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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.