Grower questions colour focus

Focus on new iris colours and shapes neglects plants' form and function, says Simon Dodsworth.

Irises: homegrown plants overlooked in favour of overseas varieties - image: HW
Irises: homegrown plants overlooked in favour of overseas varieties - image: HW

Homegrown irises are being overlooked for overseas varieties and there is too much emphasis on finding new colour breaks rather than on form and function of the plants, according to English Iris Company (EIC) owner Simon Dodsworth.

"In recent years the focus of many hybridisers has been to develop new colours and flower shapes, with scant attention paid to the style and structure of the plant on which the flowers are carried. This causes real difficulty with many modern introductions," he said.

"To complicate things further, there is a bewildering choice of tall bearded irises on the market today, with some catalogues containing many hundreds of individual varieties with a wide colour range. However, a quick scan of the catalogues online does not make easy reading and fails often to provide the essential information to make an informed choice."

Catalogues do not say whether the flower is in proportion to the stem height, he added. "Modern trends for larger flower size mean that blooms are often unbalanced and out of proportion."

The catalogues also fail to specify whether the flowers are carried too close to the stem, whether the flower buds are spaced evenly along the stem or at the top or even whether the plants are suited to UK conditions.

"Interest in British tall bearded irises has all but disappeared in the last 20 years. Cheaper foreign travel and availability through the internet has encouraged many customers to buy from abroad," said Dodsworth.

"Commercial pressure and the premium value of something new/different each year have seen a lowering of the quality of many recent introductions to the UK market. Digitally enhanced images of fantastically coloured and patterned blooms, some with spectacular appendages to the beards, are produced to seduce the customer. However, so often the living plant disappoints."

He added: "The EIC's focus on British irises is a deliberate attempt to redress the balance and celebrate some of the best introductions over the last 50 years."

Many were hybridised by the late Bryan Dodsworth. The EIC is working on other ranges with Barry Emmerson, current president of the British Iris Society.


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