From “The Historical Drama of Bearded Irises” in A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts by Kelly Norris:
“The development of bearded irises is a long-running historical drama, a major production with countless acts. The stories behind the plants, the legends lurking in the garden, imbue the rainbow flower with far more than just cultural planthropology. From pastoral scenes in Europe dotted with clumps of wild irises to the suburban streets of America lined with clumps of prize-winning hybrids, the glamorous rise of the bearded iris is a feel-good tale of starry ambition. Classically beautiful stems waved tailored forms of simple colors — purples and lavenders — for millennia. But the introduction of the human eye, ever in search of beauty, set in motion a 300-year adventure that would turn Italian and Caucasian meadow wildflowers into one of the western world’s most familiar herbaceous perennials.
“The next time you stare at a bearded iris, know that it didn’t just get there by happenstance; its arrival in your garden involved a cast of characters with as much or more personality than the flower you behold….”
So it seems I’ve been not-blogging over the past couple of weeks: spring is a very busy time filled with post-winter garden cleanup, transplanting or transpotting overgrown plants, puzzling about wayward perennials that didn’t come back this year, and plotting new purchases and planting new things. Having a garden is like having a never-ending project, of course; and so none of these tasks are actually completely done yet, there just never-endingly in progress.
But this is also a time for capturing fresh blooms with the camera — and I’ve accumulated, like I always do, many more photos than our post-processing “department” can keep up with. I’ve been reliably informed that Post-Processing is about 500 photos behind at the moment; and, though many of those will get cut, that cutting doesn’t happen without effort so there is quite a bit of effort yet to be expended. Around a quarter of those unprocessed images are photos of about ten different late-spring iris varieties from my favorite “haunted” green-space, so I return from not-blogging with a couple of posts featuring some of the purplest and bluest ones I found.
Lately I’ve been fascinating myself (!!) with the realization that some people write books about a single type — or, more properly, genus — of flowers. The book I quoted above is one of them, one that I found just recently while scrounging the internet for some new quotations about irises. The quotation is a chapter-opening paragraph, one that did a good job of whetting my appetite for a twenty-page fast-moving iris biography.
What I look for in books like this is not just gardening information, but at least some substantial coverage of the plant’s history (especially its discovery) as well as its cultural significance and distribution or dissemination over time. So far I’ve accumulated a handful of books like this, such as…
A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts by Kelly Norris
Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower by Noel Kingsbury
Hydrangeas: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden by Naomi Slade
Lilies: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden by Naomi Slade
… and keep a few others on an Amazon list for future purchase. I typically don’t read them cover-to-cover, but use them as reference material when I want to learn more. Books — unlike internet articles or even online encyclopedias — always provide context, especially historical and cultural context, that is much more compelling in long-form nonfiction than any other form. Here, too, are some of the books I keep browsing to learn more about botany (and its history) more generally, which trace the development of plant and flower exploration and discovery over several centuries:
Flower Hunters: Adventurous Botanists and the Lasting Impact of Their Discoveries by Mary Gribbin
Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury
Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding by Noel Kingsbury
The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants by Anna Pavord
The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann
If these subjects interest you at all, you can’t go wrong with any of these books. All are highly accessible, filled with stories and character narratives requiring no specialized knowledge about plants or gardening or botany. And either in e-book or tree-book form, they’re all filled with gorgeous images, or, in some cases, full-color drawings or illustrations.
In a way, I keep exploring photography simultaneously with botany and cultural anthropology, since every set of photo galleries I post here is preceded by some amount of new research on the subjects of the galleries. At first that wasn’t intentional — I just stumbled on bits of learning while looking for quotations to open my blog posts — but now I do it on purpose and spend at least as much time on that as on picture-taking and post-processing. It’s what keeps photography and blogging relevant and intriguing for me; otherwise, I would just post multiple photos a day without words but not enjoy the personal experience nearly as much.
From the quotation at the top, I thought “planthropology” was an interesting new word; or, well, not actually a word but I suppose a “portmanteau” combining two unrelated concepts into a new word. Plant anthropology is probably the proper term, though ethnobotany also seems to cover some of the same scientific and cultural paradigms. I’m obviously not formally studying botany; instead, I’m just gathering gems of information from different sources, and now and then it seems like I’ve discovered something new. Learning is like that, though, or at least can be: with a general approach in mind, it’s relatively easy to eventually combine this gathered moss into something that makes more and more sense with each and every new photographic outing.
Thanks for reading and taking a look! More soon!