Scented bearded iris

Varieties whose blooms aren't just good-looking, but perfumed too.


The moment when iris burst into bloom must be one of the most anticipated moments of the gardening calendar. These much-loved perennials are adorned with blooms which span the most varied array of colours and tones of the floral world. No wonder it’s called the rainbow flower, with exotically coloured upper and lower petals and filamentous beard.

But what is more surprising is that some of these varieties also possess a scent, which in particular varieties can be as strong as orange blossom, or spicy, musky or light and floral. In others scent can be more delicate and evasive, but nevertheless welcome on a still day or evening, or used as a cut flower.

Some taller bearded varieties flower early in the season from mid-May, while others perform later in the month into June. By clever use of varieties you can have plants in flower over a number of weeks. If you choose those which are remontant, or flower again in later summer, you can have the best of all worlds.

Iris are best used is a sunny spot at the front of a border, or where they have space and air, rather than being swamped or overshadowed by surrounding plants. They like to grow in moist, well-drained soil, particularly when starting into growth in spring. Although preferring soil that is neutral to slightly acidic, they are adaptable as long as the soil is not constantly damp.

The rhizomes should be planted horizontally so their tops can bask in the sun, which ripens them and encourages them to flower. Covered with surrounding perennials or grown in too shady a spot will make them flower less reliably, eventually wasting away. When the clumps get a little too congested or outgrow their space lift the plants after flowering in late June. Remove the flowering stalks and cut back foliage by 60 per cent. Just keep the youngest rhizomes with a fan of leaves attached and replant in soil refreshed with a little organic matter and water in.