HIST-Richmond's Alley Irises Revisited-Very Long
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- Subject: HIST-Richmond's Alley Irises Revisited-Very Long
- From: Henryanner <Henryanner@aol.com>
- Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 15:59:30 -0600 (MDT)
Richmond, Virginia, is an old town and amazing things are growing in the
byways and alleys of some residential neighborhoods. In bearded iris season we
enjoy peering over fences to see what blooms have emerged from the many clumps
of otherwise anonymous foliage that are found scattered in gardens, and along
alleys, and tucked beside the trunks of trees.......
So we wrote last year of our explorations and rambles in our town. And this
year, of course, we have rambled on, revisiting the alley irises of Richmond,
and discovering new treasures in treewells and, occasionally, gardens. The
spring was a wet one and things bloomed that had not bloomed for many years.
At that moment when we had the last of the lilacs and the first of the roses,
they all sent forth stalks and the greater urban garden erupted into rainbows.
It was splendid year for the historic irises, many of which have survived from
that period in which irises were most popular in our city, the 'twenties and
The pallidas, which are ubiquitous, began blooming very early, and have
continued through the season. How tough and beautiful they are! In early March
we despaired to see that one of the largest alley collections, which consists
of several hundred plants, had been mowed to the ground. No matter.
Undeterred, they are in full bloom now, their color echoed by the wisterias on
the fences. Some of the rosy pallidas we saw here and there last year turned
out to have other names. When THAIS (Cayeux '26) bloomed in our yard, we
recognized it as the rose pallida that had punctuated several older gardens.
But the refined pink which dotted the strange yard with the plastic
pointsettias turned out to be...REINGAUPERLE (G&K '24)!
Recognition was the theme of this year's explorations. As we have come to know
more irises, so we can greet them by their names. We now know that that one
deep purple that is here and there is, not surprisingly, MORNING SPLENDOR
(Shull '23). We knew it must be in Richmond, and now that we can recognize it,
we see it surely is. Now we also know that the older lady who is still growing
her great-aunt's startling little purple iris has MONSIGNOR (Vilmorin '07),
which we have found in only two gardens. She wants to share it with us, and we
will not tell her we already have the flower.To our astonishment the large
curbside planting down the street from her, impacted, but otherwise well cared
for, consists not only of an annoying yellow and some scattered modern whites,
but also of two or three little rose QUEEN OF MAYs (Salter,1859) and a
quantity of a remarkably luminescent bi-color with cocoa standards and lilac
falls. It is PRESIDENT PILKINGTON (Cayeux '31), one of the great French irises
of the 'thirties. How it came to be there and in that company is anyone's
The antique rose fanciers will tell you that historic flowers are found in
older, often poorer, neighborhoods where they do not, or cannot, discard
lovely things for the sake of novelty. We have found this holds true for
historic irises as well, although we also find them in areas where the
population has many memories. We like to see the same irises--and
roses--reappear from garden to garden as evidence of sharing and passing-along
from neighbor to neighbor.
We have made a bit of progress this year on the numerous yellows we have been
encountering. One often found is definitely CORONATION (Moore '27), and the
regal, if top- heavy, butter one looks to be AMANDINE(Douglas '46). The very
fine yellow that blooms near one big stand of WILLIAM A. SETCHELL(Brehm
'38)---another top-heavy iris and surely the one for those seeking brute
purple in large quantities----we are pretty certain is TINT O' TAN (Hahn '34).
There was something else deep rose in the same clump, too, but the dogs were
making a racket when we revisited this year and we were afraid they would hurt
themselves straining against their chains so we skedaddled on down the alley.
Around the corner, against the crumbling brick garage, a surprizing stalk of
the ancient plicata SWEERTII, grown since the seventeenth century, offerred a
It was good to see Miss Avis' coppery pink again, blooming along the fence
near the place where she plants the butterbeans. We think it is probably OZONE
(J. Sass '35), and we have enjoyed the start she gave us two years ago. It was
good to see that the long row of numinous MOONLIGHT (W.Dykes '23) we spoke
about before had prevailed yet another year against the car fumes and
chickweed that threaten to choke it. The INDIAN CHIEFs (Ayers '29) and
ALCAZARs (Vilmorin '10) that emerge everywhere were especially beautiful this
year, as were the scattered bright spots of ROSY WINGS (Gage '35). But the
brightest iris that appeared here and there was a wonderful variegata called
ACCENT (Buss '53). This is a tall tailored charmer with ruby red falls and
wonderfully clear canary standards. Very crisp, and surely designed by fortune
to be planted with that unexcelled violet neglecta, HELEN COLLINGWOOD(K. Smith
'49). Some combinations of flowers are simply magical, like the red trumpet
honeysuckle and the wild red columbines blooming together in the beautiful
garden with the DOLLY MADISON (Williamson '27) and the tree peonies over in
that part of town where the snow white squirrels live.
One begins to get a special sense of where the older irises will be found, a
floral radar, if you will, that guides one as one bumps along over the ruts
and cobblestones of the alleys, or drives slowly down the avenues. Then,
suddenly, the eyes must turn quickly to the left, and, there is another clump
of irises! What can it be, that sparkling tissuey champagne delight, or
velvety brown, or silken sky blue a bit more violet on the shoulders, or, just
there, the primitive little white, blooming alone in shade of the overhanging
trumpet vines? Oh, you say, could you possibly be........
Each year we take a new direction in our rambles, but always we circle back to
visit and celebrate old friends. All are survivors, worthy of our fond regard.
To some we have been introduced, but some have become separated from their
names and are obscure to us. This detracts not one whit from their loveliness,
and, in the time of reflection that follows the end of the bearded iris season
in Richmond, we sort our notes, and our memories, and recall again the
evocative, and prophetic, dedication to the 1929 AIS Checklist--"To the
Again, in 1998, we wish you happy explorations.
Anner Whitehead, Richmond,VA
Henry Hall Henryanner@aol.com