Sunday, May 17, 2009

Iris Season

Every year I'm reminded of the ephemeral nature of spring's flowers; they always seem to vanish faster than the blossoms of other seasons, and their quick decline foreshadows the oppressively hot days of July and August. Lilacs, one of my favorites, can be maddeningly capricious even by spring flower standards--some years, for a variety of factors, they might not bloom at all. I have yet to encounter any lilac bushes in New York City (although I do love the lilac bouquets currently displayed by all the local florists), but I could take a cue from my mother, who a few years ago bought several flowering lilac branches for me for my birthday, and placed them in a ceramic vase that my brother had made in the likeness of a tree trunk. As a result, for that week I was at least able to pretend to have a full-fledged lilac bush of my own.

Even though summer has its own floral highlights I tend to prefer those of spring, and here in New York, for a few weeks in April and May, the magnolia trees in Central Park burst with white and pink petals, the median strips of Park Avenue bear rows of straight, proud tulips, and the window boxes of my neighboring brownstones embrace pansies and hydrangeas, violas and snapdragons. When I returned from California last week, I noticed that another spring flower had decided to reveal itself in the gardens of the Upper West Side: the iris. Irises always remind me of my California grandmother, who used to grow them in her Marin County garden, and who had a print of Monet's "Le Jardin de Monet, les iris" over her kitchen sink. My mother and I had lunch with my grandparents and aunt in Point Reyes last Friday, and after I essentially inhaled a pound of Tomales Bay mussels, we walked over to the Point Reyes community garden. Right by the fence, a deep, rich, purple bearded iris waved to us from its long, slender stalk. A few others were scattered about the garden's perimeter, and my grandmother and I were both beside ourselves at how beautiful they were (the family kept us moving along, however; Cowgirl Creamery and its triple cream Mt. Tam cheese waits for no man).

As a result, my return to the Upper West Side felt all the more seamless with the appearance of these perennials, and on my walks home from work I try to spot as many as I can before they disappear until next year. Since garden real estate is, of course, limited in Manhattan, intrepid UWS gardeners have planted their irises in sidewalk planters and doorway pots, or along the borders of their building entrance ways. They make do with the space available to them, for which I'm grateful, as it is often small, unexpected surprises like these--an iris peeking its head around an iron fence in New York, or waving hello from a terracotta pot in Marin County--that can spark the day's most unfettered smile or moment of true lightheartedness. And I'm as grateful as ever to the gardeners of the Theodore Roosevelt Park for tending to, among many other things, the gorgeous irises in the Margaret Mead garden, and for thus ensuring that I have a smile on my face every morning as I head to work.
Le Tour de les Upper West Side Iris

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