Rainbow warriors

I thought it must be cold because the cat refused to go out.

Normally, when there's snow on the ground, he makes a bee-line for the door and then spends happy hours frolicking and chasing birds.

This week, however, despite the rising temperature, he was pretending to be a limpet and sticking to his preferred position on top of the conservatory radiator.

At least I thought it was the weather keeping him indoors. Now I know it wasn't. He definitely had a guilty look about him, and that usually means he has been out in the garden excavating a toilet where he shouldn't have been excavating a toilet.

And when I looked, the evidence was clear to see. Where last year I planted a container with the small but perfectly-formed dwarf iris, I danfordiae, as pretty a little flower to ever grace a garden, there was now only the remnants of the compost.

Scattered round and about were the tiny corpses of my flowers. What should have made a welcome appearance in March will now never grace my garden with their yellow, scented flowers.

Thankfully, the disgraced feline failed in his attempts to excavate another container, this one filled with the equally delightful dwarf I reticulata, so at least there's something to look forward to in

March.

I love the iris family. All its members are full of colour and they stagger their flowering throughout the year. They are stunning, and their exotic hues give a clue to the origin of their name – from the Greek 'iris' for rainbow.

While the earliest are content to do their blooming best from just a few inches above the soil, the summer showoffs prefer to let the world know they are there.

The bearded varieties are some of the most sweetly-scented flowers which have been described as sumptuous, sensual and even voluptuous. These are the sun worshippers, only too happy to bask in the warmth of June while flaunting their extravagant shapes and eye-catching colours.

They vary in size from the small to the tall – from 18in in height to plants which top five feet and which need supporting to stop them falling on their pretty faces.

The bog irises are another breed entirely but they have the same overwhelming desire to grab all the glory that other flowers have a hard time competing. Bog irises like to have their roots damp – sometimes even in the water – so it pays to give them what they want and to plant them on the margins of ponds.

There are more members of this entrancing breed – the neglected April-flowering I bucharica and the Japanese Clematis Flowered Iris, which is so spectacular that even other members of its family give it a wide berth for fear of being put in the shade.

But I danfordiae need have no fear. The gaudy giants are too timid and too soft to show their heads early in the year.

It's only the cat that stops these dwarf dandies from flowering, and, hopefully, he has now seen the error of his ways.

YP MAG 22/1/11