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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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