Saturday, June 20, 2009

queen of the nile

This is the first year they’ve bloomed, these iris colored the deepest black with a dark purple fur at their centers. Two years ago, they caught my eye at one of my favorite local nurseries. They stood tall, majestic, and elegant. As if they were always dressed for a formal party. At the time, I was working on a bed that hugs a stone wall in a terraced garden. I had planted woody hydrangea with loose white panicles for structure, backed by arborvitae for winter interest (provided that the local deer who never pass through our meadow don’t develop a nose for these sweet evergreens and decide to follow the scent and find themselves suddenly in a veritable cornucopia and demolish them for dinner).

Between the evenly spaced hydrangea, I planted catmint and transplanted wild daisy because they make such pretty points of white that seemingly float above all else and because they cost nothing. I thought the black iris would provide contrast and look grand against the haphazard shapes of the stone walls made from the numerous collapsed stone walls encircling our property. The same stone walls that hellbent farmers from so long ago built from the constant supply of stones that came up through the meadow that used to pen sheep or wheat or corn, hellbent in that they thought they could eventually rid this land of all this rock.

I brought these iris home, these Queen of the Nile, a proud collector of something exotic for my fairly traditional collection of flowers and foliage, and planted them in that terraced bed. The following year they did not bloom, and I thought perhaps they were some kind of tongue-in-cheek joke that you might find in a book of cartoons by Charles Adams. Here are the black iris, appropriately named after the wicked Cleopatra, bought by the Adams Family and planted in their poisonous garden, and look at them! Aren’t they delightful? They look horrible and straggly, and of course will never bloom!

But this year, they’ve proved the joke wrong. They have bloomed and keep on blooming, new blossoms traveling up the strong spine of their stems until they are unleashed from the green almost palm-frond textured envelope of the bud casing. They are almost as tall as the hydrangea, and they do, indeed, look grand.


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