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"Young man! Why are you picking my Irises?!!" He was in First Grade, the teacher said to bring flowers to class, and his yard didn't have any. But the neighbor lady had some big blue ones! Read all about it below.
His name is Jack Scheper, and today he’s the creator of Floridata.com, one of the largest and most important gardening sites on the web. Floridata was a pioneer internet site, going live over 13 years ago, and since Jack is such a talented garden writer and photographer, it now has over 800 highly-respected plant profiles and over 4000 photographs. Most importantly, 10,000 to 12,000 gardeners visit Floridata every day.
Jack tells us he first grew irises at age 6, but began growing them again about three years ago, with plants from American Meadows. They did so well for him, he was kind enough to write us about it, and send some of his outstanding photos to share with our members. We’re honored Jack chose our irises for his new garden.
But you’ll love the story. It’s one of the best we’ve ever received, about how interest in gardening begins in childhood and gives a gardener a lifetime of pleasure. Jack’s Iris story begins in First Grade.
As he says today, even with decades of gardening experience, “If you're looking for spectacular orchid-like flowers in a range of colors, on easy to grow plants that smell terrific, then the incredible iris is for you!”
Notes: “Flag” and “Blue Flag” are common names for iris in many parts of the country. Jack grew up and went to Catholic Schools in Kentucky. Today, he enjoys acres of gardens he’s created on his land in Tallahassee, Florida.
Dear American Meadows: The year was 1956. It was May, a month that is devoted to the Blessed Virgin and my teacher, Sister Mary Peter, asked that we First Graders bring flowers to place at Mary’s shrine in the church garden.
We didn’t have any flowers in our yard and since I wasn’t sure if bringing flowers was required or optional, on the way to school I helped myself to some big blue beauties from a neighbor’s yard. Halfway through assembling my bouquet I was startled by a shriek “Stop picking my blue flags!”. I looked up to see a large woman bearing down on me, dropped the flowers and burst into tears. Through the sobs I explained that (without taking a breath) “Sister said we should bring flowers for the Blessed Virgin because it’s May and we don’t have any in my yard so I just wanted some to give her and thought it would be ok and…”
That earned me a “Bless your little heart.” from the lady, and she then helped me pick a few more including the only “white blue flag” in the garden because she told me “Blue and white are the Blessed Virgin’s colors.” Then she said that if I’d stop by on the way home from school, she’d give me some plants to grow in my yard. Since I had grown a crop of lettuce and radishes the year before, I was excited to start a flower garden.
My big blue and white bouquet was a hit with Sister Peter (and so I assumed with the Blessed Virgin as well). It was definitely the biggest bouquet in the class, and it smelled really good too. The class sang Mary hymns (“Immaculate Mary! Our hearts are ooooonnnn fire…”) as each kid walked up and placed their flowers before the shrine. My bunch was so big and cool that I lent a couple of my buddies flowers so they could place something on the shrine too.
By the end of the day, I was stoked on blue flags and ran to the neighbor’s to collect my plants. The lady wasn’t home but there was a big brown grocery bag of iris plants on the porch. I ran home and planted them along the driveway. That was the beginning of my flower gardening career. The plants looked pretty sick for most of the summer but the following spring, and the springs that followed, I had a good crop of irises.
In fact, the next year, I grew irises that were judged good enough to take to the cemetery to put on my grandparent’s graves (This was a huge big deal because we always got to go to Dairy Queen afterward!). Whenever I catch a whiff of “blue flags”, which I eventually learned were also called Bearded Iris, I’m taken back to rides to the cemetery in a warm car filled with their sweet fragrance. Even though I tried, I never did acquire one of those white irises because the lady moved and the new people tore out the garden for a new driveway.
Years later, after college when I began gardening again, I was focused on more exotic species, and by the time I moved to Florida I couldn't have cared less about "common" flowers like the irises, marigolds and zinnias of my youth. But 50 years later, while walking through downtown Tallahassee one warm late January afternoon I discovered a big clump of white iris - in bloom! Their scent hit my nose and triggered a flashback to Sister Peter, the Blessed Virgin's shrine and the nice lady who started my flower gardening interest. (No, I didn't pick them even though I kind of felt like it.) A short while later I encountered them again - this time on the American Meadows website. Not long after that a box showed up at my door and now fifty years after my first "blue flag" I now have a new rainbow of "flags" in my garden. I have pinks and yellows and two-tone blues to name a few--and of course white! My whites are the world-famous “ ”—a real beauty. (Photo above, right.)
While North Florida probably isn’t this species’ favorite place to grow (more heat and humidity than they probably like) they do OK. Some of my American Meadows bearded iris are in their third season and blooming. They do seem to sometimes get confused when (and if) to bloom. Depending on variety, most have bloomed in April or May but one of the yellows — a particularly robust grower here, produced a few blooms for me in November!
This spring (2009), the plants looked fine, but I had no bloom. I suspect that a hard freeze in March (with a record low temperature of 14F) may have killed the flower buds so that was disappointing. The good news is that the plants are healthy and thriving. They require essentially no maintenance and are not bothered by pests or disease. After all the plants I’ve grown, I've fallen in love with the iris all over again! Even though they disappointed me this spring, I will be surprised if I don’t see a few of them this fall - or maybe in January. Next spring for sure!
If you're looking for spectacular orchid-like flowers in a range of colors, on easy to grow plants that smell terrific, then the incredible iris is for you! They are also easy to propagate so you can share them with your friends, and any nerdy little kids who try to swipe them. You just might inspire a lifelong interest in gardening!
.....Jack Scheper, Tallahassee, FLOwner/Publisher, Floridata.com