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.


h said...

Brilliant writing and salesgirlship! Color me sold. I now consider a plant I've never heard of to be UNDERRATED!

Love the last pic too.

Happy Over-Under Friday!

Aunty Belle said...


Fair is fair, Puddin'--this is fine writin'..I giggled and the image I WILL steal is iris in a vase in a route 66 truckstop--dang Moi, that is a story in the makin'. To heck wif' 25 cent a word reviews.

But, uh iris as
"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,"

Uh..ain't that the description of UW's twat-blossom?

Fun post!

The Phosgene Kid said...

We used to call them flags. They were harbingers of spring for us - their green spikes poking up through the snow. Got enough of them and you could harvest your own saffron!!

moi said...

Troll: I don't know how beardeds fare in the tropics. Or whatever your part of Florida is. Zone 8 bazillion? I don't think my in-laws can grow them, though.

Aunty: Yes UW's creepy plant was the inspiration for this post, but HERS is all Paris Hilton flashing her coochie at the paps at 4 a.m.; MINE are Jennifer Love Hewitt in a Luisa Beccaria dress, winking at boys.

Phosogene: Huh, I was wondering if that was the case, looking at those yellow fringed thingees underneath the falls. Crocus, too, but they're too fussy for me.

Jenny said...

OK, now I'm feeling bad about the huge bed of Iris bulbs I had pulled out of my back yard after I moved in. But they weren't as pretty as yours, I promise!

Lovely writing and fabulous pictures. I'm sold too.

It's almost as if you do this for a living. :-)

Meghan said...

I grew up on a farm that was abundant with bearded Irises (<- is that sentance even proper English?). You just reminded me that I need to plant some here.

sparringK9 said...

consider the bearded iris
spotted like it got a virus
purple yellow apricot
cheering up the parkin lot
shooting leaves erect as swords
so reliable youse ignored
youre the one that moi adored
spring after spring her bright reward
pretty lady with a beard
by the shallow youve been smeared
but here today at last revered!

Gnomeself Be True said...

A wonderful ode to your favorite flower.
Great job.
I looked through my flower files and find I have not a single photo of an iris...thus certifying them as "underated."

moi said...

AB: Ah, yes, not all iris are created equal. The bearded reign supreme.

Meghan: You got a sticky-ish climate, right? Let me know how they fare.

She: Wow. That's some brilliant, quick-on-your-feet writing. I'm honored.

Iamnot: Bet if you scouted our your 'hood, you'd find some.

Joanna Cake said...

Afraid they dont do much for me... but then I hate hydrangeas too. Great job of trying to persuade me tho - especially the pics :)

Anonymous said...

If what you say is true, why can't I, the one with the greenest thumbs ever, green from compost poo, not grow them? I love them so much, but do they not do well here? And noone I know grows them either. I will move to another part of the world to have them perverted things in my yard.

Always ask your waitress if she gardens. If she does, make her spit in her hands and wipe them clean on her apron. You know, just to be safe and all.

Karen said...

Moi, I'm gonna steal Mr Troll's line here - Brilliant writing and salesgirlship! Color me sold.

I reckon you could sell oil to the arabs with your brilliant pengirlship. That was awesome.

Happy Over/Under Friday!

Wicked Thistle said...

Iris remind me of my childhood, when my mother kept a plot of lovely beardeds growing in the front garden every year. I should drive by the old house sometime; bet they're still there. And what about the wild iris? Mmm, there's nothing more lovely that stumbling onto a patch of these while plugging your way up the side of a mountain. It provides a shelter of hope and determination.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful take on an old favorite...happy Over/under!

moi said...

Cake: They're not for everyone. A friend of mine thinks they're downright scary.

Upset: I've heard they don't do well in humid climates, but I don't have first hand experience of this. I must investigate further.

Gypsy: Thanks, you always say the nicest things!

Wicked: The wild iris are blooming as we speak up in the Sandias. They are purddddy.

Kate: Happy to you, too!

Doris Rose said...

for my Junior Prom, my date brought me a gorgeous corsage of Iris to go with my lavender dress and it was the talk of the evening.
And here I thought Georgia O'keefe invented them.

ThursdayNext said...

Lovely. There are irises coming up in the yard here,and the shade of purple just keeps my eye.