Garden in Umbria - a clump of iris - all leaf and no flower

Party poopers: irises and other no-shows - June 2018

In the riot of colour and perfume that is the great garden party of spring, some guests have been notable by their absence.

This year my irises failed to flower. Well, to be precise, I got two flower stalks. Dozens of irises and scarcely a bloom; rather strange, I thought, for a plant that is native to this area.

So I went over to see Iris di Cortona and asked the expert what I had been doing wrong.

The iris show-garden there is usually a sea of blooms but even here the display was rather patchy. He explained that the lack of rain in early 2017 meant that the rhizomes did not develop as well as they should: this is the time of year when irises prepare for the following flowering season. In spring 2018, we also had those terrible cold snaps in both February and March, which essentially stopped all growth.

Prize winner 2018: “Lucomone I” by Iris di Cortona

In Firenze, the Società Italiana dell’Iris holds an annual international iris competition: the contestants plant their irises in the show ground a year before judging takes place. The trick to getting top quality blooms is to feed and water iris both before and after flowering, and 2018 Iris di Cortona carried away the prize for the best ‘red’ iris (not really red, more of a terracotta colour) - named “Lucomone I” - and won the special Comune di Firenze prize, coming ninth overall. It is great to see a local enthusiast beating the international heavy-weights. In 2021 he won again with Mimmamaria.

Prize winner 2021: “Mimmamaria” by Iris di Cortona

Apart from competitions though, Iris di Cortona prefer to let their irises grow unaided: thanks to abundant rain this May we should expect a bumper show next spring.

Over at IrisUmbria they recommend not feeding irises when they are first planted but to give them a rich concoction of fertiliser in early spring and again after flowering. Avoid excess nitrogen as it may cause rot.

They recommend, ideally, seaweed (I presume they mean a liquid feed made of seaweed rather than the actual stuff off the beach?) Otherwise, they like to make their own fertilizer with a mix of 4 parts bonemeal, 2 parts superphosphate of lime, 1 part each of sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of potash, applied at a rate of 60 to 75g per square metre.

This is all very well but I have no idea where to find these ingredients around here - I think that IrisUmbria brings them across from UK. My irises will have to make do with rose fertiliser and like it.

A sad-looking clump of iris in late autumn

This spring I also had no-shows from Rosa Banksiae and Ceanothus: saving themselves up for a better offer I suppose. Many Oleanders (Nerium) and Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) were badly burnt by the frost and as they are only now showing green shoots I don’t think they will bloom this year.

But next year I fully expect to see them all back again, life and soul of the party.

The photo at the top of this page shows a clump of iris - all leaf and no flower

Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley

All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise

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