Retro Irises Are Old Varieties, But Not Obsolete Irises. Care. Photo

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Retro Irises Are Old Varieties, But Not Obsolete Irises. Care. Photo
Retro Irises Are Old Varieties, But Not Obsolete Irises. Care. Photo

Video: Retro Irises Are Old Varieties, But Not Obsolete Irises. Care. Photo

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Video: Presby Iris Gardens ~ Irises in Bloom ~ How to care for Irises 2023, January

Old varieties among flowering plants always lose out to new ones. But not with bearded irises. Although their catalogs are striking in their richness of form and palette, the names of the time-tested, reliable, hardy and durable irises from among the first cultivars bred have not been forgotten. Old or retro varieties of irises can boast of both beauty and much less capriciousness. They are suitable even for those who want to simplify the maintenance of the garden as much as possible and offer to remember the times when their exemplary watercolor colors were most appreciated in irises.

Retro irises - old varieties, but not obsolete irises
Retro irises - old varieties, but not obsolete irises


  • The advantages of retro irises over new varieties
  • The best varieties of retro irises
  • The use of retro irises in ornamental gardening
  • Conditions required for retro bearded irises
  • Caring for retro irises in the garden

The advantages of retro irises over new varieties

While for most perennials, time-tested names are replacing more stable, large-flowered and lush competitors, bred in recent years, this trend is not peculiar to bearded irises. Unlike their competitors, the very first, old varieties of bearded irises are characterized by much greater endurance than the latest cultivars, the main advantage of which is precisely the decorative flowering.

For the sake of the latter, many breeders sacrifice both endurance and disease resistance and longevity. While new varieties require frequent separation, old ones bloom even where they have been completely forgotten.

Retro irises are a special category in the section of bearded irises, which can quite rightly be called old, vintage or first irises. The group of retro irises includes all varieties on the market before 1950. All varieties in this category are hybrids, the origin of which is fairly easy to establish.

Most of the old varieties of bearded irises are among the first, oldest and most historically valuable cultivars. They began their careers not as varieties of bearded irises, but as varieties of German iris (Iris x germanica), one of the basic species, from which the legendary "iris boom" began. Even today, the oldest iris varieties are often advertised as Germanic irises, although at least seven decades have passed since their debut.

Retro irises, or historical irises, are always perceived as nondescript, not as spectacular as the best fashionable novelties, but they have many advantages. These are one of the most valuable varieties, the importance of which for modern iris breeding can hardly be overestimated. The status of a curiosity, a rarity of an ancient plant, enhances and emphasizes the charm of plants, thanks to which they stand out against the background of more modern varieties, enchanting with their elegance.

Retro varieties of bearded irises are some of the most graceful in any collection. Deprived of special catchiness, they always seem more classic, they bring to the compositions not only the beauty of xiphoid leaves or catchy inflorescences, but also the effect of ennobling, harmony, which are often lacking in new products.

All old varieties, with rare exceptions, are classified as tall irises. They produce large leaves of a classic light olive-gray color in beautiful, large "fans" and powerful, stable peduncles with a height of 70 cm. Curtains formed by rhizomes typical for all bearded irises seem to be several times denser, thicker, more powerful than any new variety of similar size. Thanks to their strong foliage, retro irises play a much more prominent role in compositions outside the flowering season.

Bearded Iris "Desert Song"
Bearded Iris "Desert Song"
Bearded iris "Rainbow Room"
Bearded iris "Rainbow Room"
Bearded Iris "Quechee"
Bearded Iris "Quechee"

Blooming retro irises

Despite their status as less showy in flowering, retro irises are not at all small-colored: they produce large or medium-sized, catchy flowers. The perianth segments with a special, delicate, translucent texture seem to glow and beckon to touch them. They are devoid of complex corrugations and folds, forming the classic flower shape of bearded irises.

The rounded-wide perianth lobes that are lowered down and closed by an arch or half-open inner ones, they create a romantic image, and the trepidation, vulnerability, sensitivity to the slightest movement of air only enhances the feeling of pure, aristocratic beauty. And the abundance of flowering cannot but please fans of bearded irises. Some "oldies" manage to release more than 10 flowers on one peduncle.

The color palette typical of retro irises is almost legendary. They rarely have extravagant colors, but the richness of shades for which bearded irises in general are so valued is fully manifested. Subtle, almost imperceptible halftones of blue-white and beige-brown gamut, unique “night” violet and purple, it seems, are not represented in such a radiantly alluring version of any irises.

Aroma is a quality that is not always inherent in new varieties. As well as endurance, strong scent is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of brighter bloom. But in retro varieties, a sweet, spicy-perfumery, rich and wonderful smell of irises is always expressed, more often than not, more than any new variety.

It is easy to judge about the purely practical merits of retro irises to anyone who has seen the flowering of "old" plants in neglected areas: even forgotten and deprived irises from among the rare varieties do not just survive, but continue to bloom.

