Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
To me, nothing says spring in New Mexico like bearded iris. Iris germanica, to be exact. Which bears little resemblance to the delicate restraint of its Japanese and Siberian cousins. Pretty varieties, yes, if you're into hospital bed bouquets and hotel lobby arrangements.
I much prefer the ridiculous opulence of the beardeds. Rarely do they make it into a vase. Rather, they do best when left to bloom outside in the garden.
Which they do in these parts with utter abandon each spring, brightening front lawns everywhere, from the most lavish Taco Bell mansions to the most humble South Valley adobes. These, I've grown for the past eleven years. In fact, when we moved from our last home to this one, the iris came with me. I simply dug them up and sneaked them away. They will remain mine forever.
Not only do I think these iris some of the most beautiful of all flowers, I'm also in love with the name. Feminine and slightly old-fashioned but also independent and strong, like a maiden aunt hiding a penchant for adventure travel and younger men.
In Greek mythology, Iris is the personal messenger to Hera, queen of the gods, a task Iris performed with extraordinary good grace, given Hera's reputation as a full-on bitch. The Romans had no mythological equivalent but they were nonetheless well acquainted with the iris, soaking its blooms to flavor their wine and burning them to perfume their rooms.
Iris figures prominently in the perfume-making industry as well, and is derived from the flowers and the rhizomes of both the germanica and pallida varieties. One of the most complicated of scents, iris lends to perfumes a hint of moss, subtle greenery, delicate violet, and a trace of sugar sweet. It is perhaps most beautifully utilized in Serge Lutens's Iris Silver Mist.
Me, I just go into the garden, stick my nose in a bloom, and sniff.