"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Gold Standards and Purple Falls

From “Iris” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

“The Iris is one of the oldest of our garden flowers, in many forms too, but… it has come to us in greater novelty and beauty in recent years….

“The old Irises of our gardens are usually of the Germanica class; there is much variety among these groups, and they are very hardy and precious, and excellent for the adornment of gardens and even walls and thatched roofs, as we see in France, the Iris of this great group having a valuable power of thriving on such surfaces as well as on good soil.

“There is a group of waterside and water-loving Iris, much less seen in our gardens than the above, and some of them not yet come to us, but of great value. They are allied to the common yellow Iris of our watercourses, but are taller and richer in colour, the golden Iris (aurea), Monnieri, and ochroleuca being the best known so far, and very free, hardy, and beautiful plants they are, thriving, too, almost anywhere, but best in rich, moist soil….

“Then there are the brilliant purple and gold Iris reticulata and its allies, little bulbous Irises, for the spring garden, early and charming things, many beautiful; Irises that flower in winter and early spring, like the Algerian Iris; others happy in Britain on warm soils and warm corners, and some for the rock garden, like the crested Iris; and the many pretty forms of Iris pumila, of some of which edgings were made in old gardens….”

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

“Variegata: An iris with yellow or near-yellow standards and darker falls of brown, red, or purple…

“Named for Iris variegata, this distinctive bicolor pattern is well represented in all six classes. In tall beardeds, cultivars include ‘Jurassic Park’ (Lauer 1995), ‘Mine’ (Headrick 2004), ‘Kathy Chilton’ (Kerr 2006), and ‘Born to Please’ (Rogers 2006)….

“The original pattern of yellow and brown still colors many irises in the MTB class but has probably tired just as many gardeners because of its limitations. I mean really, how many ways can you do yellow-brown-red in variation before it becomes a little trite? But jaded eyes aside, the variegata pattern makes great art in the landscape. The pattern plays off the familiar colors of yellow and purple in other plants, while jazzing up the color display more than something white or pink might.”


The irises in this series have some similarities to those I posted previously as Brown Iris Mix — but I separated these out because they have a more distinct variations between the colors of the standards and the falls. Shades of gold and yellow-gold (rather than brown) dominate the standards, with purple tones filling the falls. Admittedly the distinction is a little ambiguous, but you may also see more stippling through these flower petals, suggesting that they are different variants than those in the earlier batch. There is a reasonably good chance that some or all these irises would be correctly identified as Iris variegata L. — often referred to as a “Hungarian Iris” in some parts of the world — but (as we sometimes say here) nobody knows for sure….


Until I found the first quotation about irises that I posted above, I was unaware of the practice in France of growing irises on rooftops. If you would like to see some examples — which may also include other European countries where irises are grown up high — click here. And if you’d like to see some additional irises in color schemes like those I photographed, they are Jurassic Park, Mine, Kathy Chilton, and Born to Please, from the second quotation above.

Thanks for taking a look!

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!

Pink and Peach Irises

From Iris: Flower of the Rainbow by Graeme Grosvenor:

“Pink is currently and has been for many years the most popular colour in bearded iris and it is easy to understand why this is so when you observe the large range of quality iris available in the many shades of pink. It seems that most hybridisers cannot resist the temptation to ‘dabble in pink’ and so we have a huge pool of iris from which to select. Many pink iris have been less than satisfactory garden subjects and many have proven quite difficult to grow, but there are now plenty of pink iris with admirable garden qualities.

“‘Social Event‘ (Keppel, 1991) is my pick as the best all round pink iris available… [It] is a very clear light to mid pink with some peach overtones and a slightly lighter area beneath the flame-red beard. No matter how it is described it is a most beautiful iris which gives a very pink effect in the garden. The form of the flower is outstanding with beautiful balance between the standards and falls and heavily ruffled and laced petals of excellent substance. In quality of bloom it takes pink iris to new heights.”

From The Iris Book by Molly Price:

“To gardeners whose idea of pink irises stems from the old orchid-pink diploids such as ‘Pink Opal‘ and ‘Pink Satin‘, the modern tangerine-bearded pinks will be a surprise. As with other plants in which pink is bred from yellow varieties, the yellow influence is still discernible in many of these irises that produce such a dazzling garden show. Two of the tallest pink varieties — and my choice for the back of the border — are ‘Spring Charm‘ and ‘Garden Party‘.

“There are, as yet, comparatively few true pinks. ‘June Meredith‘ was the first and is the most famous. ‘Fairy Fable‘ is new with smooth ruffled flowers shading from deeper to pale pink; but the finest of all true pink irises is ‘Esther Fay‘ — even the beard of ‘Esther Fay’ is a deep true pink. ‘Fair Luzon‘ has smaller laced flowers of deep pink with a cerise beard. ‘One Desire‘ shows a faint blue tone but this somehow makes it seem pinker.”


