by Graeme Grosvenor
ISBN 0 86417 771
A Book Review
Although I have been a big fan of the Iris for most of my life and have never passed the flower or groups of them without getting a good and close-up look, I can’t really say I have ever been an expert about this beauty of the garden but I have observed them enough that the information and brilliant photography by Jim Frazier and the author was absolutely fascinating for me as well as a delight to the eye. I thought I had seen every color and variety until I picked up this book at the library and highly recommend reading this absolute authority on the subject for anyone who admires Iris or, perhaps, other flowers in preference. Even a quick once over will give you a new appreciation for this particular botanical ornament named for the Greek Goddess who was said to travel on rainbows with messages between heaven and earth !
The color photographs in this hardcover book display the diversity, versatility and possibilities of iris in all her hybridic and non-hybridic forms; the surprising Tall Bearded Iris like Hot Spice shows off several hues and tones of cocoa, gold and cream or the delicately spotted lavender-and-white Japanese Iris and Freckled Geisha are nearly drop-dead gorgeous. My personal favorites, single or possibly together, were all on page 36 where Tipsy Maid, Strawberry Love and Affinity grace the book. Beverly Sills on page 49 is a delightful shade of peach I have only seen in roses. None of the cross-bred hybrids look anything other than stunning but they can truly veer away from the traditional Tall Bearded variety which is iris in her purist form.
Additionally, the text uniquely offers expert observations, drawings, photos and advice on how to use iris in the garden along with other plants or en masse in the same variety. I did not agree with the author on this point as it reminded me of a scene in the children’s novel The Little Prince in which he finds a huge rosebush and wonders how his single rose, back on his own planet, would feel about such a situation. To me, Iris is so unusual in all her forms and colors that a few interspersed in a varietal flower garden would only add more beauty without being obtrusive or disappear. Some of the iris that are not iris expounded on in the chapter that begins on page 213 would look very appropriate mixed with traditional iris, ironically enough.
The author, a retired math teacher since 1991, who studied the subject of irises over a 30 year period while chronicling the book, goes into quite a bit of detail in using iris in almost every garden situation and this is where the strength of the text belongs. Along with giving advice on how to time the blooms, mix the flowers with perennials and shrubs, use in landscaping and with the extensive indexing of the individual cultivars Iris: Flower of the Rainbow is nearly encyclopedic in its scope. Divided into four basic chapters on the families, the information for each is completely comprehensive in documenting height, countries of origin, colors, blooms and normal blooming time, species and the hybrids and how to deal with the individual cultivars. Requirements of sun, soil, drainage and fertilizing, pest and disease control and planting instructions are given in great detail, expounding on the difficult business of hybridizing.
The final short chapter, “The Future-2000 and Beyond,” on pages 263-271 is just fun and perhaps the photos are whimsical but you won’t want to miss the digitally altered Tall Bearded Irises in stark Kelly Green or black and baby-pink of a Louisiana Iris and the discussion of the future of this gracefully frilly and colorful fleur.
Avec fleur-de-lis et plusiers des bises,