Iris may be the least known of our well-known garden plants, but this book offers new vistas. The bearded irises of various sizes are familiar to most gardeners, some of whom may even grow Siberian or Dutch irises. The adventurous will recognize a species such as the yellow-flowered Iris pseudacorus. However, many gardeners do not realize the wide range of size, habit, and situation that is encountered in this group of plants. Even when you seek an unusual or special plant like I. unguicularis, you often cannot find a picture of it or the picture you find only offers a glimpse of the plant and nothing more. If this has been your experience, prepare to encounter the outer edges of "iris-dom" within these covers and be warned of symptoms of iris lust.
This book is truly encyclopedic in its presentation of irises. Some of them are suited for planting in a desert, others in a pond. Some are a mere 2 to 3 inches (5-7 cm) tall, while others tower at 6 feet (2 m) or more.
There are irises for the rock garden, containers, or the perennial bed. The text invites, no dares, you to try more and different kinds of iris. From the bulbous and so-un-iris-like Junos or the new "Eye Shadow" hybrids that are easy to grow and very hardy, most gardeners will find something new and different. The text will inspire and urge you to seek plants in catalogs and garden centers. Even familiar kinds of iris will no doubt be seen here in a newer and wider variety than most of us encounter in one place. The familiar bearded irises from tall to dwarf are represented in abundance befitting their overall popularity. Many award winners are given special emphasis. The Japanese, Louisiana, Siberian, Spuria, and Pacific Coast irises are shown as are the wild species, selections, and new and old hybrids. Historical varieties add a timely dimension to the array of irises discussed. Even less common irises such as English and Spanish iris, Iris verna, and crested iris are given their places and much more. Literally there is no room here to hint at the variety in the following pages.
Irises are divided into scientific groupings in this book, but that should not bother the "botany-phobic," because the pictures and explanatory text invite all readers. Sections of text cover basic cultivation, diseases and pests, fertilizing, even the fundamentals of hybridizing to produce still more new iris types. Once enticed by the bait within these pages, you will be tempted to try more and new irises; conveniently there is a list of sources covering numerous countries and specialty nurseries.
In highlighting the text, I hope I have not overemphasized the value of the information presented, since there is enough to warrant a book without illustrations, but the photos bring this book to a new level. They are the center of the book and may well be the major lure for gardeners. Over 1100 color pictures show irises of almost all types as well as in almost every possible situation. Even the smallest of the thumbnail pictures is large enough to be useful in identifying the plant and noting specific characters of each iris. Beautiful full-page portraits are scattered throughout the book and add serious information, not simply decoration. Claire Austin has done a monumental job in documenting the array of irises in all their glory.
So this is a book to study and dream about. Not every iris will grow in your climate, and some groups are far more difficult to cultivate than others. The focus is the author's wide experience in the midlands of England, so the cultivation may need some changes to fit your exact climate. In the end, you will find some new species or variety that demands space in your garden. Accept iris lust and let yourself explore.
James W. Waddick
Kansas City, Missouri
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