1872, Deserted Favourites
The garden p418, March 30, 1872
THE FLOWER GARDEN.
DESERTED FAVOURITES. THE IRIS.
Important flowers that may be justly termed " old garden favourites,'' are now either lost altogether or comparatively neglected. Among these the Iris stands in the first rank. It is not inferior even to the stately Lilies themselves. The distinct and picturesquely graceful form of the corolla not only delighted the mere lovers of garden flowers, simply for its positive beauty, but has formed the model for graceful designs in many branches of decorative art. The Iris, for its beauty, has been worn as a badge by stalwart knights in the days of chivalry, as was the Genet, the Lily, and other flowers, often the last gift of some fair hand, and which, if worn under a fortunate star, and borne to victory, became permanent badges of a family or a city. Heraldic artists wrought the elegant form of the Iris into the exquisite device of the Florentine Lily, as it is called, into the adopted badge of Florence and of the Medici, and also into the three " Lilies" of France, gold on a field of azure; a device so long quartered with the arms of England. Flower-de-luce, or Fleur-de-lis, are both names inferring the plant to be a Lily – a kind of generic term by which the fairest raid most stately flowers seem to have been distinguished from the "common people of the field," as a poet has styled the humbler flowers. " Behold the lilies of the field," is the exclamation of the Preacher on the Mount, " they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these." The conspicuous beauty of the Iris tribe leads to the inevitable conclusion that it must have been included among those "lilies of the field" with which the royal garments of Solomon were not deemed worthy of comparison; for in the glory of their spring-tide reign it may be said literally, and without exaggeration, that – " Their cohorts arc gloaming with purple and gold."
What floral effect in our garden scenery can be finer than a mass of the common purple Iris, such as that shown in the illustration on next page ? Its erect leaves, like green sword-blades seem to protect the galaxy of gorgeous beauty which the profusion of flowers exhibit within and among the bristling defences. The contrast of that erect and massive assemblage of leaves with the soft colours and elegance of the flowers is not one of the least charms of the exquisite Iris, which shares its name in common with the rainbow, the name given to it by Theophrastus, the eldest of the grand old race of early botanists, and which signifies according to Plutarch, "the heaven."
There is nothing move delightful than to lose oneself in dreams among the wild flowers that bloomed when the world was younger, and the graceful names that were given to them out of pure love for their beauty, and in dreaming and imagining all kinds of graceful stories of the fair hands that gathered them as the fairest gifts they could bestow on those they loved best, gifts to which jewels of gold would have been vulgar dross. There is nothing more delightful than such imaginary ramblings among the flowers of the past, except actual and active rambling, and trimming, and planning, and planting among the flowers of the present.
To the noble mass of purple Iris, so accurately represented in the annexed illustration, how pleasant it would be to add a noble group of Iris variegata in close juxtaposition, flashing its glittering contrast upon the royal purple of its neighbour -or, shall we divide the two with a noble clump of I. susiana, with its great bronze-pencilled petals?
But we must decide quickly, and stick to our decision firmly, or the choice, if we begin to hesitate, will become extremely difficult among the various charms of this beautiful and exclusive floral race. Its original species afford almost endless variety, both in form and colour, some bearing flowers both elegant and drooping. Such are the majority of the fibrous-rooted section of the family, others of the tuberous and bulbous-rooted kinds are crisp, glistening, and sculptural-like flowers,- carved in jasper or in opal. In colour, almost every-shade and hue adorn these gorgeous flowers, from the most delicate agate to the richest and deepest purple, from the palest silvery yellow, like that of the rising moon, to the richest orange, with modifications of each of these leading hues varying sometimes to nearly pink, sometimes to dusky brown; and then the superadded markings, both in the original species and in the exquisite new varieties, are often so remarkable, that they at once rivet attention, and compel admiration, tempting one to compare them – here with the splendid sable slashes on the flank of the tiger – there with the exquisite brown embroidery of the skin of the hunting leopard – and, in some other charming flowers, to the cerulean mottlings on the wing of a jay. In short, how is it that the Iris family is not made a much more conspicuous garden feature? It presents a whole host of advantages – splendor of colour and form, endless variety, and a degree of hardiness in most of the species not exceeded by that of the wild I. pseud-acorus, whose conspicuous flowers fleck the waving sedges of our native brooks, with glittering dashes of golden yellow in the first weeks of May. ~ Noel Humphreys.
For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at