Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iris, goddess of the rainbow

The goddess Iris has appeared on Brangus Lane, in myriad forms.

She mostly takes the form of bearded irises.  There are a lot of blue ones, which is good because the blue iris is the Tennessee state flower.

I have an old type of blue one in my garden.  It is smaller than the one above in my neighbor's garden, and the blue is more muted and pastel.  I like the older irises for their quieter colors and smaller flowers.  They look more natural in a wild garden like mine than the "irises on steroids" that you see  in catalogues.

I also have some bicolored irises in my garden:  the standards are light blue, and the falls are sort of purple.  They've been in my garden for about twenty years, and I can't remember where I got them.

I also have a very old yellow type that I found growing in front of an abandoned house in Cookeville.  I love it because it is so fragrant and petite.

Ok, now back to irises on steroids, the more modern hybrids.  There are lots of them growing in my neighbors' gardens.  Here's a bicolored one.

Here's a yellow one that is a much deeper, more saturated yellow than the old ones in my garden.

There's even a "black" iris, which is really more like a very dark purple.

All of the above irises are bearded irises.  But there are other irises that are beardless.  One that is common in my neighborhood (because I gave a lot of it away) is Iris pseudacorus.  It has a different shape, and it only comes in yellow.

I have mixed feelings about Iris pseudacorus.  On the one hand, it is very easy to grow; it loves wet places especially.  I planted some down by Bear Creek, almost in the creek bed, and it thrived there.  It is used, in fact, in water purification systems:  the plant sucks excess nutrients out of water, for example from fertilizer or animal waste run-off.  It is the original "fleur-de-lis," and all of us Who Dats therefore like it.

But in an ordinary garden, the small clump that you planted grows and grows until it's a very big clump.  And then it's hard to dig up and get rid of:  it's strongly rooted, which is a good thing when it's in a creek bed and a lot of water is rushing over its roots.  Also, it doesn't have the sweet fragrance that the bearded irises have.

So from now on I'm only going to plant it where it belongs, near or in water.  You can see a beautiful stand of it growing this way at Cheekwood in Nashville.

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