In my gardens I grow several named and unnamed varieties of antique bearded iris. My two favorites, probably because they were the first two I began growing, are Sans Souci and Christabel. I first acquired these way back in the 1980’s. The Sans Souci iris was growing at the site of an old home although the home had by that time been torn down and was overgrown with small trees and shrubs. There were a few iris plants and some sedums struggling in crevices in a patch of exposed bedrock that had once been a garden. Being a plant collector, even back then, I had a small trowel, knife, and bags in my backpack so I cut off a few pieces of the rhizome and some sedum as well. The Christabel iris was in a church garden that I was refurbishing. I asked the grounds committee if I could have a few pieces of the various irises and they were quite happy to let me have some.
Today, 37 years later, I have a huge patch of Christabel and a smaller patch of Sans Souci. I don’t know if either of the original sites exist anymore. Garden tastes change as do people’s ideas about what to do with vacant lots with great views of Lake Superior. I am glad to have been able to rescue these old plants and continue growing them.
Sans Souci (Van Houtte, 1854) is a small-flowered iris on stems growing to about two-thirds of a meter. It is a “variegata” type meaning that the falls are not a solid color but are instead marked by irregular patterns of another color against the background. In Sans Souchi the falls have many mahogany red lines over the yellow background color. The standards (upright petals) are lemon yellow.
San Souchi is often sold under the name Honorabile which it is not. The standards of Honorabile are golden yellow but the falls are solid mahogany with no variegation. Honorabile is the ancestor of San Souchi and several other similar looking varietiesthat appeared as spontaneous mutations known as “sports“.
Christabel (Lapham, 1934) is a tall iris, often close to a meter, with abundant large, red flowers, the falls being darker red than the standards, and rich gold beards. This iris is from a hybrid cross of two other old iris varieties Ramses X Jerry. There are yellow highlights on the falls and the beards are golden.