Garden Tales: The Iris
I have created the Garden Tales series in order to take a closer look at the plants that we place in our gardens. Plants whose beauty we may enjoy, or whose aroma brightens the air or flavour enhances our food, but plants that we do not really know.
I choose the iris, which wikipedia tells us “is a genus of between 200-300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers which takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species. As well as being the scientific name, Iris is also very widely used as a common name and refers to all Iris species as well as some closely related genera.”, because it lets me talk about art, in particular my favourite artist.
I always find it difficult when asked what my favourite colour, food, movie, flower or music is; however when it comes to an artist there is no hesitation. I have been an admirer of the work of Vincent Van Gogh for many years.
There are a number of reasons; his determination to continue painting despite the fact that Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime and only became famous after his death; this is witness his work in a short period of ten years Van Gogh made approximately 900 paintings.
For the record, Vincent van Gogh did not cut off his ear. He only cut off a small portion of his ear lobe.
Starry Night may be his best known work and his sunflower paintings have sold for high dollars in the art marketplace. Given my love for sunflowers one may think that these would be my favourite works, as admirable as they are it is his iris paintings that draw me time and time again.
A few years back I went to an exhibit of Van Gogh’s irises at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Over the years, I have attended many art shows and opening and have curated and participated in a few, this particular show was the most impressive event that I have attended. There were only a few painting, five or six but I slowly move from one to the other over a period of 2 hours and would have gone back but, alas, we had to leave town the next morning.
The iris has a lengthy history, one that dates back to the Ancient Greeks. The Greek Goddess Iris was the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow. Iris was the link between heaven and earth.
Once, purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead in their journey. In Egypt, drawings of the iris have been found in palaces.
Perhaps the best known symbol is the link between the iris the French monarchy; in time the Fleur-de-lis eventually became the recognized national symbol of France.
Irises have been employed in the manufacture of perfume and as a medicine. In perfume, the rhizome of certain species are used as a fixative in perfume and its use in medicine has come into disfavour because the have been shown to be a dangerous purgative.
The magical purposes of the iris include:
1-The iris has been used for purification since the Roman times.
2- Infusions to cleanse temples/places of worship.
3- They were seen to bring purity and light similar to Juno the Goddess of light and new beginnings.
4- The flower has three points which symbolize faith, wisdom and valour.
The iris is a stately plant that will capture the eye of anyone who strolls by yoru garden. It makes for great curb appeal or for many hours of quiet contemplation. If you are a painter or photographer the iris is a great subject and offers a variety of style and colour for your work.
If you are not already growing a variety of iris now, give it some thought and take this opportunity to get to know this ancient plant better.
- Canadian Iris Society - Welcome
The Canadian Iris Society (CIS) is a non-profit organization with the objective to encourage, improve and extend the cultivation of the genus iris and to collaborate with other societies for this purpose.