I have caught the Iris Virus

I have caught the Iris Virus

Ruth's Love reblooming Iris Socal zone 10b
No Id iris that I think is probably ‘Ruth’s Love’ historic Iris. This photo was taken in my front yard after the blooms were damage by winter rain. It reblooms whenever it gets a rhizomes that is large enough to bloom, and it blooms throughout the year. I usually have at least one bloom between Christmas and New Years most years.

* Iris Virus = A burning desire to learn everything there is about growing and caring for iris plants. A person with an iris virus reads tons of iris publications and surfs all of the known iris society web sites. The person with the virus may have just started growing irises, be an avid collector, or be an established grower/ hybridizer of irises.

For me, it all started back in 1995, when a next door neighbor gave me two rhizomes of an old fashion iris, named Alcazar, as a house warming gift. Alcazar is a pretty purple and lavender bearded iris with a distinctive frangrance, of all things, root beer!?  What a cool flower! When we moved from our little duplex to Hanbury House, out of the few plants I made sure bring with me were some rhizomes of Alcazar Iris, and I have since shared it with most of my gardening friends.

Purple Unknown historic type iris. I think this may be Alcazar other early iris by Vilmorin. It smells like Rootbeer. It blooms in early Spring, usually early April. It was the first iris I received from a neighbor, in 1996.

In 2002, while visiting family in the central valley, I attended a Fresno Master Gardeners fundraiser and bought a few different varieties of irises, mainly because that first variety, Alcazar, was so easy for me to grow and it smelled awesome. A red iris I bought, only sulked and didn’t survive the second year in the ground and never flowered for me, but the other iris, a pretty yellow and white one, ‘Ruth’s Love’, took off like crazy.  For the first few years, I thought there was something the matter with it or I was doing something wrong in the care because it bloomed at all sorts of weird times of year, even at Christmas! I was even a little worried it is was a sign of global warming.  I later found out it was doing exactly what it was bred to do because it was a special type of bearded iris called a rebloomer or remondant.

reblooming iris zone 10 10b
Pink Iris bloomin in the front yard. This one is a No ID I bought at Armstrong.

Since then, I have collected many other irises from Armstong Nursery, Long Beach City College, the Green Scene, and traded with other local gardeners.  I have about ten varieties of beautiful irises that bloom only in the spring, but due to ‘Ruth’s Love’ and its surprising bloom times, I prefer to look for varieties reported to be rebloomers in Southern California.  It is hard finding good reblooming varieties that grow well on the coast, especially since most bearded iris are listed as growing only to zone 8b or sometimes zone 9.  Reblooming isn’t as dependable in other parts of the country, even when an iris is bred to rebloom, so for many years, iris hybridizers didn’t usually breed for the remondant trait.

The Big Box Garden Centers don’t usually carry a lot of ideal bulbs for our mild climate, let alone reblooming bearded irises. Instead, each Spring, I check a local iris club’s booth, the O.C. Iris Society, for rhizomes they are selling at the Green Scene at the Fullerton Arboreteum. However, since my passion for edible gardening is far stronger than my interest in irises, I usually don’t make it to the O.C. Iris Society’s booth until after it is picked over.  After spending a half hour or more checking out what interesting new things the California Rare Fruit Growers Booth has, it is usually very crowded at the O.C. Iris booth.  But last year I did buy manage find a couple of the last tiny rebloomer rhizomes they had for sale.  I am almost embarrassed how small they were and that I actually paid $7 each for rhizomes less than two inches long.  One was Bernice’s Legacy, which has grown nicely and now has four fans, and other was Champagne Elegance.  Later in the morning, I lucked out when I stopped by Rio Hondo Horticulture Department’s booth and found a 5 gallon size nursery can of Victoria Falls reblooming Iris.  Even better, it was only $6.

