While most people grow bearded irises for their rainbow of spectacular blooms, Variegated Sweet Iris is prized for its striking variegated leaves. The plants bloom in late spring with lovely violet-blue flowers, and your nose will appreciate their delightfully heady fragrance. But that’s just the beginning. Long after the flowers fade, the stiff, sword-like leaves will remain, with their vertical stripes of blue-green, white and cream creating an exclamation point in the landscape. Plants grow from two to three feet tall, and clumps spread over time.
All bearded irises are ideally suited for Colorado gardens. They thrive on minimal care and once-a-week irrigation. The one essential is well-drained soil. Too much water will rot the rhizomes. Situating the plants in full sun encourages the most flowers, but part shade is fine for foliage. Select three healthy roots and group them so that the growing tips point outwards, setting them just below the soil surface. Trim off flowers as they fade. At the end of the growing season, simply cut the frost-killed foliage to within a few inches of the ground and wait for spring. If clumps become overgrown and blooms diminish, dig and divide them in late summer. You’ll have plenty of extra plants to share with friends and neighbors.
Iris pallida provides a upright accent in a perennial border. Try perennial companions with flowers that complement its buttery stripes, such as pale yellow Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), Hardy Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis russeliana), or Ornamental Oregano (Oreganum hyb.). Or combine it with Scotch broom ‘Moonlight’ (Cytisus scoparius) for a truly stunning effect.
Article and photo by Leslie Holzmann, Certified Colorado Gardener.