"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Iris Variegata (1 of 2)

Iris Variegata (1 of 2)

From Irises: Their Culture and Selection by Gwendolyn Anley:

“The iris… has absolute as well as objective beauty, for it can stay dumb, or speak to us in many languages. But the most wonderful feature of the iris is that, horticulturally, it may be only in its first youth or infancy. Its greatest developments are still to come. It may seem almost incredible that the scientific breeding of the garden iris was left so late. For it was taken up by Sir Michael Foster as recently as 1890 to 1905, beginning… with the romantic marriage of I. pallida from Italy and I. variegata from the Hungarian plain, an iris that in the prosaic words of a guide book must have seen ‘magnificent sunrises, and about noon in early summer the Fata Morgana above the immense and treeless, grassy plain, relieved only, here and there, by shepherds’ huts set in small groves of acacias.'”

From “The Historical Drama of Bearded Irises” in A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts by Kelly Norris:

Iris variegata is [a] key bearded iris progenitor. Widespread across eastern Europe, this exceptionally hardy and vigorous species looks the part of predecessor to the diploid medium tall beardeds; however, its use in breeding tall beardeds, where it likely introduced genes for yellow and yellow-derived pigments, is what assures its seat at the head table. Pronounced veining or hafting gives I. variegata a more-than-distinctive look; in the wild, flowers vary in color from yellow to white for the ground color and yellow to blue to brown for the vein colors. Flowers tend to flare outward, too, in stark contrast to other species in the section….”

A couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a section of Oakland Cemetery that I typically don’t visit during my photo-shoots, one called Greenhouse Valley. Take a look at this map. I usually enter the property at the main entrance (toward the left side of the map) and during the spring and summer I spend most of my photography time in the Original Six Acres, Bell Tower Ridge, Confederate Burial, Jewish Hill, and East Hill sections, as these are the most lushly planted with blooming trees and flowers. However, I caught a glimpse of some surprising color off in the distance during my walk, and decided to check out Greenhouse Valley. Imagine my surprise to find several acres (yes, ACRES!) of irises, which should have been delightful but was actually disappointing since I’d missed their blooming time, and saw hundreds of iris stems topped with desiccated flowers. I probably should have photographed the dead flowers as evidence for this post; but I didn’t think of that and instead put a reminder in my phone’s calendar to check this section in April 2023 because, surely, those hundreds of irises will be back again next year.

As I exited this section (with sad-faced camera dangling from my wrist), I stumbled across one small batch of irises in full bloom — still blooming, perhaps, because they were partly shaded by some magnolia and oak trees that marked the boundary between sections. I believe these are a variety of Hungarian or Siberian iris — as it seems iris variegata may include both kinds — and they’re especially captivating (in my opinion) because of the heavily saturated yellow and orange standards (the top section of the bloom) and the purple and white-striped falls (the downturned petals). I’m glad I found them — it felt like the discovery of a new flower to me! — and after taking the photos and processing them, I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the field of irises must have looked like when in bloom.

I guess I won’t know for eleven months….

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


  1. Absolutely Beautiful photos capturing these wonderful colors. I think the foilage is equally beautiful with the white outlines. Really nice photos Dale.

    Question: How in the world can it be possible to have lived in the great Grant Park neighborhood for 20 years and have also never seen/heard/or visited this greenhouse valley.

    Well, my calendar is also marked for 11 months from now and I will have HUGE expectations of posted evidence from your visit! No need to walk away with a “sad faced camera” — because the iris you captured are absolutely beautiful! Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday.

    1. Dale

      Hahaha! As I looked at the hundreds of already-dead irises, I wondered the same thing: why haven’t I seen these before? I’ve passed by the greenhouse a few times walking from one section to another, but I never found that much to photograph near there, except some trees when fall color comes in. So I decided they must have just planted all those irises this year. Yup, that’s it. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

      Thanks for the comment. Happy Memorial Day to you too!

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