The irises of Merian Gärten, Basel

Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 023I am waiting for the irises to bloom here. The buds are large and tempting.

While waiting (and looking at irises on the blogs of other gardeners), I was reminded of a perfect iris collection that used to be only a bus and tram ride away from where I lived in Alsace. The pictures are not great, but I thought I’d share the garden all the same.

The iris collection at the Merian Gärten, Basel, is a ‘must-see’ if you are in Basel during May. I’ve tagged this as a ‘French’ garden to visit, which of course it is not, because Basel is in Switzerland.  I hope you’ll forgive, because the French border is so close – and the life so cross-pollinating between the two peoples – it hardly makes a difference. If you do visit Basel in May, you’ll find more than one beautiful park  created around the homes of some of the richest people to live in the city during the 19th & 20th centuries.

Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 009This garden used to be the estate of a wealthy agriculturist, Christoph Merian, and is open from dawn until dusk every day.

If you are there for the irises you should make sure you catch the wonderful peonies too.

Peonies + Chatillon.28 May 2011 005Peonies + Chatillon.28 May 2011 002

Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 011There is also an 19th century orangery and an excellent cafe (opening at 9am) at the back of what I believe must have been the original Merian home, which you saw in my first picture. The Swiss, Germans and Austrians really know how to handle a coffee break.

I’m afraid I don’t know the names of any of the cultivars in my pictures. I was too busy drooling and falling in love.

Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 002Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 005Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 022Good memories of happy, hot afternoons in Basel with very special people.

Botanic Garden.19 May 2011 033When we first bought our house here at Châtillon, the Merian Gärten had worked a bit of magic and I fancied creating long ribbons of iris colour down in the area we call the Orchard. I still haven’t done it – that’s the last area of garden to come under cultivation, and I’m due to tackle it this autumn and winter. In the picture below, it is just above the area where the grass circle has been cut around the young walnut.


The straight lines of colour would run out, away from the terraced garden and house (I thought). I’ve changed my mind now, on account of the sulky nature of the iris for 90 per cent of the year. There will be herbaceous plantings instead (probably featuring a lot of grasses, to cope with heat). But the irises will, for sure, find a home. I think everyone reading will understand when I say: ‘I want MORE!’

Meanwhile, our own Iris Garden is lovely and tidy – last Friday it was waiting for the first blooms to open.


We named this terrace for the wild iris that the previous owner had planted along the base of the main south-facing wall. These have been replaced with fancier cultivars and  I’ve added irises to the right of the box hedge you can see below (it needs weeding at the moment, but I’m frightened to break any buds).


Wild irises are already flowering on the walls behind the Rose Walk …


… just below the level of the Mirror Garden.


In the Rose Walk itself the iris I call Iris pallida (rightly or wrongly) is flowering. A few rhizomes were stolen from the village street where it grows wild and gives a lot of joy in May (see my last Wordless Wednesday post, and don’t tell anyone here that I’m nothing but a common thief).


And, since Sunday, Dutch iris ‘Gypsy Beauty’ has struck up a bit of a dance in the Rose Walk.


As of Tuesday, we had the first Iris Garden blooms from ‘Forrest Hills’. All my named cultivars arrived here in 2014 as two discount collections and have already been moved once (in August 2015). The collections were from Peter Beales and Jacques Briant. I didn’t really rate the rhizomes from the French nursery much – they were tiny and have taken forever to establish, whereas Peter Beales’ collection are romping away and all have buds this year.

‘Forrest Hills’ is the one that has produced the biggest, happiest clump in those two years.


This terrace is also where I’m planting crocuses in the grass (you can tell I ‘grew up’ in a botanic garden – there’s a sad botanical logic to my madness). Of course, the foliage of the crocuses is a bit of a nuisance when you start mowing in late April/early May, but worth it for the pleasure of them in February.

There’s lots to come – I’ll leave you with a promising bud of one of my favourites, ‘Foggy Dew’. Still waiting …




23 thoughts on “The irises of Merian Gärten, Basel

  1. pbmgarden

    I relished every word and idea of this post and admired the gorgeous photos. Have never seen Wild irises growing on a wall like that–amazing.

    1. Cathy Post author

      What a nice comment Susie. Everyone seems so surprised at the irises in the walls – I’m glad I posted their pictures looking at their best. I guess I’ve got so used to them – nice to show them off a bit (of course nothing to do with my gardening abilities – it’s nature that’s showing off, really!)

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad you enjoyed … we have irises all over the village here. This garden has part of the old rampart walls, and that’s where the irises are flowering.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad I brought back happy memories – I worked in Bavaria for part of a summer, so I understand your affection! Thanks for visiting!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hi Jessica – I can’t recommend at the moment. Maybe someone else can? I have one very good black, but unfortunately it came to me without a name. (Although I could always send you a little bit of rhizome!) I’m waiting to see the flowers of another called ‘Black Knight’, but photos on the net are showing it with quite a lot of purple in it. ‘Foggy Dew’ should be a pastel blue/white when it flowers …

  2. Eliza Waters

    I would love to visit that garden in Basel! The closest thing we have here are growers that have open houses, but are still, very far from my home. Looking forward to see yours as they develop.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Eliza! I’m looking forward to seeing them develop too! A French friend has reminded me that I wrote nothing about the wonderful Cayeux irises (they exhibit at Chelsea every year). Maybe next year …

  3. gardeninacity

    Oh, how marvelous! I don’t think I have ever seen masses of Irises like that. I have heard about how things are very integrated around the French-Swiss border. My father-in-law lived and worked near Geneva for several years, and Judy (she was in college at the time) would visit them regularly.

    1. Cathy Post author

      In fact the Alsatian spoken where we lived (with the frontier about 10 mins walk away) is exactly like the Swiss German they speak in Basel (barely a trace of French) and that makes it easy for the French to cross over and work in the city – they staff many bars, restaurants, etc. Young people tend to speak mostly French these days (although they know Alsatian from their grand-parents).

  4. karen

    I loved reading about that garden in Basel. Mum and I would love to visit it. The colours are so vibrant. Such a joy. I too haven’t seen any iris growing in a wall before. That’s given me an idea. Most of my garden is heavy clay, but I could grow them along a broken wall. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Oh yes – what a great idea to go for the irises in a wall! We have become so used to them here that I forget they look rather lovely. Thanks so much for visiting and enjoying. Hope to visit your blog soon … spring’s a lot of pressure sometimes!

  5. Donna@Gardens Eye View

    Cathy this took my breath away…both the Switzerland garden and yours! My I don’t think I have ever seen irises so lovingly placed. A few of my own irises are beginning to open. I hope to divide and move lots of mine around to create a stunning effect one day!

    1. Cathy Post author

      The most ‘lovingly placed’ irises in our own garden (on the walls) were put there by nature! Thanks for visiting Donna.

  6. sophos

    Beautiful flower, the iris. One I’ve yet to try on the balcony. Enjoyed the beautiful photos from both yours and Merian’s garden. And, wow, Foggy Dew looks like it means business!


    1. Cathy Post author

      Foggy Dew is now flowering – so I will post a picture later this week. I hope all is flourishing on your balcony in Berlin – will stop by soon!

  7. Alexandra

    can you believe me that had no idea there are so many colors of irises, I always thought they were only purple (blush)… absolutely gorgeous both the irises and your photos 🙂


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