Flower garden and landscape

Retro irises - old varieties, but not obsolete


Old varieties among flowering plants always lose to new ones. But not with bearded irises. Although their catalogs amaze the imagination with the richness of form and palette, the names of time-tested, reliable, hardy and durable irises from the number of the first cultivated cultivars are not forgotten. Old or retro varieties of irises boast both beauty and much less moodiness. They are suitable even for those who want to simplify the maintenance of the garden as much as possible and offer to remember the times when irises were most appreciated for their exemplary watercolor colors.

Retro irises - old varieties, but not obsolete

The benefits of retro irises over new varieties

While for the majority of perennials the time-tested names supersede the more stable, large-flowered and lush-colored competitors that have been bred in recent years, this trend is not characteristic of bearded irises. Unlike its competitors, the very first, old varieties of bearded irises are characterized by much more endurance than the last cultivars, the main advantage of which is the decorative flowering.

For the sake of the latter, many breeders sacrifice endurance, and resistance to disease, and longevity. While new varieties require frequent separation, old ones bloom even where they are completely forgotten.

Retro irises are a special category in the section of bearded irises, which can rightly be called also ancient, vintage or first irises. The retro iris group includes all varieties on the market until 1950. All varieties in this category are hybrids, the origin of which is easy to establish.

Most of the old varieties of bearded irises are one of the first, oldest and historically valuable cultivars. They began their career not as varieties of bearded irises, but as varieties of German iris (Iris x germanica), one of the basic species from which the legendary "iris boom" began. Even today, the oldest varieties of irises are often advertised as German irises, although at least seven decades have passed since their debut.

Retro irises, or historical irises are always perceived as plain and not as spectacular as the best fashion novelties, but they have many advantages. These are one of the most valuable varieties, the importance of which for modern selection of irises is difficult to overestimate. The status of curiosity, a rarity of an old plant enhances and emphasizes the charm of plants, thanks to which they stand out against the background of more modern varieties, captivating with their elegance.

Retro varieties of bearded irises are one of the most graceful in any collection. Deprived of special flamboyance, they always seem more classical, bring not only the beauty of the xiphoid leaves or catchy inflorescences to the composition, but also the effect of refinement, harmony, which is often lacking in new products.

All old varieties, with rare exceptions, are ranked as tall irises. They produce large leaves of a classic light olive-gray color in beautiful, large "fans" and powerful, stable peduncles 70 cm high. Curtains formed by rhizomes typical of all bearded irises appear several times denser, thicker, more powerful than those of any similar sized new variety. Thanks to the strong foliage, retro irises play a much more prominent role in compositions outside the flowering season.

Bearded Iris "Sweet Song" (Desert Song). Bearded iris "Rainbow Room" (Rainbow Room). Bearded Iris "Queichi" (Quechee).

Blooming retro irises

Despite the status of less spectacular flowering, retro irises are not at all shallow-colored: they produce large or medium-sized, catchy flowers. Perianth lobes with a special, delicate, translucent texture seem to glow and beckon to touch them. They are devoid of complex corrugations and folds, forming the classic shape of a flower of bearded irises.

The rounded-wide perianth lobes that are down and closed by an arch or half-open inside, they create a romantic image, and trepidation, vulnerability, sensitivity to the slightest air movement only enhances the feeling of pure, aristocratic beauty. And the abundance of flowering cannot but please fans of bearded irises. Some "old men" manage to produce more than 10 flowers on one peduncle.

The color palette characteristic of retro irises has become almost legendary. They rarely meet extravagant colors, but the richness of shades, for which bearded irises are so appreciated in general, is fully manifested. Subtle, almost elusive halftones of white-blue and beige-brown scales, unique “night” violet and purple, it seems, in such a radiantly beckoning version are not represented in any irises.

Aroma is a quality that is not always inherent in new varieties. Like stamina, a strong smell is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of brighter flowering. But in retro varieties, the sweet, spicy-perfumery, rich and wonderful smell of irises is always pronounced, more often - stronger than in any new variety.

It is easy to judge the purely practical merits of retro irises for everyone who saw the flowering of "old" plants in neglected areas: even forgotten and devoid of care irises from among rare varieties not only survive, but continue to bloom.

In many gardens, they appear as a result of clearing the nearest neglected sites or as an inheritance from the previous owners, doomed to go into the shadows with the appearance of new-fangled varieties on flower beds and in discounts. With proper use, the ability of retro irises to survive and maintain decorativeness for many years will help maximize the representation of this plant in the garden and introduce bushes even to those where they want to minimize care.

Bearded iris "Mary Gaddes" (Mary Geddes). Bearded iris "New Snow" (New Snow). Bearded Iris "Frost and Flame" (Frost and Flame).