A bluish purple bearded iris from LBCC Horticulture Department Spring Sale

The reason I say I have the iris virus is because, after a disappointing spring search for rebloomers, this past September, I made sure to be in to the local nurseries as soon as the got their iris bulbs in.  On top of that, I went shopping with my wish list in hand, composed exclusively of rebloomers reported to grow in well in zone 9 and/or  zone 10.  I scored at two local nurseries, and Lowes, of all places.  Maybe retailers have realized their are gardeners interested in rebloomers.  Here are my latest acquisitions:

  • Pagan’s Dance (found H & H nursery,  grower is VanBloem )
  • Hemstiched (found H & H nursery,  grower is VanBloem )
  • Jurassic Park (found at Lowes!)
  • Ziggy (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
  • Immortality (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
  • Orange Harvest (found H & H nursery,  grower is VanBloem )
  • Buckwheat (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
  • Cloud Ballet (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
  • Best Bet (found H & H nursery, grower is VanBloem )
  • Rosalie Figge (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
  • My Friend Jonathan (from Gerie, a fellow iris collector and granddaughter of an iris hybridizer, Bernice Miller)
  • Bernice’s Legacy (2 different rhizomes/ one from Green Scene & one rhizome from Gerie)

In the Spring I plan to visit a couple of the Southern California growers and see what they have available that I can’t live without. Despite that long list of bearded iris that I have already acquired, I still have more on my wish list, including:

  • Frequent Flyer (white)
  • Witch of Endor (red)
  • Feedback (violet blue)
  • Clarence (violet blue and white bi-color)
  • Blatant (yellow burgundy bi-color)
  • Earl of Essex (white and purple plicata)
  • Peggy Sue (shorter pink and fragrant)

If you are like me and love irises, here a few local sources worth checking out: Bonnies Irises, via Matilija Nursery in Moorpark, Iris Howse and Garden in Bonita, and Stanton Irises in Valley Center.  Sutton’s Irises used to be in Porterville, Ca, but they recently moved to Idaho.

For more information on Iris in general, visit the American Iris Society and for info specifically on reblooming iris, visit the Reblooming Iris Society

5 thoughts on “I have caught the Iris Virus

  1. Irises were one of my mother’s favorite flowers. I’m enchanted by the way their graceful petals sparkle in the sun, and their scent is par excellence compared to other rhizomes in my opinion. But my Iris Virus isn’t in full bloom yet, it is incubating. I think I have the pink lilac one you have; it is just gorgeous, and I look forward to spring when it makes its delicate frilly pink debut. I think I also have the two tone purple one. I too went to the Green Scene and was horrified by the $7 asking price for the minuscule rhizomes. Instead we bought a potted Iris that had 4 shoots for $8.00, much better. Thanks for the post and the wonderful information.

  2. Lianne:

    Thank you for being so generous with information. You do all the hard work and we reap the benefits. My mother was an avid Iris grower, she had just about every color imaginable including white and bronze. They grew beautifully in her garden in La Canada for years along with azaleas and Camelias. When we sold her house in 2009, I dug up a bunch of her purple bearded iris which are two-toned and have survived even the hottest Riverside summers (105). Of course, I have them in filtered sunlight and they love it. Now, if only I can keep the dog from lying in the middle of the bed where it is cool and protected.


  3. Wow, loved reading this! RE blooming? I will be looking for some of these. Going to check your links now. Do you think it is too late to find any this year? Or are we just getting into the season for buying starts now? The bababerries are doing fantastic, by the way. Thanks again!

    1. I am glad to hear your Babas are doing well. My desert Tortoise decided to burrow in the middle of my patch this September. A large section is suffering as a result. She dug under some canes and covered others. However, baba berries are pretty resilient, and I am hopeful they will bounce back next year. They survived the dog destroying the patch one time, too.

      The Tena fig you gave me is really thriving, but The heirloom white figs didn’t make it in the summer heat. I think I moved the cuttings out too soon. Sorry.

      Kathy, if you would like some of my yellow and white, “Amain,” reblooming irises, I still have a few extra rhizomes from when I divided them last month. I think they would do okay out by you since I bought them in Fresno where it is also pretty hot.

      Most of the country plants their irises in late July and August. Here in the West, and in the warmer climate zones, September and October are the bareroot/ rhizome planting months. Shipping season for a lot of the larger growers is over, like Schreiners in Oregon. There are some places still selling rhizomes, although the selection is picked over a bit, like at my local Armstrong nursery. However, I think Bonnie’s Irises at Matilija Nursery still has a good selection, at least they did last I checked online, and they ship.


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