REF: Christopher Lloyd on Irises
Christopher Lloyd, whose death I mentioned yesterday, was a splendid crank
and a consummate plantsman. He wrote an opinionated garden column in the UK
for years and was one of those folks with whom parties who enjoyed being
incensed always had some issue. Loved purple and magenta, dealt summarily with
idiots, tore out a formal rose garden at Great Dixter and planted cannas, the
sort of successful horticultural nose-thumbing which comes only from mastery of
I don't mind provocateurs, provided they are not unkind, so I've always been
interested in Lloyd's pronouncements and utterances. Learned a whole lot
about propagation from him, too. Yesterday, after I posted news of his death, it
occurred to me I had article on Irises tucked away in one of my files, so I
pulled it out to read while I thought about him. I decided perhaps you might
care to have an excerpt.
Lloyd's ideas are generally more interesting than his prose, or so I find.
He was not, it must be said, as eloquent as, say, the late Henry Mitchell, but
then few are. The bit at the end sounds a bit like the beginning of Mrs.
Harding's *Peonies in the Little Garden*, speaking of eloquence, and could
reflect her influence; good garden writers tend to be aware of the best of their
This then, excerpted from the magazine *Horticulture*, December 1986, p. 21.
"A Pride of Iris: A Longtime Admirer Praises his Favorites and has Words for
No flowers (cacti excepted maybe) captivate the imagination more than
irises. There is the pride and elegance of their shape, so lovingly represented
in the fleur-de-lis of heraldry. There is the delicacy of texture, the
light-scattering iridescence (the word itself derived from iris), which sparkles
in sunlight so that you wish to gloat at closest range yet scarcely dare to
breathe for fear of destroying the very fragility that you most admire. And
there is the scent: sweet and sharp, not ethereal, but earthy and satisfying to
some baser appetite. Many irises are odorless, but it is a quality always
worth looking out for, as in the apricot-scented yet otherwise insignificant
Iris graminea. I shall always have a corner for that.
Most of us can recollect moments in our lives when irises, en masse gave
us a particular and unexpected thrill.[. . . .] My own most exciting memory
of irises dates from April of 1954, when I was being driven in a taxi across
the Syrian desert from Damascus to Palmyra. At that season there were heavy
rains. Indeed, the driver had an uncanny facility for choosing the worst route
and getting bogged down [. . . .] The desert was alive with interesting
flowers, but the one that showed up most forcefully, because it presented very
dark specks against a pale sandy background, was the deep purple I.
atropupurea, one of the Oncocyclus group that is difficult to please in cultivation. I
was quickly on my knees, worshipping."
Among Lloyd's better known books are the collection *The Well-Tempered
Garden" and "Garden Flowers from Seed" but he wrote a tall stack of them,
generally well received.
Richmond VA USA
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