Hardy Plant Society

Look who is in our garden - Iris Unguicularis

Iris unguicularis Mary Barnard, Drawing by Sue Ward.
Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’

One of my favourite winter flowering plants is lovely, delicate Iris unguicularis. With me it starts flowering around the 18th November and continues until the end of January. In other gardens and positions it may flower later. I grow it on the south facing end of my rockery. The books say that in a wet summer a pane of glass over it will protect it from too much rain but I have just left mine to look after itself and it thrives.

Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’ is a lovely rich violet. The original plant was collected near Algiers, by the late Mary Barnard of Honiton, who gave a piece to John Gray of Saxmundham who in turn passed a piece on to E.B. Anderson. He found it to be the freest flowering variety he had. He thought it may have been grown under a previous name but he personally had never seen one to equal it in colour so he decided to give it a clonal name. He also said that it seeded freely but I have to say I have grown it for many years with no progeny appearing. He also distributed a even deeper toned one which he called “Mary Barnard Improved”.

Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’ was also named by E.B. Anderson. He found it in the garden of Walter Butt at Bale’s Mead, Porlock and was told that it had been collected by a friend also near Algiers. He considered it noteworthy because of its size, the very pale lavender flowers, which were almost white in the sun, and its strong perfume.

E. Bertram Anderson was one of the most distinguished and knowledgeable gardeners of his time. By profession he was a research chemist with United Dairies. He had seven gardens during his life time and tells the story of them in his book “Seven Gardens or Sixty Years of Gardening”. He died in 1971. There are a number of excellent plants named for him. Galanthus ‘Bertram Anderson’, Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Bertram Anderson’, Sedum ‘Bertram Anderson’ AGM, Dryas drummondii ‘Grandiflora E.B. Anderson’, Nerine bowdenii ‘E.B. Anderson’, Thymus pulegioides 'Bertram Anderson'

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Text by Jennifer Harmer, drawing by Sue Ward.

These articles were originally published in the HPS Journal.

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