Monday, March 15, 2010


Reginald Farrer famously compares Oncocyclus to mourning Troads, that flash brilliantly and then perish. If that is so, Iris iberica ssp. elegantissima is Hecuba, queen of Troy. I probably took this picture twenty or more years ago: I remember when I first started to grow Oncocyclus. They emerge in winter, and start budding up in early spring, and we invariably get snow after snow and we're traumatized. And they still seem to persist, then bloom and knock your socks off. This vegetative masterpiece inspired Georgia O'Keefe, who painted it. I don't think her painting improves on the real thing, by the way (for a bit of heresy). There's nothing like the real thing.
It is still apparently fairly common near Ararat, blooming in May and June. I have seen pictures of hillsides covered with it, like so many hankies blowing in the wind. It commands good prices and is a mainstay of serious rock garden bulb enthusiasts who struggle with it.
In Colorado it just wants fresh, well drained soil that is kept moistish in spring, but allowed to get very hot and dry in summer.
The real secret of this plant is that it needs frequent division and to be replanted in fresh soil. If you forget, it will perish in a year or two. Bill Adams built up his stock to hundreds of plants which he neglected a bit, and suddenly they were gone.
I have lost it several times. I got a rhizome last fall thanks to John Baumfalk, the gray eminence of Aril irises...and it has come up as several lusty fans this spring: hurrah! This time it shall not slip my net: I will have it coming out my ears in a few years...just wait!
Meanwhile I look at this old picture and sigh...

1 comment:

  1. You caught me! Magnificent! Those wild irises always make one swoon. If you ever have enough to share I have the spot. Over here, 10 arils planted out last spring in the garden; maybe, maybe some blossoms this year, the fans seem fine.


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