Updated: Mar 26, 2021
When I was in grade school, in the early 1960s, I walked the four blocks from my house to school each day. The back yard of one house on my path was lined with old-fashioned lilacs along the sidewalk. I could hardly wait for those lilacs to bloom each year.
On my way to school I would pick one cluster of lilacs blossoms and inhale that beautiful fragrance all the way to school. That was the beginning of my love affair with fragrant flowers.
More than forty years ago I had an exquisite hybrid tea rose called Tiffany. It was pink with a yellow blush and it had the most amazing fragrance. It was a 1955 AARS winner and is now considered an heirloom variety.
Hmmm… I was born in 1955. Does that make me an “heirloom”?
Around thirty-five years ago I had a gorgeous, sky-blue iris that, again, had an amazing fragrance, kind of cinnamon-spice. I lost track of the name, but after inquiring on the iris forum at Garden.org, I think it might be Sugar Blues. I’m going to order one next year and find out.
As you can tell, I love fragrant flowers. But, have you noticed it seems fragrance has become a rare, almost non-existent trait in newer flower varieties? Even the newer lilacs I’ve ordered just don’t have that fragrance.
A few years ago I began collecting irises. Remembering how incredible my sky-blue iris had been, I ordered “fragrant iris” collections from a few different online retailers. Once those irises began blooming I discovered those retailers had an entirely different interpretation of “fragrant” than me.
When I hold a fragrant flower and inhale, I shouldn’t have to “imagine” the fragrance. The aroma should overwhelm my senses. I should be able to close my eyes and be transported to that ultimate state of nirvana, at least momentarily.
Have you ever had that experience where a fragrance takes you back in time, reviving some long-forgotten memory? That’s the power of fragrance.
I am on a mission to bring that gift of fragrance to you! FragrantIris.com is the vehicle I’ll use to deliver that gift.
A Bit of Iris Fragrance History
There are literally thousands upon thousands of varieties of bearded iris, with dozens, if not hundreds of new introductions each year around the world. But only a tiny minority of them are truly fragrant.
One of the oldest, and extremely difficult to find, is called Swerti. It was collected and catalogued in 1612. Only two other irises are known to be older, Florentina and Pallida, both of which date to the 1500s.
Everything I have found about Swerti claims it has the fragrance of ripe grapes and that the fragrance “envelopes you”. I hope to confirm that by Fall 2021, IF one of my potential sources can actually deliver a few rhizomes. (Fingers crossed!)
A Happy (and Fortunate) Accident of Nature
Legend has it that Swerti was the result of a “natural” hybridization. That is, an insect carried pollen from one iris flower to another. The resulting seed “pod” could have contained several viable seeds but only one of those seeds was destined to become Swerti. (Every single seed in an iris seed pod has the potential to produce a truly unique iris. No two will be identical.)
Through random chance that one seed found its way to fertile ground, wasn’t eaten by a rodent, received enough moisture to germinate and grew into the one, single iris plant that produced the fragrant flower that became Swerti.
And There Are More
Iris Pallida is said to have the fragrance of orange blossoms and vanilla. Florentina is supposedly “sweetly fragrant”. I hope to track down specimens of each of those to find out. So far, they’ve been very elusive but I’m not giving up.
I know there are Historic Iris Preservation gardens and groups that strive to keep the older species and varieties alive. With a bit of luck I may be able to obtain at least a single rhizome of each from one of those gardens, eventually.
In the meantime I’ll begin collecting the registered iris varieties that are listed as having “pronounced fragrance”.
Care To Join Me?
If you’re as big a fan of fragrance in flowers as I am, I’ll spare you the disappointment I experienced when ordering irises I expected to be fragrant. If you’d like to follow this blog, during the blooming season I’ll provide you regular updates with photos and detailed descriptions of the most fragrant irises I can find.
And, in the near future, when it’s time to divide those clumps, I’ll make the most fragrant ones available to you!