Thursday, June 9, 2011

what's in a name?

This time of year, I LOVE iris. Little iris cristata blooming so bravely in the cold. Miniature bearded iris that burst into bright purples and blues, ridiculous yellows--so complete and outrageous. The blue Siberian iris that I plant in masses of sky against the red poppies. And especially the hybridized Siberian and Japanese with lush variations of whites and blue, lavenders and purples. Each filling an unexplained need within me after the greys and browns of early spring.  I pore over the catalogs dreaming of new colors. Oh spring has come!!

And in western Massachusetts I scour the local paper hunting for that one iris sale. Each year a local farm opens up for one week-end. I never know which week-end it will be. This is a bit of paradise on earth. Last year I bought more Japanese iris than I could imagine. This year the sale was last week-end. Now Saturday was my birthday. My DH had left at 6:15 to assist his students at the State Middle School Science Fair--never let it be said that teachers don't work hard!!! But that was OK--the iris sale was happening.

I left the house as early as I could to drive up to the sale. What a treat! I was the first person there. The son--who loves to talk iris--was there. I could ask him any question about iris. Learn so much. He showed me the Iris Setosa--a flag iris from Alaska. The Iris Versicolor--a New England flag iris in beautiful lavenders and blues. There was the yellow Siberian he had hybridized. It was hard to remember them all. I made a list in my mind.

As he and his dad were digging my "must-haves", I saw another one--so many subtle colors. What was it? Could I have some? Now when I first started buying iris I didn't care about the names--if it was pretty I wanted it. Until I discovered that I had purchased the same lavender iris three years in a row. As the son said, it proves I know what I like--but still.... So now I try to label all my flowers just so I know. I snapped a picture of the mystery iris.

Exquisite isn't it? Alas the label had fallen off this one. The son is getting some advanced degree and isn't around all the time anymore. He said it was by Schafer-Sacks. Same family as Banish Misfortune, Sun Comes Up, Here Comes Dragons. Aren't those names great? Now I confess I didn't recognize the name Schafer-Sacks though I frequent their web site all the times. Do check it out. Aren't they gorgeous?

I mentioned that I loved Sarah Tiffany--yup, the same breeder. Careless Sally. Again. It turns out Schafer-Sacks had been breeding Siberian iris and got some unusual results. They kept pushing these results until they got some very distinctive iris. Roaring Jelly--yes, I have that one also. Mad Magenta.

What fun the challenge is identifying this iris. I get on the internet. What are the colors of each part of the iris? Oh there is so much to learn. Yes, I think this one is Salamander Crossing. Great name. But then I discover another problem. I have this iris labeled In Full Sail--but In Full Sail is yellow. OK. What can it be? Look at that hint of blue in the center. The many different colors. The prominent veins. The hint of a ruffle. So much to note.

Clearly it is not Sun Comes Up. Look at the different colors. The center here is not white but almost lavender.

Maybe Echo the Sun. Oh so much to learn.  I must examine it more carefully. Look at some more pictures. What fun it is. Being forced to pay close attention to detail. Knowing that there is a style--part of a series--but then trying to distinguish it.

Interestingly I receive an e-mail from a fan this week. She had seen my quilt prairie dawn in The Art Quilt Collection. See this really is a blog about quilts--it just sometimes take me a while to get there. Anyhow, her question to herself was why did this quilt look so familiar. After all, she is from Florida. Never seen my work in person. Then she realized that I had also written an article in Threads magazine way back in 1999.  She was still making the little purses that I showed in that article. Isn't that cool? I  confess her e-mail made my day. Not because I am still making those little purses--I have redesigned them. Nor because I am still making quilts like prairie dawn--I am trying to explore other concepts. But because my quilts are recognizable.

Among all the quiltmakers out there, she knows it is mine. Isn't that great? Isn't that what having a style is all about? Taking a concept and exploring it--seeing where it leads. Not because you can't do other styles--make other pieces--but because there is something very powerful in paying such close attention to detail and pushing the envelope. Schafer-Sacks now have the most wonderful iris in cinnamon and whiskey, a warm rose plum. My wish list is growing. I must find out if their garden is ever open to the public. I really should join my local iris society--maybe they offer tours.

And you--do you work on a consistent style? Do you keep pushing the envelope? Do you even think that is important? And what is your favorite iris?


  1. We're artists BECAUSE we look at the details, at the colors around us and ... celebrate their uniqueness! Love these iris shots!

  2. Thanks Kari. I agree. Artists look at the details and the uniqueness. I love my iris--just wish they were not so fleeting.