Thursday, April 7, 2011

Iris pallida 'Variegata' ~ Sun or Shade?

   I had a great question from a Blotanical member this week (thanks Carolyn!) about the Iris pallida 'Variegata' growing on my Shade Path.

   I have read conflicting advice about the sun needs of this plant.  When I purchased this iris, the tag it came with said "Part Sun - Morning light only", which would be strange among this species.  Perhaps there was a mistake at the big box store I got it from?  (That often happens in my experience.)

But I also have vague memories of seeing them in shady prospects in some of  The English Garden magazines (even though it is expensive, it is one of my favorite publications!!). 

Then I read in Plant Partners, a wonderful book by Anna Pavord, that she felt that Iris pallida needed more sun than the rest in its species.  She especially mentions planting it "with the top of the rhizome sitting above the ground where it can get baked" (pg. 48).  This is great planting advice for any rhizome-type iris, but rather different advice than seen on the tag... but how credible was that anyway?

Then when checking online sources I found that some list it as full sun (see White Flower Farm) and some as full sun/ part shade (see Fine Gardening). 

So here is the deal in my garden experience in zone 5:
It is planted in my Shade Path Garden, which is quite shady because of the house and the two mature maples (meaning less than 5 hrs of sun in the summer time)... except for the exact spot that where these irises live.  It sits just by the cut out in the roof, so that the sun begins hitting here in the early afternoon instead of so late.  It still is part shade (less than 6 hrs of sun), but it is also very dry, due to the tree roots and being on a hill above the neighboring pavement. 

So yes, these Iris pallida are in a dry, dappled part shade, but they have some strong mid-day sun.  And I do set the rhizomes at the surface.

Iris pallida 'Variegata' is lovely the whole season because of its interesting white-stripped leaves... 
and the fragrance itself would earn it a place in my garden even if the flower was ugly!

See more of the Shade Path in May!


  1. fascinating how the advice varies but bottom line it needs to sit on top of the soil and have some strong sun for part of the day...mine sits at the bottom of small hill and I have to keep uncovering it...but it gets good sun...may need to move it if it doesn't grow better and I know just the spot

  2. I have them too and they are in shade all day until 3 pm. Then they get some strong sun for about an hour. They are in a pretty dry spot too. A neighbor gave me this plant and it does seem OK where it is planted. It actually benefits the neighbor, since it is planted across from her front door.

  3. I have never grown this iris, though I have admired them from afar. I would love to have it! I suspect it would need more shade in my climate.

  4. This Iris is one I have drooled over for years. I still do not have - I want it for the variegated leaves! thanks for the great photos- looking beautiful!

  5. Lovely Iris, mine are in sun for only half the day and they seem to do ok. Love them for their leaves which you can enjoy for longer than the flowers.If you think they are happy where they are then I would leave well alone, they will soon tell you if they want you to move them!!

  6. I have this iris now for a couple of years. It is in full sun, and thriving in a hot summer climate (No. Calif Sierra foothills). It bloomed beautifully last summer. I was careful to water regularly. So it sounds from the above this is a very adaptable plant.


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