I love the irises I come across growing along old fences, or inside a garden, in different stages of unfurling: some still in tightly bound spears with tips of saturated color, others gracefully opened in full display. Like peonies and other spring flowers, their relatively brief appearance creates a sort of urgency to appreciate them before they disappear with the season.
Irises always remind me of a visit to my hometown many years ago. On a walk through the side streets, I came upon a small house with a startling burst of color alongside a fence. From a thick row of slender green blades bloomed bunches and bunches of irises — tall and elegant, in colors of ethereal blue, dusky mauve, yellow, and combinations of royal purple and apricot, white and watercolor rose, lavender and deep gold. I had to step closer to marvel at the rich array, so casually crowded along the fence.
The owner of the house, an elderly woman with a warm smile, caught me admiring her flowers and offered to show me her garden in the back of the house. It was even more breath-taking — tucked away from view, full of winding brick paths and interesting details set among gorgeous flowers. It must have taken her years to create such a work of art. When I told her how much my mother would love the garden, she graciously welcomed us to stroll through it whenever we wanted, even if she wasn’t at home. I had the feeling that the woman’s generosity and kindness came from the same internal place as her desire to create the beautiful garden — a place that takes pleasure in life and wants to add to the world’s beauty. I brought my mom back later that day, and the delight she took in the garden remains etched in my mind long years since.
I’ve often thought of that May garden, and wondered how many other secret gardens there are in my town, and in the cities I have lived in, and the places I have visited. How many people create works of beauty for the sheer joy and pleasure they bring? How many so freely and graciously offer their efforts to passers-by in patches of flowers, or window boxes trailing with color, or in potted blooms in front of a house? Like the best parts of ourselves, flowers require tending to be coaxed into being, to be nourished with love and sunlight and weeding and watering. The result is a sort of two-way gift that is offered back to the world in a communication beyond words.
Over the weekend, I took out my terracotta pots and planted them with rose and purple stock, pink geraniums, and scarlet carnations, and set them on my steps just outside the door.