A Tale of Spring Romance

In late March, FD and I began the big task of landscape cleanup at the rock house. After having many large trees removed in the year since my mother-in-law passed, we were left with a lot of overgrown shrubbery, wild vine, and small saplings growing in iris beds that FD’s grandmother had established more than seventy years ago. It was a wild and woolly mess. The good thing was, there was also about forty years of leaf compost and rich, healthy soil heaped up against the house and all along the fence lines. Our plan was to get this dirt moved to low spots around the property, and to start removing the jungle of trees and vine so that the yard would be easier to maintain. At the time, neither of us cared much about the iris that managed to survive being choked out by trees and weeds. Most of them did not bloom anymore and the ones that did, well, it was just a one-time bloom and it was over. My floral preference has always been for color and blooms that stick around a while. We planned to put new fencing around the property at some point anyway, and the iris would just be in the way.

Before trees took over the yard and iris beds, iris bloomed prolifically all around the rock house.

I learned about Grandmother Farrington’s love of iris from FD’s family and that, during her lifetime, the property was the talk of the town in spring with so many iris in bloom. For many years, she and Granddad traveled the country collecting new hybrids of iris. Everyone agreed Grandmother was meticulous about the care of her iris. She planted and cared for the iris beds, while Granddad made little markers with the name of each iris on them. But the iris beds were neglected after Grandmother’s and Granddad’s passings in 1978 and 1979, and their beauty was covered by nature’s wild reclaiming.

As FD and I worked to clean out the years of overgrowth and mounded dirt from the old beds around the house and along the fences, we found many of the iris markers, which I saved in an old galvanized bucket. In the garage, FD found the set of steel stamps, pieces of aluminum oil cans, and the lead slab that Grandad used to pound out the markers. We saved all of this thinking someday we would do something special with the stamps and markers.

Since the iris were no longer a part of our plan, at least for along the fence line at the street where we would strip out the old fence, level the ground, and build a new fence, I did what Grandmother had done over the years when she culled and divided iris – I pulled them up and took them back to the canyon, tossing them over the edge of the canyon wall. I had always marveled at the iris that managed to cling to the slope and bloom despite dappled daylight in the canopy of trees along the bottom land. It reminded me of the tenacity and resilience of surviving in difficult times – and to flourish wherever one found themselves.

I spent two solid weeks pulling up iris and transplanting them along the canyon wall. I had a lot of help, mind you, with a certain deer following me around, nibbling on other plant delights along the slope. Tukker seemed to enjoy my company and, for the most part, I liked having him tag along. Back and forth I went with loads of iris in my little garden wagon. FD dug the dirt away from the fence line and flower beds with the tractor. As people drove or walked by, many stopped to comment about how nice the property was looking.

We will be installing new fence along the street at some point. I have begun moving iris and FD has moved dirt along this section.
FD’s grandmother often planted culled iris along the canyon slope. I had done the same as I worked at clearing the fence line along the street.
Tukker kept me company while I transplanted iris along the canyon slope.

As we moved into April, I stopped pulling up the iris because many were beginning to bloom. With the removal of so many big trees around the house, the iris that survived the neglect were once again being bathed in sweet sunshine, and their blooms were a beautiful “Thank You!” to the work FD and I had done so far. Seeing this, I just could not pull any more of them up when they were in the middle of their splendor. There were other areas I could work on around the place, and I could return to iris removal anytime. But I did decide to cut a few of the more fragrant blossoms, along with peonies and a little coral honeysuckle from my own flower beds, to make a spring bouquet. After placing the bouquet in the house for a bright, spring display, FD found an old aluminum marker with the name “Spring Romance” on it. This seemed like a perfect addition to the bouquet, and its placement in the arrangement made it even more beautiful. Little did we know, “Spring Romance” would not only change the look of my spring bouquet, it would also change everything about our plans for clean up around the old rock house.

This is the bouquet I put together that sparked FD’s interest in his Grandmother’s Iris.

The presence of the bouquet of iris and peonies, soon had FD reminiscing about how his Grandma Farrington loved and cared for her iris gardens, and this talk piqued his curiosity about the “Spring Romance” variety. A little computer research told him this particular, Tall Bearded iris, was the Gold Cup Winner of the Hollywood Iris Show in 1948, the year it was registered and introduced. From there, FD began researching the names on other markers and found the bulk of them were registered from the early 1900’s to the early 1960’s.  After discovering this, he contacted people from The Historic Iris Preservation Society. We also found an iris club in Lawton, Oklahoma, and eventually learned a friend of ours is connected with this group. A visit followed, where we both learned a lot about iris and their care. And, in talking with FD’s sisters about our plans to save, rather than dig up the iris, we also learned it was quite possible their grandmother did her own hybridizing over the years. This might explain why some markers held names that could not be found on iris websites, and had names that seemed more personal.

