Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Great Grandmother's Iris

Every spring as long as I can remember the purple and yellow iris would bloom along the wall bordering my parent's house. Their deep pearly hues would bring splendid elegance to the post World War II cape cod home, with its white shingles and deep green shutters.

As a little girl I'd look at the blooms every day. There would be new blooms here and there, and the pedals of their elders would wither and droop in close succession. I grew up alongside this humble, but imperious garden and my love for it deepened over the years into nostalgia. 

My husband and I bought our first home in 1991. One of the first things we did was build garden plots. My father offered me a boatload of iris bulbs, and they are scattered in the front and rear yards. I can hear him as clear as day say, "These must be at least one hundred years old." What he really meant was the bulbs had been coming and going for a century. He too had inherited bulbs out of his parents' garden. They inherited theirs from my great grandmother's garden in Washington DC.

Alice Horan Stepper started the tradition of passing down bulbs by giving some to her daughter Florence after she was married in 1911. She had no idea that all these years later the purple iris would be blooming in her great granddaughter's yard, sixty miles away from where they originally grew. For all we know, Alice might have acquired her bulbs from her mother. 

I think of notable books such as The Secret Garden, A Child's Garden of Verses, or my own novels where I do not neglect to include nature --- forest, fields, moor, mountain, garden, and hedgerow. In writing fiction, do not fail to include the surroundings of your characters. They live 'inside' a house. But there is the 'outside'.

Remember in Sense and Sensibility when Marianne hurt her ankle? Willoughby brought her a fist-full of wildflowers. Colonel Brandon brought her a bouquet of hot house blooms. That scene alone told us so much about all three characters and intensified the romantic in Marianne, but also intensified the rivalry and dislike between Willoughby and Brandon. If Jane had simply written that they stopped by to visit, without any flowers, it would have made the scene dry.

So by all means, pass some perennials down to your children.  .  .and don't forget your readers.


Jan Cline said...

Oh my gosh, I just watched that movie again the other day. It's no surprise that her writing makes such good movies. Her characters are so rich and the stories uncomplicated and familiar.
Blessings Rita.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

Oh, I love the tradition your family started. I wish I had some of my grandma's roses.

I've included flowers in both my first and second manuscript. I must remember to incorporate touches of nature in my WIP. :)