Beardless Iris Study Day

On Saturday  I had the pleasure of attending The Beardless Iris Society study day in the depths of Herefordshire.  I haven’t been to a plant study day for a few years now as I think I was just overwhelmed with plant information but the break has reinvigorated me and the programme appealed to my inner plant geek,

It was only fairly recently that I discovered that there was a Beardless Iris Society, a sub group of the British Iris Society.  In broad sweeping terms, which would probably be frown upon by stalwarts of the society, beardless irises are generally the Siberian irises and Japanese (Ensata) irises along with a few others which don’t have beards. Whilst some in attendance fained a dislike of Bearded Irises I think most, like me, just loved iris in whatever form they took.

The study day started with 3 talks.  A quick round up of Siberian Irises from Alun and Gill Whitehead, our hosts; a talk about European Beardless Iris by Tim Loe; and a talk about the Iridaceae family by Dr Julian Sutton of Desirable Plants.  Julian’s talks are always so informative and engaging and I learnt loads from all the talks; although there seemed to be a difference of opinion about the importance of the number of chromosomes in the hybridising of Iris sibrica  with Iris sanguinea and the significance of I. typhifolia. Most of it passed me by but I do find the discussion about these things fascinating even if I only understand a bit of it.

After a lovely lunch provided by our hosts we went for a visit to their garden, Aulden Farm, which hosts a national collection of Siberian Irises. As ever in the depths of Herefordshire the journey to the garden involved single track roads, encounters with tractors and lots of reversing – all good fun especially when you are in a convoy of 5 cars.

I haven’t been to Aulden Farm for years although I regularly chat with Gill at various plant events.  I seem to remember some years back when there was a drought and everything looked a little dry.  Not so this year, all very lush and bountiful.  Aulden Farm is the type of garden that really appeals to me.  It is a very natural garden without being a wilderness.  The grass fades into the full borders which overflow with all manner of interesting plants.  This isn’t a garden which relies on design and structure nor for that matter is it a garden which relies on unusual plants; it is a garden which seems to capture both extremes in a space which envelopes you in plants and wildlife with paths that encourage you to explore further.

The Whiteheads are plantsmen (or should I say plants people).  They are consummate growers and sell all manner of plants at various groups and events.  They also have an informal nursery at their garden for open gardens days under the NGS and other visitors.  Needless to say being a group of plant fanatics the nursery was the first stop for many.  As ever in these circumstances I take advantage of the distraction to get into the garden and take some photos before it fills with people.

One of the key feature of the main garden is a dry river bed which meanders across the site being more full of water one end than the other – I didn’t really get a handle on the logistics of it.  But the moisture creates the perfect environment for Siberian Irises -as you can see from the photos on this blog post.  They look so good in large clumps and they were so full of flowers unlike mine which have been very mean with their flowers this year.

For some reason I hadn’t really registered that there was a national collection to see in the garden, although I have been told this before but my brain is full of work stuff and was obviously have a sabbatical on Saturday.  Anyway, I was rather surprised to come across a gate leading to a large field like area of garden full of raised beds full of irises. As with any good national collection the beds have a clear planting plan displayed for visitors so you can mostly work out the name of the variety you are admiring. I liked most of them, my tastes are so catholic, but I was interested in the varieties with larger petals (or perianths as I think we were told to call them by Dr Sutton – must check my notes).  I am used to the more simple, natural siberian irises but the hybrids have three larger chunkier perianths which really appealed to me; but then I do love Ensata iris and these have a similar type of flower head.

Having admired the garden I found the nursery empty of visitors so time for me to browse the remains left and do a little plant buying.  On returning home and sorting out my acquisitions from the garden and plant sale in the morning I seem to have acquired 5 new irises which is rather troubling as I have no idea where I am going to shoehorn them into.

I had a lovely day, learnt lots, met interesting people, had good food, visited a lovely garden and bought plants – what more can you ask for.

12 Comments

  1. bcparkison says:

    Sounds like a grand day. I do love iris …of any kind and color.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Me too

  2. tonytomeo says:

    are some of those iris gray? I remember being fascinated with a species of iris that bloomed in only three or so different colors, and one of the colors was described as gray. Nowadays, such colors are described as something else, as if ‘gray’ is not considered to be a good color. I really do not remember which iris was described as such, but I sort of wonder what it looked like, and if it is still around.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      I suppose it is a sort of grey. I thought it looked nice in a large clump against the blues and yellows of the other clumps but I’m not sure how attractive it would in its own. Those are Siberian irises

    2. tonytomeo says:

      Well, that is a good point. I sort of think they look rather sickly alone, like they are supposed to be white, but got the cheap laundry detergent. However, in old pictures, I thin they looked elegant with the same flowers in other colors (not that the color was so great in those old pictures).

    3. Helen Johnstone says:

      I think they would be described as lilac now – more appealing

    4. tonytomeo says:

      Yes, that is what I suspect.

  3. Chloris says:

    I have Iris sibirica ‘Osbourne’s Grey’ but it looks more lavender to me. What a fabulous day, I wish I could have been there. I love irises and being a nerd myself it would have been right up my street.

  4. It sounds like a wonderful day – it’s always good to hear experts who are also enthusiasts talking about a subject, and if they are really good, if doesn’t matter how much you really understand in detail!

  5. mossybrain says:

    Helen, I got quite a surprise on opening your blog today because I had just made the decision to write something about Iris for my garden club newsletter! Your visit to Aulden was so interesting to read not only for the subject but the fact that you are English visiting an English garden full of Iris. I also am from England (Devon) but live in the USA (Ohio) where I have a garden and grow iris of various types. Not being expert your post today is exciting.
    Thank you, this will be enjoyed for many reasons and by many people.
    I envied your trip with like-minded companions. Just wonderful.

  6. Dee says:

    Helen, that sounds fun although way above my head and pay grade. I’m quite sure I know very little about beardless irises although I grow one variety. They don’t do so well in Oklahoma unfortunately. Now, the bearded ones? They perform like champs. Hot and dry normally although not this year. Bill and I are traveling to East Anglia this month. Going to see Beth Chatto’s garden among others. ~~Dee

  7. Cathy says:

    Really enjoyed reading this Helen, so thank you. Looks as if my ensata will not flower this year after 3 years of perfectly timed brilliance for garden openings – too dry last year, I am guessing

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