Plant a pot full of dwarf iris for a fabulous early spring display – even sooner if you bring them indoors to ‘force’, encouraging them to flower out of season. Dwarf winter-flowering irises are among the very first spring bulbs to appear and are particularly good for pots, where their intricately marked flowers and delicate fragrance can be appreciated more easily than when they are grown in the garden.
Plant them in pots now and you’ll have blooms in February and March when planted outside. If you bring them in to a cool, bright room or conservatory as soon as the green shoots break the surface of the compost, though, you’ll have flowers as early as January. Choose from the many different varieties now on sale in our garden centre here in London; particular favourites include ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ in white, yellow and smoky blue, and ‘J.S. Dijt’ which is rich purple with a white and yellow throat. Or for the very earliest flowers, grow brilliant yellow Iris danfordiae – the first of the dwarf irises to flower.
Choose an attractive container for your bulbs (a shallow terracotta pan sets them off to perfection) and plant as soon as you get them home. Use a mix of two parts potting compost and one part grit for the sharp drainage dwarf irises love. Space the bulbs over the surface so they don’t touch: you can expect to plant six or seven bulbs to a 10cm pot. Cover the bulbs with 5cm of compost and firm in lightly, then finish off with a 1cm layer of sharp grit.
Once you’ve enjoyed your display up close, you can plant the bulbs out in the garden. Dwarf irises prefer a free-drained soil in sun or dappled shade, where they’ll keep coming back for many more years of those exquisite little flowers.