Here we have another series of irises where one color — pink — dominates, yet each flower shows off a variety of additional related colors, including peach, apricot, red or burgundy, yellow, shades of lavender or purple, and swatches or beards of glowing orange. Many of the predecessors to irises like these — you can see some of them by clicking through the links in the quotations above — will show a single color, but subsequent breeding blended in additional colors, and separated them between the flowers’ standards and falls, or among their beards.

Thanks for taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (3 of 3)

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (Vol. 4) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“[Lantana] is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots early in September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily. Keep young stock in a warm position through the winter months, and repot in April….

“Save the old plants, after frost has nipped their freshness late in autumn, prune severely back, remove them indoors, giving them a temperature anywhere above 40 degrees, and with a little attention and fresh soil, every plant will be a perfect specimen, covered with blooms in May.

“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”

From “Verbenaceae” in Flowers of the Veld by Kay Linley:

“This family consists mainly of shrubs and trees, and many herbaceous members of the family are slightly shrubby in growth. Most of them have square stems and leaves in opposite pairs, and most of them are distinctly aromatic, having a strong smell when handled or crushed, sometimes a pleasant scent, and in some cases a disagreeable odour. One of the best known species in this country is Lantana camara, a straggling, very prickly bush, originally introduced from America; this has spread widely over large areas of the country and is now declared a noxious weed. It has quite pretty, circular heads of orange and red flowers followed by black berries, but it is held responsible for a number of cases of cattle poisoning. It is also encroaching rapidly onto grazing lands, and an effort is being made to eradicate it entirely.

Lantana angolensis is an erect, unbranched plant of up to fifty centimetres in height, flowering early in the year, and common in woodland clearings and on waste land. The stems are square, hairy, and woody towards the base, and the leaves grow on short stalks, either in pairs or in whorls of three around the stem. They are narrowly oval with a slight point, evenly toothed around the edges and hairy on both surfaces. The tiny, bright mauve flowers are borne in axillary and terminal clusters, half a dozen or so in a cluster surrounded by a ring of green bracts, the whole on a short, hairy stalk. More noticeable than the flowers and more attractive are the juicy, bright purple berries which follow them; these are much enjoyed by many kinds of birds.”


This is the last of three posts featuring lantana from my garden; the first post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3) and the second post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (2 of 3). Here I adjusted cropping and recast some of the previous photos on black backgrounds. They always look like colorful pieces of candy to me when rendered this way; and, as it turns out, there are lantana varieties with “candy” in the name — including cotton candy, candy crush, and candy-candy!

Thanks for taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (2 of 3)

From “Invaders of the Plant World” in The Plant Hunters by Carolyn Fry:

“One unwelcome side effect of the myriad transfers of plants and seeds around the world is the translocation of ‘invasive’ species. Plants arriving on foreign shores with an agreeable environment and a lack of predators have often quickly become naturalized. Those also encountering a ready pollinator or suitable means for dispersing seeds have been able to spread rapidly. In some cases, the new conditions have made the plant much more successful in its new locale than in its indigenous habitat. When a plant becomes disruptive to native flora in a particular location, it is deemed invasive….

“The brightly colored flowers of Lantana camara made it a popular garden flower in Europe when it arrived there from Central and South America. As the colonial powers expanded into the tropics it, too, became widely dispersed. Today, it is considered a problem in at least 50 countries. Since it was introduced to South Africa in 1880, it has invaded natural forests, plantations, overgrazed or burnt veld (grassland), orchards, rocky hillsides, and fields….

“It arrived on Floreana Island in the Galapagos Islands in 1938 as an ornamental. Since 1970, it has replaced Scalesia pedunculata forest and dry vegetation of Croton, Macraea, and Darwiniothamnus. Two of the three populations of Lecocarpus pinnatifidus and one of Scalesia villosa, both endemic to Floreana, the smallest island in the Galapagos, face elimination if the invader continues to advance. If Lantana reaches the crater area of Cerro Pajas, it will endanger the last remaining nesting colony of dark-rumped petrels on the Galapagos Islands. Thorny thickets of Lantana are so dense they would prevent the birds from making their nesting burrows at the breeding site.”


This is the second of three posts featuring lantana from my garden; the first post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3).

If you spend any time researching lantana, you’ll quickly find that in various parts of the world, it’s considered a seriously invasive species — owing in part to its rapid growth, entangling brush, and how its brush becomes woody and hard to cut as seasons progress and it spreads. The quotation above from Carolyn Fry’s The Plant Hunters above is one example, where she describes how it has impacted the Galapagos Islands flora, and it was my first encounter with a description of the plant’s potential impact on a avian species, the seabirds known as petrels.

As I’ve photographed and written about lantana each year, I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it with every post. If you’d like to peruse my other coverage of its invasiveness, its appearance in literature and film, and different ways I’ve photographed it, this tag — lantana — will take you to all my prior posts.

Thanks for taking a look!