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Re-Blooming Iris Brings Twice the Beauty

* The flowering plant is growing in popularity, appearing in shows where it was once shunned.

November 24, 2000|CHARLES FENYVESI | WASHINGTON POST

As withered leaves chase one another across the garden, it is a surprise to come upon a blooming, tall bearded iris, with the frills and folds of its baroque petals shimmering in the autumn sun.

Don't tall bearded irises flower in the spring? Yes, but the iris world is so rich in its diversity and so studied by gardeners that a class of rare, chance mutations has been improved by hybridizers to bloom twice, once in the spring and again in the fall.

As recently as a decade ago, iris growers raised their eyebrows and turned up their noses at the thought of planting a re-blooming iris. They are not up to par, they said, and of course iris standards of beauty are very high.

Irises with colors deemed "muddy"--too much in the way of plain earth tones and dull yellows--were dismissed as not worth growing, and the few re-bloomers selected or hybridized tended to fall into that category.

"But there is a big change now," said Eric Simpson, of the Chesapeake & Potomac Iris Society. "Nowadays, I can walk into any iris show in the spring, and I can't tell the re-blooming irises from the normal ones."

In fact, he added, for the third consecutive year, the local society ran a re-bloomer show in late October, with up to 150 stalks from 15 iris hobbyists.

"A lot of iris enthusiasts are now breeding re-blooming irises," he said, "and beautiful ones exist in almost all categories."

The price difference now between re-bloomers and "normal" irises is minimal, but novel varieties of bearded iris fetch big prices. An outstanding new re-bloomer might cost $50.

As they introduce new re-blooming varieties each year, iris hybridizers are engaged in achieving new and unusual color combinations, especially streaks and "broken" colors, once considered a flaw.

Gardeners love surprises at least as much as predictability.

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