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Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis (formerly I. stylosa)
Description: also called the winter iris, this plant originates from the Mediterranean and North Africa and consequently enjoys impoverished soils. It produces flowers on and off throughout the winter. These are usually lavender-blue with pretty cat whisker markings and a sweet scent. Deep purple and white forms are also available.
Size: to 20cm high.
Cultivation: English garden writer Vita Sackville-West advises, “the clumps should be planted at the foot of a hot wall, full sun, in the most gritty soil imaginable; they love old mortar rubble, gravel, ashes, broken bricks; they flourish on a starvation diet; hate being transplanted or otherwise disturbed; are loved by slugs and snails, ... pick them while still as closely furled as an unbroken flag around its flag-staff. They will then unfurl in the warmth of your room; you can watch them doing it.”
Special comments: try ‘Mia’, with intense blue flowers and white ‘Alba’, both available from Tesselaar Bulbs. Plant in spring.