Wherever I have travelled in the world I have seen irises. In India, Oncocyclus irises are carved into the marble walls of the Taj Mahal. On the beaches of Cyprus, bulbous irises pop up through the sand in February. In Melbourne, Australia, irises line the road leading away from the airport, and in Florida, a state where only one type of iris grows in the wild, a large picture of bearded irises adorns a wall in one of the concourses at the Orlando airport. Irises must be among the world's favourite flowers, and there are many of them.
In fact, there are irises for all tastes and for every location in the garden. In addition to the hundreds of wild iris species and their forms, gardeners today can select from many thousands of hybrids produced in the past one hundred years. The most popular among these are the bearded or pogon irises, but there are many Siberian, Japanese, and Louisiana hybrids, together with a more limited number of Spuria and Californian irises. In addition, different species have been crossed to produce a beautiful, although not often available, range of irises. Since the 1920s the most active hybridizing has been in North America, but many wonderful introductions have also come from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, and Britain.
In this book I have not attempted to include every species, as some are very rare, while others are difficult to cultivate. Dedicated iris enthusiasts and those who would like to know more about iris species should consult the wonderful books already published, including those by Brian Mathew (1981) and Fritz Köhlein (1987). Both make enthralling reading.
Likewise, with so many hybrids to choose from, I have not attempted to produce a definitive work on irises. It would take thousands of pages to include just ten percent of known irises. Instead, this book is intended merely as a snapshot of this wonderful genus.
In selecting plants for this encyclopedia, I turned to the people who are most passionate about irises—those gardeners involved in the many iris societies and the iris growers and breeders themselves. The American Iris Society and affiliated groups, such as the Median Society, along with the British Iris Society have provided me with much inspiration. I have also included many plants that are important in the development of the hybrids. Visits to nurseries in America, Australia, and Britain were immensely helpful, and iris catalogues from France, Canada, and Germany gave me more valuable information. Finally, I included those plants I simply could not live without. With so many to choose from, please forgive me if I have omitted one of your favourite irises.
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