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Winter Flowers: Iris ‘Mary Barnard’ and Others


 Sylvia (from England) sent this letter for us to share.  My friend Ed tells me that changing author names is not something WordPress allows you to do, so I’m just announcing that the photos and the rest of the text in this post are all by Sylvia. 

Dear Pomona

December and January is the hardest time for me to have flowers in the garden. There are a few hangers on like these yellow Banksia roses and I have some winter bedding like this viola I grew from seed but the gem in the garden is Iris unguicularis Mary Barnard. I bought this plant in March 2007 and was delighted that it flowered last winter from January to March.  This winter it started flowering in November. It will only have one or two flowers at a time but it has flowered continuously with only short breaks.


I had seen this plant in other gardens and coveted it for a while – don’t we all do that! But placing it in my garden was not easy.  It requires a sunny, dry place in poor soil and as it is winter flowering it didn’t seem much point growing it if I couldn’t see it from a window. In winter the only time I get to see the garden is as I have breakfast and at weekends, usually looking out of window over looking my tiny back garden – so this would be the best spot for the Iris. Planting it in this spot was a risk this spot doesn’t get sun all day, it is shaded by the house.  It is helped that it is backed by a wall but there are other plants on the sunny side of it as you can see from this view. In the right corner is one of my hellebores getting ready to bloom.


It wasn’t until I looked at the photo that I realised it had been eaten, not a perfect flower but beautiful colour and I can’t see any imperfections from my window. The leaves are rather tatty looking but it is forgiven because of the winter flowers.

Can I take this opportunity to wish all my blogging friends across the world a very Happy New Year.

Best wishes Sylvia (England)

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Sue January 4, 2009, 3:04 am

    Hi Sylvia,

    Great to see you in print! I’ve just bought and put in some iris bulbs. Look forward to seeing when they’ll bloom!

  • LindaLunda January 4, 2009, 3:05 am

    Ohh Sylvia!!!! That Iris unguicularis Mary Barnard was the most beatiful Iris I ever seen….. Is it full hardy?
    Thanks for looking us se this wonderplant!
    I have BIG need for it now….. hmm…..

  • kerri January 4, 2009, 4:48 am

    Sylvia, how lucky you are to have some winter blooms! Wishing you a very happy New Year! I hope 2009 brings you joy and many blessings.
    And the same wishes go to you, Pomona. Thanks for sharing your blog space with Sylvia :)

  • Sylvia (England) January 4, 2009, 5:50 am

    Sue, I have bulbous iris as well but this one is rhizomatous root – it looks just like a untidy grass when not in flower.

    Linda, this is fully hardy in the UK, there are white and pale lavender blue varieties as well. I am surprised it isn’t more widely grown.

    Kerri, our winter blooms do make up for the fact it rarely snows! Though having experienced a very snowy winter as a child I do prefer the flowers!

    Thank you for your comments. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Victoria January 4, 2009, 8:15 am

    Hi, Sylvia. I saw an iris just like yours in a garden near me the other day and thought: “Huh?” At the time, I just thought it was a victim of climate change. I’m completely unfamiliar with winter-flowering iris, though having seen yours, I too am surprised it isn’t better known. Isn’t it beautiful? Great post.
    Best wishes, Victoria

  • Northern Shade January 4, 2009, 8:36 am

    Sylvia, when I first looked at the picture I thought it was a bulb type iris too. Not only is it pretty, but it sure has a long blooming time for an iris. Cheerfully blooming in the slow time is a big plus for a perennial as well.

  • tina January 4, 2009, 9:01 am

    A very Happy New Year to you too Sylvia! I love this iris and to have blooms in the winter-one doesn’t even see the nibbled part or tattered leave. Thanks for sharing this spot of sunshine!

  • Helen/patientgardener January 4, 2009, 9:05 am

    Lovely post – I struggle with getting Irises to flower this early. Though I had some very similar outside my office window back in November – they are completely neglected and undisturbed so maybe this is the secret.

  • Racquel January 4, 2009, 10:31 am

    That is a spectacular Iris! Mine don’t bloom this early in the year. Around March or April is when they start to open up.

  • Karrita January 4, 2009, 11:33 am

    Sylvia and Pamona~
    Happy new year! It was enjoyable to read this post. The colors of your iris are just incredible! A really nice photo! And how delightful that it blooms at this time of year.

  • Frances January 4, 2009, 12:11 pm

    Hi Sylvia and Pomona, a happy new year to you both! I love any winter blooming flower and this is no exception. It will go on the *want* list this minute. Thanks for letting us know a little bit about it, a rare gem!

  • Meems January 4, 2009, 7:47 pm

    Hello Sylvia and Pomona, Thank you, Sylvia for alerting me to this post. It is always so nice to hear from you and to get a peek at your garden. What a gorgeous Iris you have displayed for us. The close-up photo is just stunning.

  • Sylvia (England) January 5, 2009, 5:04 am

    Thank you for all your kind comments.

    Yes Victoria it is beautiful, I can’t believe that it flowers at this time of the year. I like this variety for its bright blue flowers.

    Northern Shade, it is has a long flowering period most Iris are over so quick that if you are on holiday you miss them!

    Tina, I had a neighbour how picked the iris buds (same species) so they didn’t get nibbled and put them in a vase. As she couldn’t see hers from a window this was a good idea. They last a couple of days.

    Helen, yes they do thrive on neglect and are better undisturbed. I just hope my clump doesn’t get too big for its position.

    Racquel, we have a fairly mild climate, though we have had more frosts this year than for years.

    Karrita, thank you for your comment, it took me quiet a few tries to get this photo as I suffer from camera shake!

    Frances, This iris was on my ‘want’ list for a few years, I am so pleased I bought it. If I every move it is coming with me!

    Meems, I am so pleased that Pomona gives me the opportunity to share a little bit of my garden and plants with you. I thought long and hard about alerting people but I don’t think anyone was offended.

  • Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) January 5, 2009, 7:58 am


    Beautiful iris! An exquisite flower indeed. It’s great to hear about your garden.


  • Anne January 5, 2009, 9:44 am

    Hi Sylvia! Happy New Year! Its nice to hear news of your garden. Love the delicacy of that little iris.

  • Pomona Belvedere January 5, 2009, 12:43 pm

    Sylvia, you’ve definitely inspired me to put this iris on my list. I’m already a fan of Iris danfordiae and Iris reticulata, which bloom in about February here. I’m thinking that with the unguicularis clan, I might be able to work out a plan where I have some kind of iris flowering through the winter. Thanks for a great post.

  • inadvertentfarmer January 5, 2009, 4:53 pm

    I am now going to have to add another flower to my ever growing list, lol! Great post sylvia, I hope you have a wonderful and blessed New Year! Kim

  • Tyra January 13, 2009, 5:29 am

    Hello dear Sylvia and Pomona and Happy New Year (a little bit late) What a wonderful Iris unguicularis, that Mary most have been a wonderful person, I have to look her up.
    Take care and lets hope that 2009 will bring us all joy./ Tyra

  • Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker" January 14, 2009, 11:15 pm

    Your photos are beautiful and you picked a great subject to write about. So, when are you starting your blog?
    Happy New Year Sylvia, you are wonderful.

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