With some 22.7K likes and counting, is it any wonder Monty Don's pixie irises – which he shared on Instagram earlier this week – are one of his most-liked posts to date? 'So beautiful, Monty!' reads one comment.
Among the first spring bulbs to appear after winter, there's something incredibly cheering about these little flowers (also known as dwarf irises). It's part of the magic of knowing when to plant bulbs for spring – although, judging by the comments on social media, many will have to wait a wee while longer than Monty before theirs bloom.
'So lovely that your blooms come so soon after Christmas,' quips one fan. 'I, on the other hand, am under snow!'
A photo posted by on
Of course, if you didn't plant any bulbs (in the ground or in a bulb lasagne) in the autumn – or if you simply can't wait for your flowers to catch up with the gardening guru's, there's no need to be too envious of Monty Don's pixie irises: you can still fill your garden with these deep purple blooms... if you act fast.
Monty Don's pixie irises
Now, there's no denying that 'the best time to plant pixie iris bulbs is in the autumn or winter,' according to Craig Wilson, co-founder, director, and in-house gardening expert at Gardeners Dream.
This means that, ideally, the best time to plant bulb irises is in September and October/November – but you can buy them as potted plants in plenty of garden centres, too, which means there's still time to fill up your garden borders (or make good on some pretty container garden ideas, too).
Iris setosa (aka the bristle-pointed iris) | from £10.99 at Crocus
If you've left it too late to plant your dwarf iris bulbs this year, don't fret: you can buy a lovely, dwarf, sibirica-type iris in a 9cm pot. Which means, yes, it's basically ready to go!
Instant gratification is all well and good, of course, but are you still keen to make like Monty Don and grow your own dwarf irises from scratch?
Here, then, is everything you need to know about getting the pixie effect in your own garden...
What you will need
Growing dwarf irises (or pixie irises, to get all Monty Don with it) from bulbs is easy, if you have the know-how and the equipment to hand.
With that in mind, then, you should set out to source the following:
- A stash of iris reticulata bulbs (try the dwarf iris collection from Crocus, which comes with a whopping 100 bulbs): these will flower with jewel-like intensity in February and perhaps last into March
- A trowel from Amazon(or a bulb auger from Amazon, if you prefer)
- Peat-free multipurpose compost, like a bag of Miracle-Gro Multi-Purpose Compost from B&Q
- If planting in heavy soil/soil with a high clay content, be sure to add in some grit or sand to aid drainage
If you want to recreate Monty Don's pixie irises in your own garden (or, if you want to go ultra bold, learn how to plant bulbs in grass and recreate TikTok's viral bulb lawn), you're in luck: they're easy to grow, low maintenance, and they come back year after year.
'I love growing dwarf irises,' says Christopher O'Donoghue of Gardens Revived. 'All you really have to do is plant the bulbs in a sunny spot, making sure they're going in well-drained soil, and voila! Your task is complete.'
A gardener with over a decade of experience under his belt, Christopher set up Gardens Revived with his brother, Andrew, in 2018 to create a thriving family business. Together, they have worked on residential gardens, listed buildings and gardens, flower shows and large estates with some exceeding 70 acres – many with historical significance.
If you need a little more guidance than that, though, don't worry: we've got an easy guide for you to follow below...
1. Choose the right spot
To grow dwarf irises, you'll want to set to work in the autumn/winter and plant them in well-draining soil in a sunny or partially shaded location (a lot of people like to grow them en masse under a tree, for a vibrant springtime tableau).
'Ensure the soil is rich in organic matter,' advises Christopher, suggesting you add some peat-free compost.
If you're planting Monty Don's pixie irises in a pot, make sure your container has drainage holes.
We won't bore you again with our warnings about overwatering your plants, but you get the picture: you don't want your bulbs to sit soggy. Ever.
2. Space them out properly
'Make sure that you plant the dwarf iris bulbs about 8-10 cm deep and 7-10 cm apart,' says Craig.
'This depth will encourage strong root growth.' Which means, yes, you're more likely to get a beautiful early spring display, just like Monty Don's pixie irises.
Just be sure to pop the bulb at the bottom of the hole with the tip pointed upwards; that's the best way to ensure it's the right way up!
3. Water and mulch
Craig says that it's important to water the dwarf iris bulbs once you have planted them, making sure to keep the soil moderately moist throughout their growing season.
'Pixie irises are hardy plants and typically don't require extra winter protection,' he says.
Still, Christopher also advises applying a layer of mulch to help regulate soil temperatures and conserve moisture over the winter – particularly if you live in a particularly cold area.
4. Show them some TLC
Green-fingered gardeners will rejoice to learn that Monty Don's pixie irises are incredibly low maintenance.
'Just be sure to water them regularly, avoiding any waterlogged conditions,' says Christopher.
5. Let them die back
Wondering when to cut back your irises? Don't; unlike the taller, summer-flowering iris × hollandica types, these little beauties shouldn't need much in the way of pruning or deadheading at all.
'Once the flowers fade, allow the foliage on your pixie irises to die back naturally,' says Craig. 'This helps the bulb gather energy for the next season's growth.'
You can pull away the foliage once it's turned dead and straw-brown, to help your plants along.
5. Divide and conquer
Come autumn, it's worth having a go at dividing your pixie irises: each single bulb will likely split into many ‘daughter bulbs’, and you can pot these smaller bulbs up with a bit of compost and grit for a few potted plant displays.
This will give them more room to grow and thrive.
Is it too late to plant dwarf iris bulbs?
The best time to plant bulb irises is in September and October, but they can be planted as late as November (remember to plant them soon after purchase, as the quality of the bubs may start to deteriorate from mid-November onwards).
If you've left things too late to fill your garden with Monty Don's pixie irises from scratch, don't despair: you can buy potted dwarf irises in garden centres over the spring months.
Do dwarf irises come back?
Dwarf irises – aka Monty Don's pixie irises – are perennials, so don't grieve for them when they die back; all being well, they should come back year after year.
What is the lifespan of a dwarf iris?
A dwarf iris has the potential to last for up to a decade, although the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) points out that, if you plant them in soil which isn't perfectly well drained, they may not last as long as you'd hope.
'Replacement is cheap and bulbs are widely available,' they add reassuringly.
Whether you decide to grow Monty Don's pixie irises from bulbs, or treat yourself to some potted dwarf irises from your local garden centre, one thing's for sure: you;re guaranteed some beautiful blooms come springtime.
Just be sure to protect them from slugs and snails; they'll be on the lookout for a tasty treat, and there's no doubt they'll be tempted to chow down on your miniature irises before too long...
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Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.
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