Iris reticulata Harmony is a fitting name for a bulb that provides some of the first notes of glorious colour in winter? It is one of a range of rockery bulbs which includes Reticulate irises, crocuses and winter aconites and snowdrops that will give you that wonderful heart-lifting feeling, with Harmony creating a symphony of intense blue in pots and borders from January to March. The blooms are deep purple-blue with a cheery yellow band at the centre of each 'fall', and a slightly ruffled tip to the central petals. They stretch up daintily from strong pale-green stems and are all the more welcome when emerging bravely from a covering of snow. Harmony is the most saturated shade of our reticulate irises, and it's sweetly scented, too: a pure delight that can't fail to make the heart sing in a cold winter.
For a sweet duet, pair Harmony with snowdrops, pale Muscari or a white crocus such as Joan of Arc, and be generous with your planting drifts, to create impact the whole audience will enjoy. Evergreen grasses provide a satisfying foil for Harmony: try Carex or Festuca glauca for musical movement. Given good, sharp-draining soil, Harmony will slowly spread at the front of a sunny border, or plant to imitate reticulate irises' natural habit, giving them the sharp, stony conditions they enjoy in their native habitat of the Middle East, Turkey and Russia, in a rockery or alpine bed. Of course, pots and containers are a great spot for Harmony; be sure to place your pot somewhere you'll be able to appreciate it in winter – to be admired from a window or on the doorstep as you come in and out.
There's a little bit of jargon to get past with irises: falls, standards and beards, to name a few of the words thrown about by horticulturists. Reticulate irises shouldn't be confused with the bearded kind (these tend to be the later, taller varieties that flower in May and June, the ones Van Gogh was so fond of painting). The reticulatas are dwarf plants, with a three-petalled approach to the blooms. The larger outer petals, or 'falls', spread out and down at the tips. Each one has a spotted area in the centre. There can also be a deep yellow stripe or ridge along the central vein, a luminous landing strip for pollinators. Then there are three inner petals, which are slimmer and upward-pointing: these are the 'standards'. Altogether a most pleasing arrangement.