Mary Birk’s Blog: Irresistible Irises


Whether in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh or the real thing, irises are irresistible. They’re spectacularly beautiful, have an exotic fragrance, come back every year with little care, and can be divided into more plants. In the orchard this year, I found a few I’d forgotten planting years ago. Two of those, one peach and one pink, are pictured here. I wish I remembered planting them, and who I was then.

Some of my irises are small, some gigantic. Some I got from friends when they divided their own irises; some I selected carefully from colorful catalogs, trying to justify the expense. They’re not cheap, in fact, some are a bit “spendy.” But they’re worth every cent.

Irises have a long, and rich history, dating back to Ancient Greek times. Aptly, they got their name from the Greek goddess, Iris. Iris was the messenger of the gods; she personified the rainbow, and the link between heaven and earth. And they have many meanings: some tied to color, such as royalty (purple and dark blue), passion (yellow), white (purity). But irises in general, stand for faith, courage, hope, and wisdom. Looking at them, I see why. Their strong stalks, their splash of unabashed color, their bravery in the uncertain Colorado spring.

The Greeks planted purple irises on women’s graves, hoping the flowers would call the Goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to the afterlife. French royalty, in the middle ages, adopted the iris into its Fleur-de-lis, which eventually became the recognized national symbol of France.  For centuries, perfumers used irises for their exotic scents in their most coveted fragrances, while herbalists used them for medicinal purposes. Call me frivolous, but I want them only for their beauty.

This is their time to burst forward into the spotlight, though I’m still waiting for the golden yellows I planted last year to come up. I’m beginning to suspect sneaky squirrels got the new rhizomes even though I tried to protect them with mesh. (Squirrels are a topic for another day!) Tomorrow, I plan to visit Long’s Gardens in Boulder to shop their renowned iris farm. Maybe next spring some of their bearded irises will be gracing my gardens. I hope so!

Do you grow irises? I’d love to see your photos and hear about your experiences.


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