In Praise of IrisesBy Claire Austin
339 pages, 1155 color photographs, $49.95
if you don't read a word of text in Clair Austin's
new Irises: A Gardener's Encyclopedia, the photographs alone will make you want
to add lots of these beauties to your garden. I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for
irises. Bearded, Japanese, reticulata, it doesn't matter. I'm utterly smitten
with them all. And this book just makes me want more.
Do take the time to read the text, though.
wealth of information here. As a member of the David Austin Roses family, Ms.
Austin brings her horticultural knowledge and pedigree to these pages. The
Introduction briefly covers the history of the flower in art and medicine, its
scent, uses of the plant in coloring and flavoring, and tips for use as a cut
flower. It then discusses the botany and classification of irises, succinctly
and clearly written for a general audience.
The last of the introductory pages explains the
arrangement of the rest of the book, which is divided into four parts: bearded
irises, beardless irises, bulbous irises, and cultivation. Each of the larger
parts is divided into chapters corresponding to the botanical classification of
the genus. Within each chapter, the author first describes the wild forms or
species of the group, then the hybrids, both in alphabetical order by
scientific name. As the subtitle indicates, this is an encyclopedia, so each
plant entry receives a uniformly short description. For the wild forms, the
name of the person who first discovered it and the year the plant name was
first published is listed, along with the countries in which the plant grows in
the wild. The plant description follows, including the height and the general
flowering time in the wild. The entries for the hybrids of the group follow the
same format, with the name of the hybridizer and the year the plant was
registered included. Plant parentage is also listed for each hybrid.
Over half of the book is devoted
to the bearded iris. The
introduction to this large section is helpful to the neophyte iris grower as
Austin explains the two types of bearded iris groups, the pogons and the aril
irises. She includes the horticultural classification descriptions of the six
categories of the pogon iris group: miniature dwarf bearded, standard dwarf,
intermediate, border, miniature tall, and tall, although the chapters that come
next do not follow in the same order.
Page after page of color close-ups will enchant both the
casual browser and careful collector. Austin not only wrote the text of this
volume, but is the photographer, as well. I found myself looking (okay,
salivating) over the photos first, then reading the details of the plants I was
most interested in. Every single entry has a corresponding photograph, so there
is no guessing at what a particular flower will look like in your garden.
Parts two, beardless
irises, and three, bulbous irises,
follow the same format as the bearded iris section, again with a gorgeous color
photograph for each entry. Chapters in the beardless iris section are broken
down into Siberian, Laevigata, Japanese, Louisiana, Pacific Coast, Spuria,
interspecies hybrids, and a chapter titled "other beardless species,"
which covers crested, Rocky Mountain, winter flowering, series Foetidissimae
and series Tripetalae irises. While you will probably have to travel somewhere
out of state, and in many cases, out of the country, to see the plants included
in the "other beardless species" chapter, browsing these pages will
surely deepen your appreciation for these little gems. There are three chapters
within the bulbous iris section: reticulata, junos, and Dutch, Spanish and
The last and fourth part of Irises discusses cultivation
of irises, including growing irises in the garden, a chapter on pests and
diseases, and hybridizing and growing irises from seed. Each chapter is very
brief, and gardeners who want to dig deeper, as it were, into these subjects
would do better to consult one of the many Iris monographs that are available
at the Miller Library or your local bookstore.
Very helpful, however, are the website and nurseries
listings in the appendix. Austin provides contact information for iris
nurseries in the United States, Canada, and Europe. I also appreciated the name
index at the back of the volume. Gardeners who may know a particular plant name
but not the corresponding classification chapter in which that plant will be
found will find the index extremely useful. If the price tag is a little
off-putting, check out the Miller Library's volume first, before deciding to
add it to your personal library.
Whether you're a serious iris collector looking for that
next purchase, or a hobby gardener with an appreciation for this elegant plant,
you'll find Irises: A Gardener's Encyclopedia a treat.