Why Love The Iris?: An Interview with the American Iris Society

I would like to…render thanks now to this graceful iris which arises from reedy stems in delicate flower-heads of dark purple, lavender, and white.  It varies in its colour[sic], and that is one of its most attractive characteristics.

-Vita Sackville-West
More For Your Garden
June 27th, 1954

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If you’ve read my post, Snatching Velvet in the Night, you’ll know I always wanted irises for my garden but thought they were too expensive; not enough bang for my buck.  Now, I have some, courtesy of a neighbor, but still stand perplexed by the absolute obsession some people have for this flower.  I asked my friends at the American Iris Society to explain their passion in hopes it might ignite in me a greater respect.  I spoke with Andi Rivarola, photographer and social media manager for the AIS in regards to the iris and what he has to say was very interesting.  He says it was the blue hues of the iris which drew him especially:

In nature blue is rare and unique, and this definitely made an impact on me. Of course there’s no color limitation on irises, they are available in yellow, red, black, brown, white, purple, etc.”

As far as blue goes, Vita has written about the difficulties of finding the perfect shade of blue.  I think Andi is right, the irises tower above all others in the color department.  Here is what else he had to say in our interview:

Me – “As I’ve written before in my posts, I admire the American Iris Society because they’ve chosen, over all others, the iris as their focus and their first love.  So I wonder what makes the Iris so special?”
Andi – “For me, irises are special because of their very form and variety of color.  Most flowers have a centered focus and a round type form – petals come out of this center, just as the daylily or rose. The iris has a vertical form, some petals go up while others go down (standards and falls). Besides this, irises truly have the colors of the rainbow. I was truly impacted by the blue iris. Many irises are blue, for example dark blue like, tall bearded iris ‘Navy Blues,’ or light blue like, ‘Above the Clouds.’

 Me- “I like to time my garden so something is blooming all year.  It seems the only irises I’ve seen bloom in late spring.  Is there an iris for spring, summer and fall?”
 Andi -“Most irises bloom only in the spring, but there are some that also bloom other times of the year they are called rebloomers. The reblooming feature is part of their genetics, and so, no amount of water, fertilizer or weather conditions will make one rebloom; either they have “the gene” or not. Several hybridizers are now focusing on this, so that more gardeners can grow and enjoy them year round. “

 Me- “I see the American Iris Society website has a list of the best places to shop for rhizomes.  Is there one variety you’d recommend?  Perhaps one many people haven’t seen before?”
Andi – “The American Iris Society is an umbrella for several other societies, including SIGNA (Species Iris Group of North America), the Spuria Iris Society, the Siberian Iris Society, the Society for Louisiana Iris Society, the Japanese Iris Society, etc. I would recommend exploring the unusual, such as species irises, and/or beardless irises. They are also really beautiful and deserve much more attention.”

 Me – “Which variety is your personal favorite?”
Andi – “I’m very partial to spuria irises. In my area, Southern California, they grow very well, and are much easier to care for than bearded irises. They come in a variety of colors, and they last much longer in a vase if you bring them indoors.”
Thank you Andi!  It was so nice of you to take a moment out of your busy day to answer my questions.

When I look up the irises Vita had in her garden, the chrysographes, douglasiana, graminea, innominate, japonica, sibirica, and the stylosa – just to name a few, they all seem to be miniature versions of what I have seen growing.  However, as I snuck around the neighborhood yesterday, creeping into my neighbors weedy pathways and mulched landscapes, I found something interesting.  Tucked in the corner of my neighbor’s neglected garden was a species which resembled the iris sibirica of Sissinghurst.  According to Andi Rivarola, my suspicions were correct, it was an iris sibirica or Siberian iris.  One of Vita’s iris’.  Growing in such an awkward spot, I can only imagine it was a remnant of a by-gone era.  That property used to be the old schoolhouse for my neighborhood 100 years ago.  Perhaps a teacher planted iris sibirica for her beloved students long ago.  Maybe there were other flowers there too, but this is all that remains.

