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View from My Back Steps

By John I. Blair

Louisiana Iris Surprise

North America has beautiful irises that are native to this place, related to the gorgeous German, or “bearded”, irises that have been a glory of this otherwise rather difficult 2021 springtime. The natives are called Louisiana irises and include six species: Iris brevicaulis, Iris fulva, Iris giganticaerulea, Iris hexagona, Iris Nelsonii, and Iris savannarum. All are totally lovely.

Because they are rather more delicate than bearded irises and most of them not adapted to really freezing cold temperatures, they aren’t seen nearly as often in American gardens as are the European irises. But they should be.

Several of these are quite showy. But Iris fulva, the so-called copper iris, was the first to be widely known and grown. Also called the Louisiana flag, it’s a true wildflower. And that’s the one I grew, starting about 30 years ago. For several years I was convinced it was going to become almost a pest in my garden, as it was volunteering all over the place, spreading from the black seeds that form after the plant finishes blooming. One clump in particular, at the 90° bend in my main garden path, was a highlight of the garden – a small grove of waving stems topped with bronzy blossoms.

Another clump, almost as large, was next to my back patio in what was then the “wild” part of the garden. It eventually came to be as large as the clump up by the house.

But time and changes and neglect eventually brought the entire garden to a different state of being. Instead of the original manicured design with a network of brick paths and brick patios surrounded by large flower beds glowing in the sunshine, the garden transitioned into a mostly shaded tangle of honeysuckle vines, coralberries, vinca major, goldenrod, and ever-larger thickets of shrubbery and small trees.

The Louisianas, once so vigorous, got crowded out, shrinking in area and finally all but vanishing. It had been 10 years since I had seen even a single blossom from them. A memory of a different era.

Yesterday, however, while staggering carefully around on a newly cleared trail through the jungle, I had my eye caught by a speck of bronzy color. There, rising on its stalk just barely above a bunch of miscellaneous plants and shining bright in a sunbeam, was a single fulva blossom. A testimony to how persistent and stubborn some plants can be in the face of competition.

I’ve not decided yet how I am going to respond to this experience, this minor miracle. Perhaps I’ll have my garden helper carefully dig up the other fulvas that have survived, foliage only, not too far away from the flower I found and transplant them into a couple of large flower pots. Then see what they do next spring. If nothing else, this experience has brought me present pleasure and happy memories.

As I used to tell my wife, gardens are by their nature ephemeral and sometimes very much so. But the memories can be almost as important as the current experience; and the two blend to make the total gardening experience.

We’ll see what happens next.

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