The best varieties of retro irises

The old garden irises in most gardens remain nameless, reliable, but not admirable for background plants. In most cases, even the name of the variety remains a mystery, although each variety is easily recognizable by its color and other characteristics and deserves to be appreciated and remembered not only as “white” or “gray” iris.

The return of retro irises to fashion and attention to the best landscape designers in the world allowed them to reappear in catalogs and conversations with names that cannot be called mythical.

Among the unique old bearded irises include varieties:

  • Sweet Song (Desert Song) - pale yellow, with oil-canary spots in the throat and a warm yellowish tint, the variety, the play of shades of color of which recalls lemon cream.
  • Rainbow Room - one of the most beautiful beige varieties, combining the original beige-fawn-lilac-pink shades on a light cream background of the upper large lobes and bright yellow overflows on the narrower lower ones, underlined by an orange beard.
  • Ola Kala - a beautiful, uniformly colored, richly yellow variety with a lemon tint of color and a bright orange beard.
  • Kuichi (Quechee) - a very effective brown variety with unique terracotta and dark red tints, the beauty of the shades of which is emphasized by a yellowish beard.
  • "Mary Gaddes" (Mary Geddes) - the legendary two-color variety with pale fawn, with yellow and pink-purple tints of the upper lobes and passing from pale beige to dark lilac-cherry - lower ones, with a powerful explosion of yellow on the barbs and in the throat, which seems to highlight the flower.
  • Feuerervogel - a legendary variety with a dark, lilac-kraplak-burgundy shade of the color of the lower perianth, illuminated by a white spot, against which a dark crump and a yellow beard emerge. The beauty of the lower part of the flower shines against the background of light beige-purple upper lobes, as if reflecting the watercolor play of the colors of the lower petals.
  • "New Snow" (New Snow) - a snow-white, dazzling variety decorated with an almost white beard, in which yellow spots appear only at the very base of the lower lobes.
  • Frost and Flame - an amazing variety with a unique game of halftones - sky-blue and gray tints of white color on the upper perianth lobes and light yellow-blue - on the lower. From a distance, the flowers appear pure white, and the bright orange beard dazzles with its shades.
  • "White City" (White City) - white, with a slight periwinkle-ink elusive shimmer on the upper perianth lobes and a bluish-yellow beard variety, in which patterns in the form of brown-purple spots are visible only in the throat.
  • "Madame Chereau" - considered the oldest of the bordered varieties of bearded irises. Snow-white perianth lobes with a slight yellow-lemon tint of the lower lobes are decorated with a wide border of dashes and spots of periwinkle-blue contrasting tone.
  • "Blue Monarchy" (Blue Monarchy) - An interesting variety with a play of lilac and purple halftones of a blue flower, underlined with purple specks under a white-orange beard. This is one of the highest retro varieties, with meter peduncles, famous for the ability to produce 8 inflorescences on one powerful peduncle.
  • Jane Phillips - a delicate blue variety with a white and yellow beard, the shades of which resemble vinca.
  • Lekog (Lecog) - medium blue, with a very even heavenly hue variety with a white and yellow beard.
  • Katerina - bright ultramarine, medium-saturated blue variety with a dazzling fiery beard. The variety is famous for its rapid growth and a very large number of medium-sized inflorescences.
  • Fatum - light violet-lilac, with a fading tone in an unevenly pale watercolor on the upper perianth lobes and a beautiful white-yellow beard. One of the most touching varieties with a watercolor color transition.
  • Cadillac - light pale pink iris with an orange beard.
  • "Romantic Moore" (Romance Mur) - An unusual iris with a lilac-pink fuchsia shade of a light color, elusive gray reflections on the upper lobes and a bright yellow beard surrounded by a beige spot.
  • Valor (Valor) - a two-color variety that combines the cold shades of bluish lilac in the upper lobes and violet-blue in the lower lobes. The beard is bright yellow, emphasizes the cold base color.
  • "Lilac Domino" (Lilac Domino) - richly purple in color, with white washouts at the base of the petals and a white-orange beard, the legendary variety.
  • "Night in Indiana" (Indiana Night) - a beautiful dark purple variety, saturated blueberry halftone which emphasizes a brown beard. This is a large meter variety, producing up to 12 flowers on one peduncle.
  • Black Forest - a variety that has become almost a myth and will easily become the pride of any collection. Dark-ink, seemingly almost black lower perianth lobes are combined with dark purple, bilberry upper. The hue of the upper petals is repeated in the beard.
  • Pretender - a two-toned variety that many have grown fond of with white upper lobes passing from a mustard yellow tone and slightly faded along the edge of ink-lilac - lower ones, with a warm, rather than blue tint.
  • Wabash - a two-color variety, almost opposite in darkness to the “Pretender” - the cold, blue-ink tone of the lower lobes and the white upper lobes with a yellow beard make the variety stiff and contrasting. Up to 9 flowers can bloom on one peduncle.
Bearded iris "Night in Indiana" (Indiana Night). Bearded Iris "Wabash" (Wabash). Bearded Iris "Pretender".

