I think today is officially the end of this year’s bearded iris season, torrential downpours have flattened the last stragglers, along with the late peonies and oriental poppies. I always mourn the passing of these magnificent plants.
I am fond of all iris and even have an iris tattoo on my leg. But one of my favorites is my Grape Kool-Aid Iris, a simple purple iris with a strong and lovely aroma, reminiscent of grape Kool-Aid. About fifteen years ago, maybe more, there was a flurry of letters in Organic Gardening Magazine, describing this iris and trying to track it down. A few years later I found an offer for Grape Kool-Aid Iris in the Flower and Herb Seed Savers Exchange from a gardener in upstate New York. He sent me some fat rhizomes and they have become a major feature in my early summer garden.
The photographs here are my grape iris, including a Polaroid Manipulation. This was taken with an old Polaroid SX-70 Land camera from the 1970’s using Time Zero film. The emulsion of this film does not set immediately and I move it around with knitting needles to create a painterly effect.
Bearded iris are simple to grow. The rhizomes are usually shipped in late summer and are planted flat just below the soil surface in ordinary garden soil, not too rich. I transplant them at any time after they flower, they can even be left to bake in the sun with roots bare for a few days without harm. The only problem I have with iris is weeds which seem to love to grow around them, under them, all over them. I have a lot of garden and weeds tend to get ahead of me so I just dig the iris out every other year or so and pull the weeds off the roots and then put them back into the ground. They don’t mind at all. Iris need to be divided every few years anyway. The dead, withered parts of the rhizomes can be cut off and each piece that has leaf growth can be planted as a new plant.
The Seed Savers Exchange and the Flower and Herb Exchange
Seed Savers is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. They publish two fat catalogues each year full of member’s offers of seeds and plants, One is dedicated to vegetables and the other to flowers and herbs. This is a wonderful source for seeds, many handed down in families over generations, and also a great way to meet and share with other gardeners.