Sweet iris patch in my gardenIrises have always been among my favorite flowers. When I was a child, the gardens and parks in our country were full of purple bearded irises and when they were blooming, their sweet scent was spreading all over the neighborhood.

Iris is a perennial plant which can be divided through its rhizomes. It doesn't need too much care; only some thinning every few years to bloom well. Its Latin name 'iris' comes from Greek and means 'rainbow'. In Romania we have a common name for iris - 'stanjenel' - which most likely comes from the old measurement unit 'stanjen' which was the equivalent of a man's height, about 1.9 metres(6.2 feet). Its subdivisions were the finger, hand, elbow, step and foot. 'Stanjenel' is the diminutive from 'stanjen' probably because the tall iris flower stalk was smaller than the old measurement unit. 'Stanjenel' also means 'violet', coming from the iris' bloom color which was the most common in the olden days.

Most of the irises originate from the Dalmation coast, in Europe, at Romania's border to the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia. Irises are classified after their roots in two large subgenera: bulbous and rhizomatous. The rhizomatous irises are divided in two sections: bearded and beardless irises, whether they have or not the small tuft of short upright extensions growing on the sepals (falls).[1] Bearded irises are the most commonly grown irises all over the world. The iris that grows naturally in our country is the Iris pallida variety, also called sweet iris, because of its sweet scent. Along with the Hungarian iris, sweet iris forms the basis of all modern iris hybrids.[1] Sweet iris has sword-like bluish-green leaves and beautiful huge purplish and whitish flowers, with three sepals growing downwards with a 'beard' on each sepal. Petals are growing upwards, whorled together. The flower's shape facilitates the pollinating insect's job. The flowers and roots are used in perfume and pharmaceutical industry. [2]

You might think that once established, irises couldn't die and will keep on growing forever - not true! I can tell you the irises growing in the garden of the building I was living in as a child dissapeared over the years, while the garden was neglected. When I started to work in that garden and re-establish it from scratch, about 20 years later, not even a rhizome was left in there.

As I've already told you in another article, I wanted to rebuild the garden like it was and even more. That's why I searched through my memories and remembered that we had a whole patch of sweet irises along the building. At the time I started gardening, the weeds had taken over, so that one could hardly imagine what a beautiful garden that was. While weeding, I found some of the old plants which managed somehow to survive, but no irises. As those who know me can testify, I'm don't give up easily, and I can be patient until I furfill my goals - in this case, finding at least one iris to plant in my garden.Cemetery white irises in my garden In those times, there weren't any nurseries in my neighborhood where I could find bulbs or plants, only flower shops with cut flowers and potted plants. I started wondering where I could find irises and, after thinking hard, I realized that no garden or park in our neighborhood had even one iris left, except a nearby restaurant's garden, tended by a gardener paid by the restaurant's boss. It was understandable, if he wanted to have customers, he had to have a well-tended garden. This is where I needed to go and ask for an iris! The gardener was now a good old man who immediately brought me a clump of irises after hearing my request. Now, that's a real gardener, always happy to share!

Soon after I planted the irises in the garden, a neighbor brought me a few white iris rhizomes, which she took from a friend's garden. They were the Iris albicans, also called cemetery white iris, a natural bearded iris hybrid, originated in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Cemetery white iris patch in my gardenA few years passed and my garden was more beautiful than ever, with lots of purple and white irises blooming everywhere - well not all at once, because the cemetery white irises were blooming first.

But there was a garden at another entrance of our building which was more beautiful than mine, with more blooming plants every season. That garden hadn't been neglected like ours. I checked on it every once in a while and borrowed ideas on how to arrange certain plants. I really didn't know who was taking care of it because over the years, I saw many people working in there and they did a great job. Yet, they didn't have irises.

One spring, while walking my dog in the alley, I saw some spectacular, beautiful iris blooms in that garden: one orange clump and one amber-burgundy. Their beauty took my breath away! Of course, I wanted to have some of those in my garden. I planned to ask the gardener if he wanted to exchange his colors with my white and purple irises, which he didn't have in his garden.

I thought I could ask him or anyone I would see working in the garden, but days passed by and no one showed up. I had to find the gardener, then I hoped to ask for some of the iris rhizomes. Our plumber lived there, so I asked him who was their gardener. He looked at me with compassion and told me that the gardener wasn't a nice man and he wasn't in good relations to any of his neighbors. But he also added that if someone could melt his heart that person was surely me. He gave me the number of the gardener's apartment and his White and purple bearded irisname and wished me luck. I went there right away, very confident in my abilities as a friendly gardener - he surely couldn't refuse the offer of a fellow gardener! I rang the doorbell and when he opened the door, I showed the biggest smile on my face. I excused myself for the intrusion, then introduced myself and explained why I was there. I told him how impressed I was of his garden and his work. Then I told him how much I loved the new irises and offered him to exchange my irises for only one rhizome of each of his irises, like all gardeners do. He listened without saying any word and at the end he only said "I don't share my plants!" and slammed the door in my face.

I still get tears in my eyes, after all these years, just as I had back then while leaving, after his rude refusal. Bad, bad old man! I've never met a gardener as bitter as that man and I hope I'll ever meet another one again. Gardening makes us better and more beautiful inside, always ready and happy to share our experience and our plants with anyone who is nterested. One would only have to say a word and we won't stop talking about the plant they've asked about and, before they know it, we dig the plant, put it in a bag and offer it to them. That's what a real gardener would do! There is no room for selfishness between gardeners, especially when another one is asking for your help.

But that was it and there was nothing I could do, so I had to give up on having those iris colors until I could find another way to get them. I still don't have those colors, but I received a other colors from a Dave's Garden friend, all the way from the U.S. She was so generous and kind to send those rhizomes through some Romanian friends who were visiting the U.S. and coming back to Romania. I only had to meet them and take the rhizomes. There are no words to express my gratitude and no words to compare these two gardeners.

Tall bearded iris 'Immortality' Tall bearded iris 'Apache'

Even though I don't have those beautiful irises I had hoped for in my garden yet, I always enjoy seeing them in my Dave's Garden friends' pictures or in the PlantFiles. I've searched for their names and found them: 'Play Pretty' is the orange iris and 'Ocelot' is the amber-burgundy one, although the Iris squalens looks almost the same with 'Ocelot'. During the last few years, many nurseries have opened in our country, where lots of plants and bulbs or trees can be found; many of them brought from other countries. I have a few nurseries nearby, which I visit very often, so I might just find my beautiful irises soon and plant them in my garden. As I said, I am a very patient, but tenacious gardener. Sooner or later, I'll have those two beautiful irises in my garden and the bad nightmare, with the gardener who wouldn't share his irises, will come to an end.

[1] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_%28plant%29

[2] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_pallida