Though I still was not all that interested in iris, I could see it was important to FD to try and preserve the legacy of historic iris his grandmother had started and nurtured so many years ago. So, he began the work of photographing blooming iris and mapping them out on a grid he built in a spreadsheet. It will take years to understand exactly what we have remaining that might be true offspring of the actual, historic “mother rhizomes”. Iris that grow from the seed of most hybridized iris varieties do not “come true” or, in layman’s terms, do not produce a flower that is a true match to those put off by the mother rhizome and her “child” divisions. But the more trees and invasive vines and weeds we clear out, the more blooms we will see and, hopefully, will be able to identify types of iris. We will also be faced with having to do a lot of transplanting of iris, and I will not be tossing them in the canyon anymore. And at some point, we will have to retrieve some of those that I already tossed, because there could be survivors of the historic rhizomes in their midst.

My friend Ruthie took this picture of Lilla showing us the proper way to cut back iris foliage.
Our friend’s Ike and Lilla helped to educate us on iris. Lilla chose a few special iris from her own collection to share with FD, while Ike got the job of digging.
The iris in the deer pen will have to be moved at some point. I will not be clearing plants from this area as we have created a nice space for cover and foraging for the deer we rehabilitate.
There will be a lot of clearing and digging to do. Young trees, wild vine and shrubs, and weeds will need to be taken out to move dirt and create clean iris beds and allow more sun in!
I have begun work clearing weeds around the rock house and digging up competing plants to create space to move and transplant iris. Nothing goes to waste here. The chickens will enjoy all of those invasive weeds!

And so it was that a little Spring Romance saved Grandmother’s iris. It also made me all the more determined to weed, cull trees and open up the yard to the sun.  FD will continue to research and identify, while I work on the flower beds. Perhaps a yard of splendor and beauty can return as it was when Grandmother tended it. Whatever comes of it, FD and I are committed to see where this new adventure takes us!

© 2020 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


34 thoughts on “A Tale of Spring Romance

  1. The iris is beloved by the French; it is their national flower. Your grandmother’s taste is shared by millions. Interestingly, I just completed a writing project involving irises. Where they grow and where they will never grow. I’m glad you transplanted them. I love the look, albeit a tiny view, of the rock house.

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    1. I did not realize the iris was important to the French! Forrest and I are learning so much along the way. It has become an interesting and fun project, even though it will be a lot of work. You must share your writing project – we’d be delighted to see it! I too am glad we discovered this before I had cleaned the whole front yard. As it is, I can retrieve what I put on the slope, but first I must get the flowerbeds cleaned up and eradicate the wild vine. That vine chokes out everything!

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      1. Thank you so much! I am delighted that anyone who has a heart for nature gets everything good from nature back, a lot of fun and joy. and many thanks for your reply !!

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        1. We find that all good deeds in nature, are gifted back in some way. The work we do here is in appreciation for what is presented to us. Every bit of it has been an exciting and challenging journey, that helps to broaden our understanding of all things. 🙂

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          1. Thanks a lot !! Yes, it is that they have argued it exactly, I add that all people on this globe have giants, responsible for themselves. Thank you very much! Have a nice week !!! Thank you so much !

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  2. I love irises and they remind me of my childhood in Tennessee in the mountains. We had them everywhere. So this post was a Proustian moment for me. One word and I was traveling back in time…

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    1. Always love seeing your posts…no matter what’s going on I must pause to hear your news

      Thanks so much for taking time out to photograph and pass your little slice of life along to to your viewers. Heart felt blessings to you and your labor of love. 🥰

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      1. Thank you, Virginia. If only I had the time to write each day! My mind creates stories as I work, and there is always something new and interesting to write about.

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    2. Aw, that’s wonderful to know the story connected you to your roots, Charlotte. We are so happy about this project and it presented itself at an appropriate time in our lives. We want to preserve and continue Forrest’s grandmother’s legacy. It means something special to us.

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  3. Oh, so many feels with this story! Irises are my favorite flower. My maternal grandfather grew them. He was always creating a new bed because he ran out of room for them all. I guess I inherited that love from him. When I moved to Texas my transplanted Tennessee irises that my grandfather gave me didn’t survive. So I just got Texas irises and the ones I have now have been growing for more than 15 years. When I culled them, I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so now I just trim them back and let them do their thing. And Tukker! His little boy antlers! After several seasons of just little girl yearlings, this year we got a boy. Yesterday we saw a totally white deer, a first for us. It appeared to be a full grown doe, so I guess it must be well protected on the ranch across from us. I’ll be watching to see if she appears with a fawn.

