“In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I started this entry to update you on the “Surprise Iris” from the Pleasant Valley Iris Farm, the one which lost its label when they relocated their rhizomes to avoid the fires in California last summer, the one they sent me free to replace one I ordered. (Surprise iris just below)
Even so, as I usually do when I start a post, I begin by doing research. I have to admit it, I’m an info and data junkie, any topic, any time! I am also a Master Gardener, and the iris lore I discovered began to seduce me. Another surprise, Irises not only are lovely and smell great, they come with an unexpected and fascinating history:
In Ancient Greek times, the Greek Goddess Iris was a messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow. She served as the link between heaven and earth and was also believed to guide women on their journey to the Elysian Fields. Honoring that, Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead on their journey. Even today, many Greeks place Iris on the graves of women.
Carvings of iris are found on palace walls in Egypt where the flower stood as a symbol for power and majesty. The early Egyptians saw the leaves as symbolic of a their royal sceptre and an iris bloom was carved on the brow of the Sphinx.
In early times, iris root (Orris root) was dried and used to make perfume, The root was kept for several years to intensify the fragrance which I read smelled like…violets (Violets?) Orris root was also suspended in beer barrels as a preservative and additionally used as an herbal medicine.
The Chinese name for the iris means “butterfly wings” and irises are often grown in Mary Gardens (sacred gardens with a Mary statue), because their leaves are seen as representations of swords and the sorrows which pierced Mary’s heart.
(Water irises to left – the top one looks like a butterfly to me!)
As I posted before Iris was one of my mother’s favorite flowers and thus became one of mine. This was the reason I ordered Irises for my garden. Though I knew I wanted some Purple as they were Mom’s favorites, I struggled to pick just a few because they really did come in a rainbow of colors and hues. They are remarkably easy to grow, perennial, reproduce quickly so you can give some to others, yet they aren’t invasive. They need sun to produce lots of blooms, but are otherwise tolerant of different soil types and water conditions (arid or water varieties). (Fleur-de-lis iris below)
One thing that has long fascinated me is the “language of flowers.” In earlier times, meanings were attached to gifts of herbs and flowers. Irises have had an association with faith, hope, wisdom and cherished friendship as well as intelligence, competence and independence. I don’t know if my mother knew these meanings (no internet back when she was planting them) but, wow, they fit who she was.
So, gifts of iris flowers meant:
* Your friendship means much to me
* I recognize your valor
* I promise my love
* I recognize your loss, I offer my sympathy
* I admire you
* Keep up your courage
* I offer my compliments
Giving someone an iris today can mean: Express who you are, embrace change.
Iris meaning can have slight variation by color:
Blue: Faith, hope
Purple: Wisdom, compliments
Blue and Purple: Royalty
A last bit of Iris history comes from France.
Irises are the floral inspiration of the Fleur-de-lis which was long on the coat of arms of French kings. This dates to Clovis, King of France in 496 who promised his Christian wife to adopt the symbol and Christianity if he won a forthcoming battle. He did and this was probably a much better selection than his original blazon symbol: Three Toads! Ultimately, little wonder given this choice, that line of Kings ended…(the revenge of unfulfilled warts?)
The fleur-de-lis was restored by Henry the VII of France in 1147, again in hopes of winning a battle, and remained a symbol of the French monarchy for over 600 years. Thus, those seeking freedom hated it, so much so that when the French Revolutionaries took power, they set about systematically obliterating every tapestry, carving, stone lintel or banner that existed with an iris fleur-de-lis on it.
Surprise! Iris are also the state flower of Tennessee, and the symbol of New Orleans (think French Connection!)
So, the surprise iris ….creamy white upper petals or standards, a bit of gold at the haft (where standards meet the falls or lower petals.) On this iris the falls are ruffled and have just a touch of white and yellow on the edges. My mom would love this one. (to right)
So I admit it…I am now officially hooked! I want the whole rainbow! Burgundy, red, pink, yellow, orange, peach, mixed variations and purple …lots of purple. After all, I’m going to need them to find my way to the Elysian Fields, which I imagine are a great heavenly garden…filled with irises, of course.