Autumn 2000 to Summer 2001
This year of brief residence in the state where I was born was in many ways not very remarkable. I had moved back to Colorado, albeit briefly, after five glorious years in England. When the year was over I would once again make my journey back across the pond to the land of parliament, fish and chips, the Vicar of Dibley, Eastenders, Del Boy and, of course, superb gardening conditions. Why is it now that I am thinking about this time after so many years? The focus this week on irises.
I am an IT engineer by day and a gardener/photographer/writer by night. The former feeds the family. The latter feeds the soul. My day job is not particularly rewarding, but it has afforded me amazing opportunities for which I will forever be thankful. One opportunity was when a friend was able to convince the small bank where she worked to give me a job as their network administrator and desktop support analyst. This blip, which lasted only a year, never made it to my resume, but there was something that made a lasting impression.
My "office" was a desk inside a server room where I analyzed network traffic and logged support tickets much of the day, but there were times when I was allowed out and into the fresh air. The bank, which was growing exponentially, acquired a house that was converted into office space for the senior management staff and process analysts. I was often called to this building to troubleshoot printing issues, install software, or perhaps update the operating systems. During my journeys to and fro, I noticed there was a large 20' x 30' garden bed that separated the annexed house from the house of an elderly couple that lived next door. I didn't think much of it during the autumn and winter months, but when early spring rolled around I was blessed with something so magical that it forever changed the way I design my gardens.
It was the fragrance I noticed first and it was so incredibly enticing I was determined to seek it out, if only to satiate my desire to sink my nose into this lovely perfume's source. I looked all around at trees or anything substantial that would explain the heavenly aroma. I saw nothing except an immense patch of irises. There was a quick flashback to my garden in England and the irises I grew. These irises had no scent to speak of, so it was easy to discount the thought that these irises here in front of me would be the source of such a gorgeous scent. I moved closer and bent down and alas, there it was: a perfume so sweet, so glorious, it could only be matched by the likes of lilac, alyssum, or perhaps jasmine. I fell in love instantly and buried my nose in bloom after bloom.
As the spring days passed I would make trips to this iris patch even if I had no work to do in the annex. I would spend my lunches gazing at these magnificent flowers, all the while inhaling every ounce of their perfume. I would close my eyes and tilt my head toward the sun, allowing the cool breeze tainted with the grape soda aroma to sweep over my face. It truly was an amazing experience, but not one to last. Iris blooms are a gift that must be enjoyed fully each day for they do not last long. As the weather warms, the irises fade away, not to be seen for another year. I would be gone before they would bloom again, but I would forever hold the memory of their beauty and the way they filled the air with such a delicious perfume that would sneak its way to all corners of the house turned into an office building.
When I returned to England, I did grow irises that had a scent, but nothing that matched the variety back in Colorado. Years have passed and here I am back in Colorado, this time for good. I still work in IT and I still find myself shut in most of the time, poring over server logs and the like, but I make it a point to get outside as much as possible, particularly during the spring months, to bask in the glory of my garden. So, what of this iris I fell in love with 14 years ago? Well, funny you should ask.
Out of the blue I received a catalog from Old House Gardens. For those of you that don’t know, they specialize in heirloom bulbs, and so I gave them a call and expressed my desire to find the iris I fell in love with over a decade ago. “It was tall,” I said. “And it had the most amazing aroma,” I continued. The operator on the other end said this iris was most likely Pallida Dalmatica. I went to their site and the description seemed to fit perfectly:
Tall, pale lavender, tough as nails, with a Concord grape fragrance that, as Elizabeth Lawrence wrote, “fills the borders and drifts into the house.” In his monumental Herbal of 1597, Gerard called it “the great Floure de-luce of Dalmatia” and praised its tall stalks, “faire large floures,” and “exceedingly sweet” scent.
I ordered five along with some vintage daylilies. They arrived a couple of weeks ago and, as directed, I put them in the ground immediately so I may have a chance at a bloom this year. Well, so far, they seem to be spending their energy adjusting to their new home and I see no evidence of any blooms, but one never knows. Either way, I know that once there are blooms, my garden will be blessed with the richness of color and fragrance only the iris can bring.
It has been a pleasure sharing this story with you during iris week and I wish to thank Dave for having a whole week dedicated to one of the most beautiful flowers of the spring garden. Until next time, happy gardening!
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