I inherited my love of the bearded iris from my mother. For our family, the first sign of spring wasn’t the tulip, nor even the daffodil—I can’t remember seeing these when I was a child. Our herald was the iris. My mom had the tall, gaudy blooms planted all around our house. She tended them with loving care, dividing the rhizomes every few years, spreading the breadth of her hillside garden with each planting.

The Greek goddess Iris is the personification of the rainbow and is the messenger of thegoddess iris gods tethering them to humanity. It’s only fitting that her namesake flower comes in a rainbow of colors. My mom had bearded irises in shades of blue, purple, yellow, white. Some were monochromatic while others were two-toned, like the white iris delicately edged in blue. But the iris I remember most from my childhood wasn’t a delicate hue. It was black, or nearly, so dark a purple its petals.

It wasn’t its color that made this flower so memorable; it was how it came to be in my mom’s possession. You see, our little cul-de-sac was home to only seven families. We were a pretty tight knit group. And when the last house went up, and an older couple moved in, we all waited to see what they would do to landscape their hillside front yard. Little did they know that they had my sisters and I to thank for the removal of the abundant gravel that sat upon their dirt yard. Having one of the first houses to be built on our street allowed us free-range of the neighborhood. It also gave my dad scavenging rights to the rocks and pebbles he needed for aggregate to mix concrete while building our house—but that’s a story for a different blog.

Back to the new neighbors. I could say they were nice people, but I don’t really remember them all too well. What I do remember was that it seemed that their lawn grew in overnight and that the tiered landscaping with flowers appeared soon after they moved in. More importantly, they had planted irises. My mom watched and waited to see what color would unfurl. They had all the usual suspects. Then one morning, a very dark bud opened to reveal an iris so dark, it should have been called midnight.

Now, in my estimation, there are two types of gardeners: those who tend to their flowers, keeping strict vigil over every bud and bloom, and those who share the bounty with all and sundry. My mom was the latter, as am I. She promptly paid the neighbors a call, complimented them on their garden, working her way slowly towards the black irises. I like to think that she even took some of her precious rhizomes as a welcome gift. Unfortunately, the new arrivals were miserly with their garden, and though they were always kind, they offered no offshoots from their inventory.

One spring went by, then another, and my mom regarded the black irises from afar. One night, she told my older sisters to form a raiding party. Trowels in hand and under the cover of darkness, she sent them across the cul-de-sac to claim that which she coveted. The funny thing is I can never remember where she planted the black beauty, or if she ever did.

Today, I live in a neighborhood where we look out for one another. Half my garden is from cuttings, or roots, or seeds from some neighbor. And on my walks with Tully the Dog, it is heartening to see the bee balm from my front garden thriving two doors down, or the Black-eyed Susans next to my friend’s porch. And yes, even irises are spread amongst my neighbors. I can name the showy blooms: varieties such as Pink Attraction, Colortart, Cascadian Rhythm, Cherub’s Smile, Victoria Falls and Cranberry Ice.  Names so beautiful they could be titles of romance novels.

coal seam

coal seam

This year, I have two new additions thanks to the Schreiner’s Iris catalog. Coal Seam and Venetian Glass are planted side-by-side (only the former bloomed this year—this is normal as some rhizomes need a season to acclimate to a new home).  Coal Seam is everything its name promises. A big, showy, nearly-black bearded specimen of magnificence. I’m looking forward to dividing it in three years and sharing with as many friends and neighbors as possible.