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    1. Interesting, Ellen, to note it was your grandfather who was interested in iris. We are discovering many men in the iris clubs enjoy the hobby and also doing their own hybridizing. We have heard that Forrest’s uncle may have worked with Grandmother in that area. It’s just so interesting all of the turns this story is taking!

      Tukker is a big fella by now. His antlers are growing daily! He’s been a sweet boy to have around this spring. He’s proving to be a typical buck – very laid back and putting on the weight and growing antlers! I’ll be writing about him again soon I hope. And wow!! We have not seen a white deer in these parts. What an amazing thing and rare! You certainly must keep an eye out for any offspring!

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  4. That is marvelous that you’ve become interested in your historical iris plants. Very exciting! I enjoyed reading about all you’ve done and plan to do.

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    1. Thank you, Anne. It’s proving to be an interesting and fun adventure. Forrest is really into documenting and research… I make the perfect “helper” with my gardening skills. It’s a big project but one we will enjoy seeing progress on!

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    1. Oh, I KNEW you would love this story, Sissy. Most of our information about Grandmother’s iris has come from you. Maybe one day the iris beds will be proper to enjoy a cuppa among the splendor of color, and listen to the birds singing and trilling like Grandmother used to.

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  5. What a nice story and outcome. I don’t think you will regret saving something of heritage value. My great uncle loved Dahlias in the same way, even had patents on several that he created, but as far as I know his garden went when he died. I’ll bet you will meet some interesting people on your adventure too. Thank you for something lovely to think about, especially with all the turmoil in the world. xx

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    1. My mom mentioned yesterday how lovely it was that we were preserving history on this land, where currently history is being torn to shreds here in America. We did not want to regret having lost something of importance. It’s wonderful to get so many comments from people here, who have ties to heirloom plants. History is important – the good, bad and ugly of it.

      Already Forrest is meeting people from all over the country – mostly in writing email, but he’s had some phone calls as well. There are many folks to learn from in this endeavor! And we had no idea our friends who were mentioned in the post, were avid iris gardeners. I am quite sure Forrest and I may meet lots of interesting people on this adventure. Isn’t it funny how something presents itself at just the right time in life?

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  6. Oh Lori, I was so relieved when I read the FD got involved with his grandmother’s iris. I must admit that when I read you were tossing iris over the canyon wall I was very sad. I think that you and FD are going to be very active in “rehabbing the iris garden” of his grandmother and I bet that the iris garden will become a show case
    in a few years. It possibly will become a neighborhood or town attraction each spring.

    You have put in so much work and I continue to be amazed at the amount of work that you do. Your posts are always so interesting and entertaining. Last but not least, the vase of flowers is beautiful.

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    1. Yvonne, somehow I felt you would enjoy this post. Rest assured, I have slowed down a lot in the last year. I do only what I can manage in a day. There IS a lot to do on this place, but I believe everything comes to us if we are to experience it. Sometimes our workload is a lot, but these challenges broaden our minds and knowledge. And sometimes we meet wonderful like-minded people along the way.

      I often put cut flowers in a vase. Both of my grandmother’s had cut flowers in vases in their homes. As a young girl I especially admired the rose blossoms that floated in a glass bowl of water. I am thrilled that Forrest is enjoying “rehabbing” the iris here at the rock house. We hope to bring it back to a showplace someday.

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  7. Beautiful photos and beautiful iris, seeing them and that they are being saved makes my heart sing. Iris or Orris [root] as they were once called are one of my favourite flowers, to me they are old and interesting… which I love.

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    1. Aw, Dale, I’m so happy you love the iris! I’m discovering here in the comments that many people have ties to these beautiful flowers. I think next spring when we can see more blooms (after opening up the flower beds to sun and eradicating weeds) I will be more passionate about them. Forrest’s interest has been surprising. And we compliment each other in what part we take in this adventure – he’s the researcher and documentation person, and I’m the garden worker.

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  8. So wonderful to read about this garden coming back to life, Spring Romance and à family heritage, rather than the current news cycle.
    There are lots of irises here in the village that I photograph each Spring.
    I had assumed you’d be selling the property, now it sounds like you’re keeping it in the family 😀.

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    1. The rock house property has always been Forrest’s. His grandad willed it to him, with a life estate clause for Forrest’s mother to live there. There’s never been any thought of selling it. We just haven’t known what to do with the rock house because it’s in poor shape and needs a lot of work. Plus, the orchard property we purchased some years back adjoins this original ten acres. It’s a work in progress. Maybe someday when Forrest retires we can get more done. For now, we inch along a little at a time.

