This is Iris danfordiae—which as far as I know doesn’t have a common name. They are miniature iris which in my area bloom in February, a time when you appreciate anything that blooms. (If you want to figure out when they bloom in your area, their timing is generally a week or three before yellow trumpet daffodils and Iris reticulata—depending on the weather, of course.)
In catalogues, Iris danfordiae and the reticulatas are often thrown into the category of Dwarf Iris or sometime Rock Iris—which I think means they’re good for rock gardens. Basically, this is a hint that these iris (unlike some other types) need good drainage.
Besides being beautiful, Iris danfordiae are fragrant. You have to get right down to the ground to smell them since they are only a few inches high, but isn’t that a fine thing to do when spring is first showing its head? (If you have trouble getting down that far, plant them in containers; you can raise the containers even further by putting them on low walls, balustrades, stumps, and outdoor tables.)
You can also pull small pots of Iris danfordiae inside, once they get going. Don’t do it before the buds color up, though, because they like cool weather to bloom: indoors is hot for them, and they will appreciate a cool place inside if you have one. Iris danfordiae makes a great companion to tulips. (For more on that, and a photo of the beautiful I. danfordiae buds, see “Succession with Bulbs“.) It’s also good with any narcissus that doesn’t drown it out by blooming at the same time. That’s because these bulbs are all Mediterranean types who like a dry summer. Once their foliage has died off, give them little or no water until fall. If you keep this in mind when you plant them, you can save yourself some water and some work. Also, possibly, some rotted bulbs.
The final great thing about Iris danfordiae is that they are cheap—which is good, because for me they do not perennialize: if I want to see them every spring I must buy them every fall. (I might have discovered the cause of this: check this post.) They are not in all hardware stores or catalogues, but they’re worth looking for. You can bring these little flowers into the house in tiny vases like shot glasses and enjoy sniffing and looking at them by your bed or some other spot where they can be appreciated; they last for a day or two. That way you get a close-up view of the tracery of fine lines on their petals, and their simple-but-complex iris shape.
Next post—how you can kill plants, just the way I do. With illustrations.