The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Worth the wait: A passed-along rhizome produced just leaves for several years. Then this.
“No plant more sweetly recalls the gardens of our grandmothers than the iris, or fleur-de-lis.” —Charles M. Skinner
I’m not sure either of my grandmothers were gardeners, but my mother’s father was, and my Great Aunt Mary, on my father’s side. Both of them loved irises. They were, in fact, my grandfather’s favorite. He cultivated them along a tall fence in his city backyard; there were swaths of them in Aunt Mary’s rural Vermont flower garden. But Mr. Skinner, whose “Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits and Plants” appeared in 1911, was thinking of earlier iris lovers than they. Irises have been beloved by humans practically since they forswore hunting and gathering for agriculture.
From “The National Gardening Book”: “There are records of [the iris] in Babylon and in Egypt. A white variety was carried by the Mohammedan armies to plant on the graves of their soldiers. It is also written of by Dioscorides in the 6th Century. It was the Fleur de Lis of France. As early as 1576 the great botanist Carolus Clusius listed nine species from southern Europe. In 1601 he described 28 Tall Bearded varieties, noting that there is great variation among Iris grown from seed. It is because of this very fact that new varieties have increased until there is now a list of over 20,000.”