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  9. A beautiful flowery tale . Tucker’s is so cute. Tennessee state flower is a purple iris 💜💜

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

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    1. Hello, Mamie! I did not know that about Tennessee’s state flower! That makes me wonder if Forrest’s grandparents traveled there to acquire iris. I wish there had been some documentation in papers that we went through at the rock house while we were cleaning it out. There were many people sifting through things, and it’s possible there was information about the iris that may have gotten tossed.

      Tukker’s a sweet boy. His antler’s are tall, but not trophy quality. I’m secretly glad about that because it will make him less attractive to hunters during the rut. He’s a big boy now, but gentle, and I think lazy! But that is the spring/summer life of a buck. They’re busy growing antlers, eating a lot and resting, keeping secret. He’s progressing just as he should!

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    1. Oh, I like that about a “detective story”. Each time I dig up a buried marker I feel like I found another treasure! Ha ha! It’s going to be a lot of work, but as long as we move slowly and enjoy the beauty of it all unfold, you’re right, “who care’s?” about the work and time involved.

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  10. Isn’t it funny how something can become a passion in an unexpected way? It’s wonderful that FD became devoted to his Grandmother’s irises and that you have become a little more irised as well. 🙂 I know you will be posting again about the progress made of both re-establishing the gardens and what you learn about the various species/cultivars and am looking forward to those. It’s a shame about having to retrieve them from the canyon, but who knows what treasure you may recover. I’m not big on the idea of an afterlife, but if there is one I am sure Grandmother Farrington is quite pleased. ❤

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    1. There have been many “unexpected” turns with the rock house property. We’re still hoping for something to present itself with what to do about the house. I’m confident we will know in time. I’m anxious to get in the beds and do a lot of weeding. It’s soothing work for me, but the Oklahoma heat is on us now, and that makes the task more difficult. Tree culling won’t happen until the fall/winter.

      Oh, retrieving the iris from the canyon won’t be terrible. As it was, I organized iris in the trailer as I was pulling them. So in the same manner, I disbursed them along the canyon slope. Next spring I will try to retrieve them, when we have the flower beds cleaned and hopefully, new fencing along the street. The sad thing is, we dug a lot of dirt in that area, and sent trailer loads for a niece to use on their property. The buried markers weren’t saved and so we have no clues as to what iris varieties were in that area.

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      1. We’ve been experiencing some of the Oklahoma heat this past week with highs in the 90’s. If it reaches that today it will be our first heatwave of 2020. With all the work you and Forrest are putting into the house, I hope you find a way to keep it in the family.
        That’s too bad about the ID tags but hopefully once they flower you might be able to figure out a few of the less hybridized ones. But an Iris by any other name… 🙂

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  11. Lori, this post has been sitting in my email waiting all this time. I’m sorry. I have just been so out of it that I haven’t been reading. I scan and dump daily, but saved yours. Glad I did! This is a beautiful post. I love bearded iris and always have. It wasn’t until I started growing my own in my gardens that I learned that some of them have a very strong and lovely scent too! Now, Peonies I could never grow in California, but when we moved here there were quite a few growing among the weeds and blooming wildly! I am finally going to get them dug up this fall and moved to a more appropriate space in the sunshine. You do work hard on your place! I’ve heard you talk of the rock house many times and never quite pictured it to be so big! In the few photos you shared along the way it was very overgrown and hidden. Somehow, it looks French country to me. Glad you were able to find some help in ID-ing and saving these lovely flowers!

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    1. I am sure your life is much like mine, where every day presents something or several somethings to be done. My writing has taken a backseat to it all. For one, since I acquired a new iPhone I’ve had difficulty downloading images to my desktop. It’s such a tedious process now and so for that reason I haven’t posted much. My days are long and I often feel as if I hit the ground running, and do not get a break until I flop in bed at night. But is is a good life, my friend. It’s good to find joy in what we do. The iris project will be ongoing for the next years, until we can get the current beds weeded and de-treed. Once the sun hits the iris and they bloom again, we can better see what we have. But all of this takes time and a lot of hard work, and it’s just the two of us. Somehow we will balance it all out. The rock house will cost too much for us to bring it up to code with electric and to get that roof redone – but we can do a lot of inside repair and updating to make it a simple guest house in time. For now, there are no leaks and we have emptied it of its contents, and are considering how to move forth with repairs and a bit of a facelift! It’s a very well-insulated home with a lot of character. And Forrest is a “jack-of-all-trades” so we can do a lot of the work ourselves.

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