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Iris cristata Tennessee White, scale in design…and maybe an emu or two.

Iris cristata Tennessee White has many good attributes, starting with the pure white flowers I find so unexpected after years of living with the comfortable and well-known lavender of the species.

white iris cristata
Iris cristata Tennessee white.

Other good attributes of Iris cristata Tennessee White: It is native. It is perfect in the shade. It spreads deliberately but inexorably through the garden. It is drought-tolerant. It serves as a very tough ground cover. Deer do not eat it. Apparently, rabbits don’t like Iris cristata much either.

Iris cristata Tennessee White is one of the great native shade-loving perennials.

A selection from 4th generation nurseryman Don Shadow, Iris cristata Tennessee White, like all of the dwarf crested iris, is diminutive. It spreads slowly and grows less than six inches tall. Iris cristata is perfect tucked here or there and can be an answer for tough spaces (for example the dry shade found around the trunks of many trees).

Iris cristata can handle both dry and moist situations, and it has a reputation for a longer bloom period than the species. Flowers are small, maybe 2″-3″ across…if that. They are pure white with small yellow crests.

Don Shadow, Tennessee White Iris cristata
Young Iris cristata Tennessee White in the test garden.

A few words about Don Shadow
I became aware of Don Shadow through research on the background of his Tennessee White Iris cristata selection. Martha Stewart made her way to Don Shadow’s nursery in Winchester, Tennessee back in 2010 and with good reason. This is a man who cares about biodiversity deeply and takes humanity’s ecological responsibility seriously.

What I especially enjoyed during my reading about him is Mr. Shadow’s acknowledgment of scale in modern gardens. Simply put, modern gardeners have access to smaller plots of land. Mr. Shadow understands that many gardeners do not have room for the big trees anymore (Southern Magnolia is a prime example). What we need are smaller trees and shrubs that do not overwhelm the structures around them. Sometimes we need smaller perennials as well. Enter Iris cristata.

Don Shadow has led his namesake, Shadow Nursery, since 1978. It is wholesale only, so if you are interested in his plants, speak to your local garden nursery.

I am never ceased to be amazed at the stories of the people behind the plants we grow. The connection between Clemson University and some of our greatest camellias…and how they came to be (Camellia Frank Brownlee)…or the extensive efforts of dedicated azalea breeders of the 1960’s and 1970’s (Aromi azalea Amelia Rose).  And then, of course, there is the Stellar Pink dogwood and Rutgers University.

Don Shadow is part of this American history of plant development and worth knowing about. Plus he owns emus and camels.

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