The patient iris

For all my love of nature, I’m a complete klutz when it comes to growing plants. They used to run away screaming at the very sight of me.

The only house plant that survived my brown thumb was an indestructible ficus tree I had for years in Seattle. Flowers? Forget it.

One day five years ago, after a hard rain, I discovered that a steep patch of ground next to the house had sprouted some leaves that looked like a lily or orchid of some kind. Later I realized they were one of my favorite flowers: the dwarf crested iris.

Gardners pay $10 apiece for these plants, which grow pretty robustly in North Georgia. They are one of my favorite firsts in spring; when I see them, I know the winter is truly gone.

It was a quite a treat to have a whole bushel of them arrive as though delivered straight to my hands.

Well, not quite. Although I can see them from the front porch, I never walk down that side of the house because it’s so steep.

And the iris is small, only 6 to 8 inches tall. It’s not possible to see the lovely detailing on the blossom from a distance.

There were so many of them in this new group that I decided to transplant some to the little patch of ground between the street and our driveway. There I could admire them in comfort, and maybe I’d even fool the neighbors into thinking I could garden.

I gathered clumps of the healthy leaves, trying not to break the root systems. With awkward fingers, I pushed the trembling rhizomes into shallow trenches and covered them with the red Georgia clay-dirt.

Every year after that, I shouted with glee at the spring signal of iris, great purple clumps right next to house.

And every year, I waited for the ones in the front yard to blossom. They never did.

The first two years, I figured it was just because they’d been transplanted. The next two years, I figured it was just my brown thumb. Year before last, the leaves didn’t even come up and I figured they’d died entirely.

Oh well. These are the sad stories of a poor gardner. Plantings that never quite work out, healthy plants that shrivel for no apparent reason.

Yesterday we were pulling out of the driveway, and I saw a flash of purple. Too big for a violet.

It was the iris – in the front yard.

Three of them!

I crouched in front of the largest blossom, admiring the painterly contrast of lavender, purple, white and pale yellow, the arching petals like a splash in mid-air.

The flower looked at me as if to say, “What? I’ve been here all along. Didn’t you believe in me?”

Perhaps it just needed more nutrients. Perhaps the soil wasn’t draining properly.

Perhaps the iris just needed some time.

Flowers will teach you, if you only listen.

Today’s penny is a 2011, the year I transplanted the iris.

2 thoughts on “The patient iris”

Comments are closed.