“Resistant to the appalling drought of the North African summer, it flowers during the winter rains. Such a plant is ideally suited to my native East Anglia, thriving in our drought-stricken sand.” So said the late great Michael Loftus about the Algerian iris – Iris unguicularis.
Michael was the much-admired plantsman who ran the famous Woottens of Wenhaston, just a few miles south from me. It was his recommendation (and with similar soil) that sparked my interest in the Algerian iris about 15 years ago. Ever since, I have been in awe of the way this rather scruffy nondescript plant produces such extravagant blooms in February when the weather is often at its bleakest.
Michael claimed to bring them indoors in bud to watch them unfold and enjoy their wonderful fragrance. One day I’ll try that but so far I don’t have the heart for it as these flowers are such a source of wonder nestling in the skinny leaves that always look so dishevelled like some sort of ageing hippy with ‘flowers in their hair’. You do cut them back after flowering though and I’m not sure how you could be certain when that is the case with our erratic seasons.
The thing is, rather like those hippies set in their ways, it is said to resent being disturbed. I ignored that advice when it got so large it appeared to need splitting, duly did the deed and the second year my plants are flowering as prolifically as they always did. Before that though, I guiltily admit Iris unguicularis seemed to thrived on my neglect.