In many gardens, they appear as a result of clearing the nearest neglected areas or as an inheritance from the previous owners, doomed to go into the shade with the appearance of newfangled varieties on flower beds and in flower beds. With proper use, the ability of retro irises to survive and maintain decorativeness for many years will help to maximize the representation of this plant in the garden and introduce bushes even where they want to minimize leaving.

Bearded iris "Mary Geddes"
Bearded iris "Mary Geddes"
Bearded iris "New Snow"
Bearded iris "New Snow"
Bearded Iris "Frost and Flame"
Bearded Iris "Frost and Flame"

The best varieties of retro irises

Old garden irises in most gardens remain unnamed, reliable, but not admirable background plants. In most cases, even the name of the variety remains a mystery, although each variety is easily recognized by its color and other characteristics and deserves to be appreciated and remembered not only as "white" or "gray" iris.

The return of retro irises to fashion and the attention to them of the world's best landscape designers has made it possible to reappear in catalogs and conversations with names that can only be called mythical.

Among the unique old bearded irises include varieties:

  • "Sweet Song" (Desert Song) - pale yellow, with oil-canary spots in the throat and a warm yellowish tint, a variety of color shades reminiscent of lemon cream.
  • “Rainbow Room” is one of the most beautiful beige varieties, combining original beige-pale-lilac-pink shades on a light cream background of the upper large lobes and bright yellow play on the narrower lower ones, accentuated by an orange beard.
  • "Ola Kala" is a beautiful, evenly colored, rich yellow variety with a lemon shade of color and a bright orange beard.
  • "Quechee" is a very showy brown variety with unique terracotta and dark red tints, the beauty of which is emphasized by a yellowish beard.
  • "Mary Geddes" is a legendary two-tone variety with pale fawn, with yellow and mauve tints of the upper lobes and turning from pale beige to dark purple cherry - the lower ones, with a powerful explosion of yellow on the beards and throat, which seems to highlight the flower.
  • Feuervogel is a legendary variety with a dark, lilac-crap-burgundy hue of the lower perianth lobes, highlighted with a white spot, against the background of which a dark crump and yellow beard appear. The beauty of the lower part of the flower shines against the background of light beige and purple upper lobes, as if reflecting the water color play of colors of the lower petals.
  • "New Snow" (New Snow) - a snow-white, decorated with an almost white beard, a dazzling variety, in which yellow spots appear only at the very base of the lower lobes.
  • "Frost and Flame" is an amazing variety with a unique play of semitones - sky-blue and gray tints of white color on the upper perianth lobes and light yellow-blue on the lower ones. The flowers appear pure white from a distance, and the bright orange beard dazzles with its shades.
  • "White City" - white, with a slight periwinkle-ink elusive tint on the upper perianth lobes and a bluish-yellow beard variety, in which patterns in the form of a lilac speck are visible only in the pharynx.
  • Madame Chereau is considered to be the oldest of the fringed bearded irises. The snow-white perianth lobes with a slight lemon-yellow tint of the lower lobes are decorated with a wide border of lines and spots of a periwinkle-blue contrasting tone.
  • "Blue Monarchy" (Blue Monarchy) - an interesting variety with a play of lilac and lilac undertones of a blue flower, accentuated by lilac specks under the white-orange beard. This is one of the highest retro varieties, with meter-long peduncles, famous for its ability to produce 8 inflorescences on one powerful peduncle.
  • Jane Phillips is a delicate blue variety with a white and yellow beard, whose shades are reminiscent of periwinkles.
  • "Lecog" (Lecog) - medium blue, with a very even sky shade variety with a white-yellow beard.
  • "Katerina" is a bright ultramarine, medium-rich blue variety with a dazzling fiery beard. The variety is famous for its fast growth and a very large number of medium-sized inflorescences.
  • "Fatum" - light violet-lilac, with a fading in an unevenly pale watercolor tone on the upper perianth lobes and a beautiful white-yellow beard. One of the most touching varieties with a watercolor color transition.
  • Cadillac is a light, pale pink iris with an orange beard.
  • "Romantic Moore" (Romance Mur) is an unusual iris with a lilac-pink fuchsia shade of light color, elusive gray tints on the upper lobes and a bright yellow beard surrounded by a beige spot.
  • Valor is a two-tone variety combining cold shades of bluish lilac on the upper lobes and violet-blue on the lower ones. The beard is bright yellow, emphasizing the coldness of the base color.
  • "Lilovoe Domino" (Lilac Domino) is a rich lilac in color, with white erosion at the base of the petals and a white-orange beard, a legendary variety.
  • Indiana Night is a beautiful dark lilac variety with rich blueberry undertones accentuated by a brown beard. It is a large meter-long variety producing up to 12 flowers per peduncle.
  • Black Forest is an almost mythical variety that will easily become the pride of any collection. The dark ink, seeming almost black lower perianth lobes are combined with dark purple, blueberry upper ones. The shade of the upper petals is repeated in the beard.
  • "Pretender" (Pretender) - a two-color, beloved by many variety with white, transitioning from a mustard-yellow tone to the upper lobes and slightly faded along the edge of an inky-lilac - lower, with a warm, not blue tint.
  • “Wabash” is a two-color variety, almost opposite in darkness to “Pretender” - cold, blue-ink tone of the lower lobes and white upper lobes with a yellow beard make the variety prim and contrasting. Up to 9 flowers can bloom on one peduncle.
Bearded Iris "Indiana Night"
Bearded Iris "Indiana Night"
Bearded iris "Wabash"
Bearded iris "Wabash"
Bearded Iris "Pretender"
Bearded Iris "Pretender"

