“The [intermediate bearded iris] class is home to a motley crew of bearded irises of mixed parentage, a horticultural melting pot that will likely boil over in the coming years as the iris world finds new ways to organize its rich diversity — good news for gardeners who always need more. Until then, its diversity of flower shape and size runs the gamut….The attitude of most iris lovers who love beautiful flowers — the more the merrier. Tolerance is a wonderful thing in the garden.”
Iris Season is coming to a close here in the southeast, and this post and the next one will feature the last of my iris photos for 2022. Unless I find more, in which case there will be more.
Soon I’ll go hunting for early summer flowers — lilies, hydrangeas, hibiscus, and lantana for example — and I added some new lilies and a pair of hibiscus to my own garden this year, mainly so I could take their pictures. I had a potted pair of yellow lilies last year — see Epic Lilies (1 of 3) — one of which came back (so got photographed but is in Post-Processing at the moment) and one of which got dug up by satanic squirrels and didn’t survive the winter. While I couldn’t find a matching yellow lily to replace it, I did find one called Summer Sky which has huge flowers in fabulous shades of red and deep pink that is just starting to bloom. The two hibiscus will be a surprise; they both have a couple of dozen unopened flower buds, but it was tagged at the garden center as a “generic hibiscus” so I don’t even know what color the flowers will be. Not that it matters!
But I’m getting ahead of myself… here are the irises:
Queen of the garden, in splendor unfolding All your rich beauties unto our beholding, Scattering freely your largesse untold; Born in the purple, no rival you’re fearing Proudly your head to the sunshine uprearing Gorgeous your raiment of purple and gold.
Hail to you Iris, your reign may be fleeting, Leal are your subjects who give you glad greeting; Blessings attend you upon your bright way; Faithful the hearts now your triumph acclaiming Loyal the lips your allegiance naming; Child of the Rainbow and queen of the May.
Let’s close out the month of May with the second of two posts featuring black-background versions of the irises from the previous post (see Iris Variegata (1 of 2)).
“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.'”
“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.
And presently the sky is changed; O world!
What pictures and what harmonies are thine!
The clouds are rich and dark, the air serene,
So like the soul of me, what if ’t were me?
A melancholy better than all mirth.
Comes the sweet sadness at the retrospect,
Or at the foresight of obscurer years?
Like yon slow-sailing cloudy promontory
Whereon the purple iris dwells in beauty
Superior to all its gaudy skirts
This is the second of two posts featuring mostly purple and partly blue irises, some from the previous post (see Bearded Irises in Purple and Blue (1 of 2)), along with a few new photos, all rendered on black backgrounds.
“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…
… 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:
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.