The shooting stars of summer at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The month of May is an exuberant time in any garden with plants exploding into growth all around us, but at Sissinghurst the most spectacular plants that flower in May are the irises. They are the shooting stars of the plant world, lighting up the garden for one brief but spectacular moment and when they flower, we should all stop and stare for a while.
Irises at Sissinghurst are almost as integral to the garden as roses and it will come as no surprise that it was Harold and Vita who, having fallen in love with them at Longbarn, [the home they owned from 1915-1930] subsequently introduced them into the garden at Sissinghurst.
We now consider these irises to be heritage cultivars but in the 1930s and 40s they were original and exciting. Many classic cultivars were created both in Britain and the US during this time and Vita loved them. In 1949 she wrote,
" Not everyone, I think, has yet realized the extreme beauty of the Irises……Their beauty is beyond dispute. No velvet can rival the richness of their falls; or, let us say, it is to velvet only that we may compare them. That is surely enough to claim for any flower?"
Harold and Vita collected irises from all the well-known iris breeders of the day. Thus we have irises such as ‘Black Douglas’ from the Sass brothers in America, ‘Beotie’ from Cayeux in France and many from the brilliant British iris breeders of the time: Cedric Morris, Arthur Bliss, Olive Murrell and Michael Foster. These irises have an elegance and simplicity of form that is perhaps not so obvious in today’s new irises, with their frills and ruffles, and our collection at Sissinghurst reflects this period. It is the colours of irises that make them so magical; pure, intense colour that shines out in the early Summer garden.
As you wander around the garden please do stop and stare a while at these beautiful flowers with their amazing colours and markings. Someone once said that they didn’t grow irises because their flowering season is so short and if you blinked you would miss it. The answer to that problem is; don’t blink. Stop, stare and drink in the beauty of the irises. Take the time to gaze upon perfection for one brief moment and when winter comes again and all is grey, think back to your day at Sissinghurst and dream of irises.