Friday, May 16, 2008
Underrated Friday: Bearded Iris
Bearded iris (Iris germanica), while as ubiquitous in New Mexico gardens as cactus and Gramma grass, just doesn't get the attention it deserves. Drive through any Albuquerque neighborhood between March and May and you'll see stand after stand of this bomb-proof perennial beauty, blooming like crazy in every color of the universe. But everyone's ooh-ing and ah-ing elsewhere: over the roses because, hey, roses in the desert, that takes skill! Or over the show-offy lilac, with its grabby growth habits and heady, Vegas hooker scent. Or on the cactus because, well, you know, zeriscaping is the responsible thing to do.
Maybe we forget about the bearded iris because it is everywhere. Because it is easy to grow. Because it could never, ever rain again, ever ever, and the things would just go ahead and bloom anyway, eternally optimistic that tomorrow, tomorrow, the rain will fall.
But I also think we forget about them because we don't really look at them. From a distance, ooo, pretty. Up close, though, whoa. That's one weird-ass looking flower, beautiful, yes, but in a space-alien-meets-Helmut-Newton kind of way. And then there's the smell: a mixture of damp basement and warm licorice, which, given the flower's fertile form, strikes the nose as unexpectedly austere. Was it just by chance that Vincent van Gogh chose to immortalize the iris in over a half dozen paintings? I don't think so.
Bearded iris have been a perennial in my own garden for over ten years. Their rhizomes were given to me by an ex-client who said they'd been in his family's garden for twenty. He swore they were all deep purple, but each year I'm surprised with a new color - a lemony yellow, a weird burgundy/pink/peach. And I think I spy a couple apricot buds about to burst – a first ever.
I have come to love these flowers more than any other plant in the universe. If I were She, I'd write them a rap-ode. If I were Justin Timberlake, I'd dance a sexy dance in their honor. If I were a painter, I'd pluck them from van Gogh's garden and place them instead in a vase on the counter of some nameless Hopper-esque truck stop on Route 66, their bizarre beauty frozen for all time to give hope to ravage-voiced waitresses and speed-addled long distance haulers and anyone who appreciates the beauty of the bizarre.