New irises in Claire Austin Hardy Plants' Chelsea Flower Show exhibit

Shropshire-based iris and peony specialist nursery Claire Austin Hardy Plants is aiming for a Gold Medal at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with an extended exhibit featuring 13 new varieties of bearded iris.

Nursery owner Claire Austin has doubled her exhibit size from last year, when she won a Gold Medal, and plans to showcase 13 new varieties of bearded irises as well as displaying peonies at the show for the first time in five years.

Austin is a recognised authority on irises and penned Irises: A Gardener's Encyclopaedia and Iris: The Classic Bearded Varieties. The nursery houses the National Collections of hybrid herbaceous peonies and bearded irises.

Austin plans to showcase hybrid herbaceous peonies including 'Carol', 'Claudia' and 'Prairie Moon'. She said: "Herbaceous peonies are just so versatile and hardy once they're established - Chelsea will give us the opportunity to show some wonderful, undiscovered varieties to a wide audience.

"We've noticed a distinct trend toward the cleaner, purer colours at the nursery and we are seeing a lot of demand for peonies as cut flowers."

The 13 new varieties being launched at Chelsea include three new varieties raised by Barry Blythe from Victoria in Australia as well as varieties from renowned breeders Cooley's, Mid American Growers, Keith Keppel, Aitken's and Schreiner's Iris Gardens.

Commenting on the nursery's own trial beds, Austin said: "Our trial beds are pretty tough testing ground. The irises are exposed to driving winds, temperatures down to -19 degsC, really hard frost and heavy rainfall. Only those that thrive in these conditions are accepted into our iris collection."

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