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On another note, you might remember from my post, History’s Peony: A Search & Rescue, a different neighbor was tearing down his historic home; what used to be the neighborhood general store.  From that property, I dug up a 100 year old peony, but also asked permission to take some old iris rhizomes.  I didn’t know their color or variety, which made it more fun.  They bloomed this weekend an interesting yellow, purple and mauve-brown and they smell like black licorice and grape candy.  They pair nicely with the allium and the green foliage of my hydrangea.  I really enjoy seeing them out my window each morning.

I think I might grow to love the iris after all.

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Garden Of Roses…

Indeed, I think you should approach them as though they were textiles rather than flowers.  The velvet vermilion of petals, the stamens of quivering gold…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
May 28, 1950

 

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I have been waiting all year for this.  Waiting for the perfect opportunity to purchase my roses.  They will be the staple of my garden forever more.   I knew the perfect place to go, and if you live around you should check them out.  Vita always gave suggestions to nurserymen, as she called them, and as I have become quite a connoisseur of the big names around these parts I will do the same.   The place for roses, without a doubt, is Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb, MI.

I say this because they have a most well organized selection.  Organized by hybrid teas, old English, Floribunda and the climbers.  Each bush stands against a white picket fence.  What perfect staging!  Someone was clever enough to know the color of the blooms will stand out better.  Their position along the white picket fence also brings to mind the beautifully overgrown gardens of yesterday’s American dream.    Somewhere the Dining Sisters begin to sing in their usual perfect harmony, and all is right with the world.  Sigh…

Anyway, I ventured to this particular nursery because I knew I would find perfect specimens.   Each rose is clearly labeled.  You needn’t bend down to look at tags, but instead the information for each variety is displayed at eye level.

I walked along the pathways of old world romance and waited to be spoken to.  I didn’t have to wait long before I came face to waist with this, the most gorgeous rose I had ever seen. This floribunda Moon dance (above).  Its head did not waver or fall but stood erect, staring at me.  It’s petals did not fall at the touch of my hand.  Its color, a creamy white like churned butter, and its fragrance sweet.  All the leaves were intact and healthy, not one of them disturbed in the slightest.  Then, like a tidal wave, others spoke up.

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Floribunda, Sheila’s Perfume (above) was recommended to me by one of the staff.  I was a bit overwhelmed and told her I was going to plant similar colors that would eventually melt into each other as their colors fade to white, as most do.  I liked the two toned petals of yellow and pink so I added this to my collection.

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Floribunda, Tuscan Sun (above) joined soon after.  I liked it’s big full blooms, and I thought planted  within range of Sheila’s Perfume it would make a nice blending effect.  It starts out with the same pink as Sheila’s Perfume then ends with a peach.   With the Moondance behind them I think they will make a striking show.

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On the opposite side of my garden a white climbing rose will work its way up the fence.  Having a pink climber at home, I had to remember they bob their heads downward when they bloom so I told myself to not be discouraged by this sight at the nursery.  They are not wilting for lack of care or water, they are merely wanting you to see them better.  They have formed this habit of pointing their heads downward, because they know someday they will be a mighty towering thing and will have to look down at you.

I then was intrigued by a rose that is grotesquely named, but fortunately, its flower is not.  It’s called Ketchup and Mustard…

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Beside the Moondance, this bicolored beauty spoke to me in a very strong way.  I was disgusted with the name, but I put that aside.  Its coloring was quite beautiful, and attracted my eye.  Let’s instead refer to it as Sunshine’s Kiss.   Sounds much better than Ketchup and Mustard.  Gag me!  The name reduces a garden to a flimsy hotdog.  Not exactly what I meant before by achieving the American dream.   Anyway, last but not least I picked up a yellow to blend with the unfortunately named.

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Floribunda, Julia Child.  See the white climber in the background.  Like the moon aglow on a starry night.

I emerged from this adventure an hour later covered in blood (the thorns) and sweat.   I choose all Floribunda’s because they are hardier for Michigan.  I felt I had gone about my task carefully.   When I was done I drove away completely satisfied with all of my choices.  Not a drop of regret.  These roses will be in my garden for a very long time, hopefully forever if I can do my job well.   Wish me luck!!

Tell me, what is your favorite rose?

…And as always, thank you for reading…