logical that if this mutation happened in the Japanese iris it would happen in the bearded iris too. And so we have the ‘flat top’ iris.
If the Space Agers have their fans and detractors then you can multiply this by a factor of ten for the flat tops, Part of the problem is that they are not always consistent and a flower with a mix of floppy standards among the falls makes for a mess. But where the flower is well organised it can be very attractive. There is scope for some really striking colour patterns here – a huge zoned flower like a dart board! But most, mercifully, have rather subdued colouring, so far.
‘Impersonator’ was bred by Sanford Babford of California and introduced in 1974. The large, flat flowers are violet blue with white beards. Neither of its parents were flat tops though one, Babson’s own blue ‘Shipshape’ did win the Dykes Medal in 1974. Flat tops will always be a rather niche category but there will be another featured in a week or so. As my new collection expands I am pleased to say that I have Schreiners ‘Fluffy Pillows’ and it may be featured when it blooms.
‘I’ve Got Rhythm’
And now a short run of plicata iris, those flowers with pale falls banded and stitched with darker colour – a kind of picotee. ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ is a Schreiners introduction from 1998. The blooms have a warm feel because the ground colour is cream rather than pure white. It is early blooming and the flowers are smaller than average. For some reason I prefer my plicatas with smaller flowers – not sure why.
‘I Feel Good’
There is a distinct resemblance to the above iris because ‘I Feel Good’, introduced by Schreiners in 2003, has ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ as one parent (and the blue and white plicata ‘American Classic’ as the other). More white in the centre of the standards and crisp, white falls add to the drama and intensity of these flowers.
Another variation on the theme is ‘Inside Track’ by Keith Keppel and introduced in 2003. Dark purple and white makes a very striking bloom.
‘I’ll Be Back’
I defy you to say this without impersonating Arnie! Deviating a little, since this is an Intermediate and not a Tall bearded iris, this flower opens with a blue tinge to the falls but is basically a plain white flower. What makes it special is that it reliably reblooms in late summer (it did for me) after the initial bloom period, hence the name. Raised by Terry Aitken of Salmon Creek, who raised iris across all classifications, it was introduced in 2004 and is a great garden plant.