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How To Grow Tall Bearded Iris

Updated on May 13, 2012

Iris "Purple Petticote"


I have gardened literally all my life, since some of my earliest (and happiest) memories involve mucking about in my mother’s lush gardens. Since them, I have relocated many, many times, yet there was always—always —a garden, albeit that occasionally it consisted of little more than a pot on the stoop or a window box slung from whatever grim apartment I may have rented. More recently, I have spent the past twenty-five years transforming an acre of easily mown grass into a series of complicated, high maintenance flowerbeds. Basically, I don’t garden; I over-garden. It is my fate, evidently, to do so.

Along the way I have studied plants, at times intensely, at times haphazardly. But at all times I have observed , trying to learn from the source because I realized early on that even the most scholarly, well-researched advice was just as often useless as it was helpful. And I believe that my neighbor’s overgrown iris bed sparked an epiphany, because now I know why .

A Patch Of Tall Bearded Iris


Plants do indeed fall into certain categories—the iris I adore in spite of how much they mystify me are classified thusly: Kingdom: Plantae; Division: Magnoliophyta (unranked); Monocots Order: Asparagales; Family: Iridaceae; Subfamily: Iridoideae; Tribe: Irideae; Genus: Iris.

There are also certain caveats that can be quoted with confidence: they reproduce more dependably by creating new branches on their rhizomes—which can be broken off to form new plants—than by seed because of the hybridization to which they have been subjected as well as the ease by which the insects that pollinate them can transfer pollen between different plants, resulting in muddy colored mutts.

Iris "Fancy Woman"


Iris in general prefer more sun than shade, are prone to several diseases and attractive to certain pests. The flower stalks are brittle and easy to break off, so the wise gardener will avoid messing around inside a blooming clump.

But beyond those generalities the only guidance I can personally give is that they are interesting plants, with lovely, delicate flowers, and they like what they like, dislike what they dislike, and the only way to discover which is which is through trial and error. Try growing some, in other words, but avoid dropping hundreds of dollars on plants until you have given just a few a decent shot at thriving—or dying—in your garden. If a plant does well in its first summer, then not so well in its second, try moving it. Read about your plants, but take all that you read (including this) with a grain of salt. Remember the lesson of my neighbor’s iris bed: you just never know which plant will thrive, which will fail. They decide that, not you. Accept it. It is the truth at the core of gardening.

Iris "Lemonade"


It is with this humble attitude that I approach gardening. Here on Hubpages, I will relate many anecdotes, some practical advice, and a great many sighs inspired by the inability of myself or any other human to know—absolutely and with certainty—what any particular plant will feel about the conditions into which it is planted.

It is an approach to gardening that has served me well. As far as I’m concerned, the plants in my gardens do not belong to me, even though I went out and bought them. They are free agents. I enjoy them tremendously; yet I never feel that I actually understand them. The animal kingdom and the plant kingdom have much they can share, and yet ultimately we live in very different worlds. And so shall it always be.

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

Siberian Iris



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    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      My mom and aunt were both great gardeners and grew wonderful iris. The photos are all from my garden--no special photographic skills needed, they are the most beautiful of flowers!

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I enjoyed reading this hub. I had never grown irises until a couple of years ago when both my mother-in-law and neighbour were digging up a bunch of them and I offered to take some off their hands. Am I ever glad I did - they are doing very well, with little to no effort on my part :)

      I loved your photos - they are very beautiful.