"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Tall Purple Irises

Tall Purple Irises

From “Iris Germanica” in Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them by Clarence Mahan:

“What is Iris germanica? Trying to define Iris germanica is not easy….

“Mathematician George Spencer Brown in
Laws of Form asserts there are certain things of which one cannot speak, and he cites music as an example. You can try to describe a sonata, but you will never convey to another person the experience of actually hearing it. The same is true of an iris. An attempt can be made to describe it, but words will never be able to convey the experience of seeing the iris. Fortunately, you have seen Iris germanica.

“Even if you have not seen
Iris germanica in the garden you have seen it in paintings or at least in reproductions of famous paintings. The purple irises in Van Gogh’s masterpiece Irises, which sold for the record-breaking price of $53.9 million in 1987, are Iris germanica.

“The irises that fill half the canvas of Claude Monet’s painting …
The Artist’s Garden at Giverny, are Iris germanica. Monet’s impressionist style makes the identity of the irises difficult to discern but there is a key in the painting. The key is that wisteria is in bloom. Tall bearded iris species and cultivars bloom after wisteria flowers have drifted to the ground, but intermediate bearded irises, of which Iris germanica is the prototype, bloom earlier when the wisteria opens its buds.

“The typical form of Iris germanica has a 2-foot stem with two branches, one long and one short. It usually has four flowers, two at the terminal and one on each of the branches…. The flowers of different forms of
Iris germanica come in various shades of violet but there are also white forms. The most common form has blue-violet standards and red-violet falls…. It is one of the hardiest of all irises. “

From “The Maid’s Thought” in The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers by Robinson Jeffers:

Why listen, even the water is sobbing for something.
The west wind is dead, the waves
Forget to hate the cliff, in the upland canyons
Whole hillsides burst aglow
With golden broom. Dear how it rained last month,
And every pool was rimmed
With sulphury pollen dust of the wakening pines.
Now tall and slender suddenly
The stalks of purple iris blaze by the brooks….


As you can tell from some of the photos below — especially the first five — these purple irises were among the tallest I photographed at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens this year, rivaling the height of some of the black irises I posted previously (see Black Iris Variations and Observations). They posed so I’d capture their height and could sweep in their background surroundings — and I liked the contrast between the purple irises and the fields of yellow flowers behind them. Those flowers — most likely a variety of spurge, probably Euphorbia polychroma, or Cushion spurge — were plentiful earlier this summer, and have since reverted to their more flowerless state, still providing a fine green blanket covering large areas of the gardens.

Thanks for taking a look!


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