The use of retro irises in ornamental gardening

The vintage irises are the best bearded variety for any project that rely on minimal grooming. Even if the garden wants to get rid of almost all the plants that need to be regularly rejuvenated or provided with constant care, retro irises should be excluded from the number of such options almost least of all. They are many times superior to newfangled competitors in terms of durability and unpretentiousness and will not complicate the life of any gardener.

Retro irises have other advantages as well. Their foliage, which retains its decorative effect all summer long, plays a very important role in the compositions. And so one of the strictest xiphoid leaves in retro varieties, they look more powerful and massive, which allows plants to bring bright geometric and graphic accents to flower beds and flower beds, and also to landscape compositions.

The strict lines of retro varieties streamline the compositions, especially those in which there are dozens of different types of plants without a particularly thoughtful structure. They fit perfectly not only in natural compositions, but also in a regular style.

Retro irises are an excellent choice for any classic project and landscaping large areas, park areas, creating large arrays. Despite their name, these rare plants do not look too dated at all. Sleek and less flashy, they reveal the classic beauty of all bearded irises and create landscapes similar to the legendary Giverny gardens.

Of course, when used with nostalgic partners, they can enhance the retro effect, but their elegance is appropriate for gardens of any style and character. In landscape massifs, large plantings, they look no worse than in flower beds and ridges, borders and spots on the lawn. And in the iridarium, retro irises can not only create a background for new varieties, but also become one of the undisputed stars.

The selection of partners for retro irises is carried out according to the same principles as for bearded irises in general. There are no peculiarities in the search for combinations for old varieties, but, like any high varieties of irises, retro cultivars require a search for a balance of textures and shapes. And, of course, irises in mixed compositions are combined with plants with a non-superficial root system located deeper than their own.

For more information on the use of irises in garden design, read Irises in the Garden - Classification and Use in Design.

Bearded iris "Jane Phillips" (Jane Phillips)
Bearded iris "Jane Phillips" (Jane Phillips)

Conditions required for retro bearded irises

Historical varieties of irises, as already noted, are the most unpretentious and hardy. But this does not mean that they can grow anywhere. There are simply fewer requirements for optimal conditions, and their ability to adapt and survive is much stronger. Like all irises, they do not like dampness, shade and extreme soils.

For retro irises, light areas typical for all bearded varieties are selected. They can grow in shade, but not in strong shade, bloom more abundantly in sunny areas.

Any soil for plants can be selected - but not heavy, constantly wet, acidic, lime, stony, untreated. The risk of stagnant water or the level of groundwater must meet the requirements of plants that are afraid of getting wet. Any well-cultivated, loose, close to neutral in reaction, light soil will perfectly suit the old varieties.

Planting retro irises follows the same rules as any other bearded irises. It is recommended to transplant and separate plants every 4-5 years, at the usual time, approximately 1 month after the end of flowering, or at least until the end of summer. At the same time, the newly acquired bushes are also planted.

Caring for retro irises in the garden

In fact, caring for retro irises comes down to weeding. Weed control is an important part of the retro iris care program. It should start even before planting, preventing further weeds from growing too much in the immediate vicinity of the plants. The soil in the plants is not loosened or this procedure is carried out superficially, trying not to touch or injure the roots of the plant.

Retro irises will need watering only if the stage of budding and the beginning of flowering coincides with a very severe drought and heat. Pruning and shaping is reduced to a simple cut of leaves in the fall (up to a height of 10-15 cm) and the removal of damaged parts of plants.

Top dressing for retro irises can be carried out according to a simplified scheme, because they are much less demanding on the nutritional value of the soil. One top dressing with a full mineral fertilizer in a standard amount, carried out in the spring, or two dressings in early spring and during budding is enough for a more lush flowering.

Wintering the retro irises will not be difficult, even where problems usually arise with other bearded irises. Due to their predominantly European origin, they tolerate severe frosts better, are more resistant to temperature fluctuations and any unfavorable conditions.

Pests and diseases on retro iris varieties have to be encountered less often, even if plants suffer from insects, they usually recover much better than their competitors.

Retro irises are propagated in the same way as any other bearded irises. The most productive way is to divide adult plants between 3 and 5 years of age.

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