Most gardens host at least a few tall bearded irises, rugged plants known for their sword-shape leaves and paper-petal blossoms. Yet beardeds are only a fraction of the iris bounty. Among the other irises, you'll find an enticing flower and foliage treasure trove, especially the graceful, grassy-leaved Japanese and Siberian irises featured here. These low-maintenance, disease- and pest-resistant perennials are attractive over three seasons -- in and out of bloom.
Like a twirling dancer swathed in silk scarves, the petals of the Japanese iris Beni Tsubaki, above, flair horizontally to create saucer-shape blooms. Japanese gardeners have prized these regal irises for more than 500 years, and for good reason. Japanese irises boast the largest flowers of all irises, up to 9 inches across, and can extend the iris season into July.
A single, slender Japanese iris stem often produces three or four flowers. Though each blossom lasts only a few days, an established clump, such as Nikko, can flower for two weeks or more. Sturdy stems need no staking.
Iris flower size and shape vary, but the general build is constant. Each bloom consists of three upper petals called standards and three lower sepals called falls. Gentle arcs of blue-green, ribbed Siberian iris leaves, above, help paint a peaceful pondside scene. Siberian and Japanese irises thrive near water, not in it.
Deep blue-violet, dew-kissed blooms of Tycoon glisten in the sun. Siberian irises require less labor-intensive digging, dividing, and replanting than tall beardeds.