The use of retro irises in decorative gardening

Vintage varieties of irises are the best choice from among bearded varieties for any project where they rely on minimal care. Even if in the garden they want to get rid of almost all the plants that need to be regularly rejuvenated or provide them with constant care, retro irises should be excluded from the list of such options almost last but not least. They at times surpass newfangled competitors in durability and unpretentiousness and will not complicate the life of any gardener.

Retro irises have other benefits as well. Their foliage, preserving decorativeness all summer, plays a very important role in compositions. And so, they look one of the most stringent xiphoid leaves in retro varieties more powerful and massive, which allows plants to add vibrant geometric and graphic accents to flower beds and flower beds, as well as landscape compositions.

Strict lines of retro varieties arrange compositions, especially those in which there are dozens of different types of plants without a particularly thought out structure. They fit perfectly not only in natural compositions, but also in a regular style.

Retro irises are a great choice for any classic project and landscaping large areas, park areas, creating large tracts. Despite their name, these rare plants do not look too outdated at all. Graceful and less catchy, they reveal the classic beauty of all bearded irises and create landscapes similar to the legendary Giverny gardens.

Of course, when used with nostalgic partners, they can enhance the retro effect, but their elegance is appropriate in gardens of any style and character. In landscape arrays, large plantings, they look no worse than in flower beds and discounts, curbs and spots on the lawn. And in iridaria, retro irises can not only create a background for new varieties, but also become one of the unconditional stars.

The selection of partners for retro irises is carried out according to the same principles as for bearded irises in general. There are no features in the search for combinations for old varieties, but, like any high varieties of irises, retro cultivars require a search for a balance of textures and shapes. And, of course, irises in mixed compositions are combined with plants with a non-surface, deeper than their own root system.

Read more about the use of irises in garden design read in the article Irises in the garden - classification and use in design.

Bearded iris "Jane Phillips" (Jane Phillips).

Conditions Required by Retro Bearded Iris Varieties

The historical varieties of irises, as already noted, are the most unpretentious and hardy. But this does not mean that they can grow anywhere. It’s just that there are fewer requirements for optimal conditions, and their ability to adapt and survive is much stronger. Like all irises, they do not like dampness, shade and extreme soils.

For retro irises, light areas typical of all bearded species are selected. They can grow in shading, but not in a strong shadow, bloom more abundantly in sunny areas.

The soil for plants can be selected any - but not heavy, constantly moist, acidic, calcareous, rocky, untreated. The risk of stagnation of water or the level of occurrence of groundwater should meet the requirements of plants afraid of getting wet. Any high-quality cultivated, loose, close to neutral in reaction, light soil will quite suit the old varieties.

Retro irises are planted according to the same rules as any other bearded irises. It is recommended to transplant and divide plants every 4-5 years, at the usual time, approximately 1 month after the end of flowering, or at least until the end of summer. At the same time, they also plant new acquired bushes.

Caring for retro irises in the garden

In fact, caring for retro irises comes down to weeding. Weed control is an important point in the retro iris care program. It is worth starting it even before planting, preventing the weeds from growing too far in the immediate vicinity of the plants. The soil of the plants is not loosened or carried out superficially, trying not to touch or injure the roots of the plant.

Retro irises will need watering only if the stage of budding and the beginning of flowering coincides with a very strong drought and heat. Pruning and shaping are reduced to simple cutting of leaves in the fall (up to a height of 10-15 cm) and the removal of damaged parts of plants.

Top dressing for retro irises can be carried out according to a simplified scheme, because they are much less demanding on the nutritional value of the soil. It is enough to top dress with full mineral fertilizer in a standard amount, carried out in spring or two top dressings in early spring and during budding for more magnificent flowering.

Wintering irises from among retro varieties will not cause difficulties even where problems usually arise with other bearded irises. Due to their predominantly European origin, they tolerate strong frosts better, are more resistant to temperature jumps and any adverse conditions.

Pests and diseases on retro iris varieties are less likely to occur, even if plants suffer from insects, they usually recover much better than their competitors.

Retro irises reproduce in the same way as any other bearded irises. The most productive way is the separation of adult plants aged 3 to 5 years.