When I picked up a charming yellow-and-purple bearded bearded iris at a neighbour’s plant sale, little did I know that a treasured heirloom was going to be making a new home in my garden.
Bearded iris, or Iris germanica, is one of the world’s oldest cultivated flowers. Find out more about heirloom bearded iris in Bearded Iris 101.
At the time I had no idea what cultivar I had; I only knew I adored her white-etched royal purple falls (the bottom petals) and butter yellow standards (the top petals). Purple and yellow is my favourite garden colour combo, and there are few flowers that do these two hues better than iris. You might think something so beautiful would be hard to grow, but bearded iris are tough and easy – so hardy that they are one of those plants still found bravely embellishing abandoned homesteads.
I love to know the cultivar names of the plants I grow, as I find I feel an extra connection to a plant when I know its name. To identify this iris I posted a photo on the Historic Iris Preservation Society Facebook page. I also reached out to Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who specialize in heirloom bulbs of all kinds. Their website is a treasury of info, articles and photos. Together we ID’d my bearded iris as ‘Loreley’.
I was delighted to discover that ‘Loreley’ was introduced by a German breeder in 1909 and was one of the most popular bearded iris in the early 20th century. Find out more about Loreley.
The neighbour that I got ‘Loreley’ from has since passed on and her garden is now paved over. Although I didn’t know her, I used to drive past her well-cared-for garden almost every day. I imagine she loved this garden, and I’m glad to have saved a piece of her iris. It is an interesting feeling to have cultivated a connection with someone I didn’t know personally, through a piece of her garden.
I potted some up to bring with me when I moved to the Okanagan. They grow incredibly well here in this hot, dry climate, so much so that I have to divide my clump of ‘Loreley’ every other summer.
Have you got any heirloom irises in your garden, or are you on the hunt for an old one? Let me know in the comments.