June 16, 2013

Maine Gardener: Irises offer great color and longevity

They come in thousands of varieties, and their upright foliage looks good even after the blooms are past.


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The "Crimson Fireworks" iris is a stunning hybrid.

Courtesy Jeff Dunlop

THE RAYMOND GARDEN TOUR, sponsored by the Raymond Village Library, will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 29. The tour includes 12 gardens, and the price is $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the show. Tickets are available at the library, at Raymond Village Florist on Route 302, and at www.raymondvillagelibrary.org.

Another strong attribute for irises is to have multiple branches, because each branch will bloom at a different time, extending the bloom time.

All irises have to be divided occasionally to stay healthy. Young said bearded irises should be divided about every four years, Dunlop said Siberian irises can go four to six years, while Whitney said Japanese irises should be divided every three to five years, but it varies.

"Some grow a lot faster than others," she said, so you should decide based on each plant.

Irises can be divided in two basic ways, Young said. Some people dig up the whole plant, divide it as much as they want with their hands or a knife, and then put part of it back. That is the method Nancy and I use. Others prefer to leave the main plant in the ground and cut or pry part of it away from the main plant, which is neater and maybe less shocking to the main plant, but takes time.

Young, Dunlop and Whitney are accomplished iris growers, but the Maine Iris Society is a big help for beginners as well.

Judy Alderman of Delray Beach, Fla., discovered irises when she bought a seasonal home in Harrison. That home garden was just about bare, so she had a lot of space to fill, and discovered the Maine Iris Society when she started working on that garden.

"I just love irises because I can't grow them in Florida," she said. "They come in many colors, and they last a long time."

She enters the design sections of the Maine Iris Show and has won some ribbons there, but has not won in the specimen classes.

The Maine Iris Society holds four major events each year. The show for early irises was held in Lewiston May 18; the June show is usually held in Auburn.

The Annual Iris Auction, open to the public, will be held at 1 p.m. July 20 at the Treworgy home and garden at 120 Flaggy Meadow Road, Gorham. As an aside, in 2005 when the Maine Sunday Telegram held a contest for best Maine gardens, the Treworgy garden was the winner.

In addition to irises, there will be daylilies and hosta for sale.

The Annual Late Summer Auction will be 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the United Methodist Church, 439 Park Ave., Auburn.

For more information, go to irisgarden.org and click on the Maine Iris Society. The Maine Iris Society also has a Facebook page.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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