At the January meeting of PHNE we were entertained by a talk on ‘The Beautiful Bearded Irises of Cayeux’ by John Tait.
John is a local boy, but used to live in France, near the nursery of the iris supplier Cayeux, near Orléans. The Cayeux family have been hybridising and propagating bearded irises since 1892 and are now into their fourth generation of iris enthusiasts.
John started with a single tuber of each variety sold by Cayeux and now has 5 20ft long beds full of these gorgeous flowers. Although each flower only lives for a few days, with careful management and planning it’s possible to make your display last from April through to mid June.
Irises are flowers of the temperate zone, thriving in Japan as well as Europe, and they can grow in a variety of terrains, from acid through to rivers and streams where you may be lucky enough to find the water iris. Bearded irises, however, won’t tolerate wet areas and like to have full sun for at least part of the day.
Irises are relatively easy to propagate and should be divided every three to five years. You need to wait until they have finished flowering, at which point a new rooting system starts to grow. About six weeks after they’ve finished flowering, lift the irises at this point and trim off the old roots. Then you should cut away each fan of leaves from the clump, using a sharp knife, making sure that each fan has a portion of young rhizome. Shorten the leaves to about 15cm (6in) above the rhizome and trim the roots to shorten them.
To create a bed for your bearded iris, double dig the bed and put plenty of compost in the bottom, building the bed up to make it slightly raised. And when you plant your rhizome make sure you put it at either surface level on heavy soils or a little below the surface on light soils.
It’ll take a couple of years before your new iris flowers, but it’ll be well worth the wait. They really are a stunning flower.