If you’re looking for an indestructible perennial to grow along Colorado’s Front Range, you can’t beat bearded irises. They’re tough, hardy to zone 3. They’re drought tolerant. They aren’t fussy about soil. Deer and rabbits leave them alone (for the most part). And they come in nearly every color in the rainbow—and then some. How can you lose?
While most people grow bearded irises for their rainbow of spectacular blooms, Variegated Sweet Iris (Iris pallida) is prized for its striking variegated leaves. Yes, it blooms in late spring with lovely violet-blue flowers, and your nose will appreciate their delightfully heady fragrance.
But long after the flowers fade, the stiff, sword-like leaves, with their vertical stripes of green, white and cream, will remain an exclamation point in the landscape. Plants grow two to three feet tall, and clumps spread over time.
Colorado gardeners are so familiar with Bearded Irises (Iris germanica) that we tend to forget there are any others. It’s true that Bearded Irises do exceptionally well in our climate and soils, but they won’t bloom for several more months. Two smaller relatives—Iris reticulata and Iris danfordia—are blooming now. Why not grow them as well?
Iris reticulata and I. danfordia are collectively known as Dwarf Irises. You may also see them labeled miniature irises or rock garden irises. Iris danfordia is a sunny yellow with brown specks; I. reticulata comes in shades of blue, purple, lavender, maroon, white, and yellow. It has bright yellow and/or white markings on the petals. This species has a number of named cultivars, including ‘Harmony’ (deep cornflower blue) and ‘J.S. Dijt’ (very deep purple). All the photos on this page are I. reticulata. (Hybrid irises typically sold as “Dutch Iris” are larger, and bloom later in the summer.)