Northern Shade Gardening

Gorgeous Iris reticulata Cantab

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Category: Bulbs
Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) long view

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) long view

The dwarf Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ bulbs produce gorgeous blooms of blue in spring. Although the plants are only 8 cm (3  in) tall, the flowers are large and put on a great display.

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris group

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris group

The exquisite blooms of Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ have a brilliant blue colour scheme.  The petals are reminiscent of their relatives, the larger bearded iris. The three falls (lower petals) are highlighted by a small yellow speckled band in the centre, while the three standards (upright petals) are solid blue. There are also three long style crests that extend over the lower petals. If you lift the flap of the style crest, you can see the yellow band extending all the way to the base of the petal, making an entry way for pollinators. These blooms look fantastic from a distance, or when studied up close.

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris by mockorange

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris by mockorange

The dwarf iris blooms last a few weeks, and then the plants fade back for the season, to reappear next spring, unless they produce lots of little bulbs that don’t flower. I have mine planted at the base of a mockorange shrub. It works well, because the bulb iris are blooming now, while the shrub is mostly bare and the leaf buds are just breaking. The pretty iris blooms bring the bare area at the bottom to life. When the iris have faded, the shrub will have leafed out and taken over the space.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' blue dwarf iris

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' blue dwarf iris

There are shade perennials in front that are just starting to appear,  so they don’t block the iris flowers now, but they will grow to block the view of the fading iris foliage, after they are done blooming. In front are some Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss), Athyrium (ferns), Pulmonaria (lungwort), and Asarum (wild ginger). All are still shorter than the iris.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) blue petals

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) blue petals

These bulbs are layered around shrubs, with perennials in front, to pack as much flowering time into the space as possible. I’ve grown them next to peonies before, which also do a good job of covering the old iris foliage after flowering.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) pretty group

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) pretty group

I grew Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ and ‘Harmony’ at my last garden, but after a few years or so, the bulbs fade out, and don’t produce as good of a show. I planted these bulbs last Fall, and I’m going to see if I can get them to establish for longer this time, but I might have to replant.  Although their bloom time each spring is short, the wonderful flowers are worth it. With later rising perennials planted in front of them, there doesn’t have to be a bare space when their season is over.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' and Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth'

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' and Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth'

There is a group of forty dwarf iris here. I’m going to expand the group next Autumn with another forty or fifty bulbs to one side, behind some Pulmonaria (lungwort) and over to an Aruncus (goat’sbeard). Both perennials are still very small in April, so there is space for some more pretty blue bulbs behind them. The crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ are flowering at the same time in the next garden bed over. I’m going to include some of those golden bulbs with the extension. I made a composite photo of the Iris and crocus colour combination. After waiting all winter, I take delight in the explosion of colour when the bulbs start to bloom.

Iris reticulata Cantab dwarf iris blue and yellow

Iris reticulata Cantab dwarf iris blue and yellow

18 Responses to “Gorgeous Iris reticulata Cantab” »

  1. Deborah Elliott :
    April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I was walking in my garden a few weeks ago and noticed some bright blue color in the woods. Upon investigation, I discovered iris reticulata! I have been in my house since 1985 and have never seen these in my garden before. I did notice its foliage last year, but no blooms. I wonder if they are native? There is quite a stand of them, an area of about 50 square feet! They are absolutely gorgeous, and I am thinking of moving some of them to a more prominent area of my garden.

    I like the combination you described. I have just discovered pulmonaria, and so far it is doing well for me.

  2. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Deborah, wow, how fortunate that it turns out to be a large patch of beautiful iris, instead of the usual suspects that can show up unexpectedly. Those were a long time developing. The blue colour is definitely eye-catching.

  3. Kathleen :
    April 27, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Gorgeous iris. I can’t figure out why I’ve never planted any?? I “MUST” rectify that this fall!!

  4. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Kathleen, these look great, and they make a nice blue carpet. I found that they faded out after a few years in the past, producing smaller bulbs with fewer flowers. I might try replanting them this time.

    Rebecca, the early bulbs give such a lift, that I like to weave as many as I can into the garden. It really helps to have nearby perennials that are slow risers hide the decaying bulb foliage. Now is a great time to look around the garden for bare spots.

    Helen J, the intense cobalt colour of the group is lovely when viewed from across the garden, and the details on the petals are fascinating when viewed up close.

  5. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    April 27, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Beautiful post Northern, the flowers are so very lovely with their deep blue colour and yellow highlights, and are a great pairing for yellow mammoth. You are so clever when it comes to the use of space around deciduous trees/shrubs and using the shade perennials to hide the foliage of the sun loving bulbs is brilliant! It has made me look at spaces in my garden in a different way, since a shady spot may not be a shady spot for the entire season, ie What Would Northern Do? :)

  6. HelenJ :
    April 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Gorgeous is the right word for them. I love the wonderful blue color!

  7. Sweet Bay :
    April 27, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Iris reticulata are such a striking shade of blue. 40 all together must look amazing.

  8. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Sweet Bay, they look nice as a group, because I can see them from the house, too. Although the yellow patches don’t show from the window, the saturated blue is outstanding.

  9. Linda :
    April 27, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Absolutely love the blue irises! I’m going to be busy this fall planting many of the bulbs you’ve photographed in the past few weeks.

  10. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Linda, I love blue flowers in the garden. The colour is so serene, and you can pair it up with many other colours to have a tranquil blue and purple colour scheme, a refreshing blue and white duo, or a zippy blue and gold combo.

  11. The Garden Ms. S :
    April 28, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    What a beautiful blue. As I was looking at them the yellow spots reminded me of markers for a helicopter landing pad – must be an invitation to the pollinators. :-)

  12. Northern Shade :
    April 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    The Garden Ms. S, if they alight on the landing pad, slide down, and duck their head under the flap of the style crest, they will be right on course.

  13. Marnie :
    April 29, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I love the blue color on your iris. They would be absolutely perfect with the bright yellow crocus.

    I’m not sure if those iris are hardy in this area but I will check. I’d love to have some like those in my early spring garden.

  14. Northern Shade :
    April 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Marnie, those Yellow Mammoth are the latest of the crocus in my garden, so the timing of the blooms will work well with the iris.

  15. Dave :
    April 29, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    There must be something special about your garden, or supplier, or both. Of course, given all the beautiful displays you photograph, it could just be that you are an excellent gardener.

    I tried 20 mixed Iris reticulata and I. danfordiae for last spring and ended up with exactly one bloom (although about a half dozen broke ground). The one that did make it, though, was gorgeous, although more purple than blue. Alas, no sign of any return this year, so thanks for the vicarious pleasure.

  16. Northern Shade :
    April 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Dave, these were decent sized bulbs when I put them in, which helps with blooming. They also had good leaf mulch coverage, which helps protect them, too. I was fortunate that they all bloomed. The vivid colour really stands out right now, as most perennials are still so small.

  17. irena :
    April 29, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    “Cantab” bloomed for the first time in my garden this spring and I fell head over heels. The blue colour is incredible! I’m sorry to hear that they fade away with time.

  18. Northern Shade :
    April 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Irena, perhaps they will last longer in your garden. I enjoy blue flowers in the garden, and some blue perennials are still in the bud stage right now, but I’m looking forward to seeing the Pulmonaria and Brunnera add their sky coloured blooms to the garden.

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