Reflections of an Iris Farmer

The wait starts in February. I wonder if they are covered with enough of something to keep them from experiencing the death of winter and the damage of frost. “They” are the bulbs that will give way to some of the most beautiful flowers in God’s creation known as Bearded Irises. This year is just a little different for this Iris farmer because I went throughout our yard and dug up every bulb I could find because our Bermuda grass had overtaken the bulbs that give way to the exquisite blooms.

The Bermuda grass had made a mess out of the bulbs, intertwining with the roots and in some cases squeezing the very life out of the “Jaba the Hut” looking seeds. That’s what Bermuda grass does though, it invades everything and if a person has a back good enough, they will have to bend over and pull it up by the roots only to have it regain its lost advances in the given territory with more stringy runners of growth. The fact that I have a bad back is chief amongst my lawn gardener problems because I cannot bend over and pull up the runners of the Bermuda grass or for that matter in this case, protect the Iris bulbs.

My love for Irises began a number of years ago when I first saw them at “Grannie’s” house, the home of wife’s grandmother in Southwest Virginia. What, with me being an artist, I was enamoured with the frilly blooms that sat atop the long stems coming from the bulbs. They were just magical! But my foot print into the Iris growing world was not established until years later when we bought our current home. It just so happened that, like the Bermuda Grass that engulfed our flower beds, covering every living plant in our beds, so to now was the disease in my back, advancing its runners throughout my body. No matter how much the doctors pulled, which now is at 25 attempts, they have been unable to pull those damned runners up by the roots and low and behold, every so often, the nasty weed pops its ugly head up through the fertile soil and soul that is called Kerry Smith.

Realizing that I am not going to be bending over and pulling Bermuda grass, and knowing what the battle every day, I knew that if I was going to be a successful Iris breeder and farmer, I would need to change my planting method. Therefore, I dug up every iris bulb in our yard and developed a plan. I went to the local hardware store, purchased plastic cement mixing trays and planting mix, pulled out some old saw horses, sat 8 foot long boards on them and created a raised Iris bed. What they say about necessity is the mother of invention is exactly right in my case. So, I poured the dirt into the trays, gathered my bulbs, and planted them, and like a brooding hen, I have fussed over each egg, er uh, bulb.

I have thought for some time about why I am hooked on Irises. Critics will argue that they come and go just as quickly as they have burst forth with superb beauty. They just don’t last long enough is what those who have them suggest. But for me, that is not the issue. For me it is much, much deeper. I mentioned earlier the comparison of Bermuda Grass to my own struggle with Chronic Pain. But I wish to further explore the comparison of the growth of these flowers from the blob of matter known as a bulb and my own journey and battle with never ending pain.

If there is anything that represents our desire for newness, a new body, a new life, it is found in the yearly rebirth of our world known as Spring. If I am totally honest with myself and everyone who looks at me, as a follower of God, I would like to be set free from my body of pain. If it were not for the purpose I find in being present with my family and my love for the artistry I do, I would certainly find a way to expedite that process as many have already done who suffer with pain. If you have not understood yet, the disease of chronic pain and the disease I have been recently diagnosed with known as Adhesive Arachnoiditis, are diseases that cause unwilling participants to lose all hope, all sense of purpose, and creates immense depression. Scientists have understood for some time that in order to replicate depression in lab rats, you simply attach an electric cord to their tails and shock them indiscriminately for days on in. That is exactly what happens to we who suffer with pain. This pain is attached to us and we get shocked night and day indiscriminately.

This is why, just as from that ugly little blob known as an iris bulb comes unbelievable beauty, the ugliness of our pain suffering lives wants and needs to find beauty beyond belief. This is why I love Irises! Planted and given the right amount of love, they will bring forth beauty from the cold and death of winter and it is no less so in our lives. My belief in God tells me that resurrection happens in the midst of ugly death. The iris farmer in me knows and sees that in that ugly little bulb, extreme beauty will come forth after a cold, harsh winter. My belief in God tells me that resurrection and a new body happens after the winter of our own lives, whatever that winter may look like. This is the good news of Easter isn’t it? This is the good news of we who suffer and believe in God that one day we will get a new body that does not suffer. The Irises that I love and care for remind me that no matter the ugliness I experience, beauty comes forth.

Above are some of my Irises in the planters I created and yes, thanks to Nanna, I have some of Grannie’s Irises in there too! May we all who suffer find ways to experience the beauty of this Spring and may it remind us that our current suffering is not the end to our painful existence!



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