Growing Louisiana Irises

by Tom Dillard

I like Louisiana irises, but they are merely one among many different plants I grow in my garden. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a garden composed solely of Louisiana irises, just as some folks could find satisfaction in a garden of cactus, or asters, or, I suppose, daffodils—though in the later example the garden would appear awfully barren for most of the year!

Actually, I grow two gardens—one is filled with flowers, shrubs, trees, ground-covers, statuary, a fish pond resplendent with pink and yellow water lilies. I grow my other garden in my mind, in my imagination. Both of these gardens are real to me. From one I derive the pleasure of working the soil, producing scenes of beauty, cutting flowers for every room of my home.

From the garden of my mind I take equally valuable gifts. I can close my eyes in the middle of January, while sleet lashes the window panes, and see the great swaths of black eyed susans that meandered through my garden last year. Or, I can try out new plants, experiment with new designs, or banish every dandelion from that garden of my imagination!

Often my real garden, situated on a rocky ridge in an old Little Rock suburb, falls far short of measuring up to the garden of my imagination. There's much too much shade, not nearly enough humus, and I've spent far too much money on stone retaining walls and not nearly enough for irrigation. And then there was the problem of sticking in far too many Louisiana irises into every bed and border, even into the vegetable plot.

Eleanor McCown of Holtville, California: "I have been growing a few Louisianas haphazardly since about 1955. I've never lost one, but some of them could be pretty sickly. They seem to prefer a part of the garden that has protection from the west wind and gets sunlight only in the morning. They receive the same treatment as the spurias

Louisiana irises are among the choicest of garden perennials. Gardeners who want a beautiful and well landscaped garden cannot achieve any enthusiasm for the plants when they are grown in isolated patches- one of every kind obtainable all mixed together. Sometimes they are grown in a hole, dug out of the ground to imitate a bog. It's true they are found, in the wild, in low places. This is because when God had them by Himself the only way the seed could spread was by the rain waters. They do best for us grown in a perennial border, in curves and bays in the shrubbery borders and in the rock garden. I've also use them to help make garden 'pictures all over the place. 

The culture of Louisiana irises in an upland garden is not too difficult if the grower will attempt to supply the plants with the conditions which make for survival and growth in the swamps and bogs, where they are found as native plants. 
The soils in which these plants are found are among the richest in the world, from the standpoint of plant fertility, being mostly composed of alluvial deposits in the Lower Mississippi Valley. In addition to being high in the elements of plant food and in organic matter the native beds are usually poorly drained and are covered with shallow water during much of the growing season. In the summer after the water drains off or is evaporated, the rhizomes are protected from the heat of the sun's rays by shade or by leaves and other deposits of vegetation. 

Most gardeners think of cultivation of Louisiana irises in terms (If moving them to an upland garden bed somewhere around the home site. They may be used, however, around the borders of a pond or stream where they will require practically no attention other than hand weeding provided the water maintains a fairly constant level throughout the year. 
Louisiana irises are native of some of the most fertile land in the world, the alluvial deposits of the Lower Mississippi Valley. In addition, they are found growing in water. When they are moved to an upland garden the grower should provide, as nearly as possible, cultural conditions which approximate the natural environment of the plants. 

A Basic Guide to Recommended Cultural Practices

The Louisiana iris is a relative newcomer to general garden culture. Fifty years ago only a handful of specialists were really aware of this native iris. One of the biggest hindrances for their widespread use in gardens has been a misunderstanding of their cultural requirements. No, you do not need a pond or bog to grow them. This is just another example of their adaptability, and that is what makes a great garden subject-adaptability. 
The species of the Hexagonae series grow in Georgia and the Carolinas, from Florida to Texas along the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Mississippi valley into Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana. The geographic regions represented are quite varied in temperature, annual rainfall, and soil conditions. The range of the modern garden hybrids have encompassed the globe. Louisianas are being grown successfully from Canada to Australia, from]apan to Germany.