They’ll give you a great show even where little else will thrive
We’re all familiar with the gorgeous blooms of tall bearded irises, but far fewer gardeners grow their much smaller cousins, the dwarf bearded iris. Equally delightful, they flower earlier, from mid-April into May, and being much, much smaller, they’re ideal for planting in poor, dry soil alongside pathways and in gravel gardens where they won’t take up much room or get swamped by herbaceous partners. They’re also good for narrow borders beneath sunny windows where little else will thrive. Most reach no higher than 15cm (6in) tall, with all the colours and shades you come to expect from their bigger relatives with demure single colours, to jazzy, avant-garde combinations of electric-blue, golden-yellows, brooding purples and powerful reds, with multi-coloured petals and contrasting beards.
Dwarf bearded iris are developed from the diminutive European species I. pumila and other taller bearded iris, which introduced a kaleidoscope of colours, while retaining the compact habit. All are easy to grow and, being short, don’t need staking like some of their larger cousins. It’s important to make sure the small rhizomes get sufficient light in summer and don’t get swamped by herbaceous partners. They can be propagated like any other iris. Lift and divide in June, keeping the younger, more vigorous rhizomes and discarding older growth. Plant them so the rhizomes are exposed on the soil surface to get heat and light and they’ll flower much more reliably. Once you’re hooked, you’ll soon start collecting all the various forms!