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I’ve Been Clubbed

by Roberta McReynolds

I had a weak moment when I agreed to attend a garden club meeting in another city. A good friend lives there and had been asking me to be her guest for so long I had finally run out of excuses. I didn’t picture myself as a gardener nor did I have any real interest in joining a group of strangers to listen to a presentation on a subject I was certain would be a waste of my time. Friendship, however, can be a compelling factor.

There I sat, a guest at my first garden club meeting. I yawned through the business portion and thought it was worse than I had imagined. The city where I reside doesn’t have a garden club, so I would have to find another way to get even. I’m sure my friend knew this day would carry a price, but what I didn’t realize was which of us would end up paying the most!

The speaker, the owner of a local iris farm, was finally introduced. Without realizing it, I found myself stirring from my boredom. I had never thought about the fact that irises are grown in farms for retail to gardeners. The woman set up a projector and we watched a slide show of these unbelievable blooms. I couldn’t believe all the color combinations and shapes. I "oohed" and "aahed" right along with the rest of the club members. By the end of the program we learned we would all receive a free iris rhizome next month. Oh, yes, and a catalog (of course).

It was obvious that to receive my free iris, I needed to return to next month’s meeting. Filled with curiosity about what color my iris would be, I couldn’t resist the bait. Besides, the members had been quite friendly and not at all as I expected. I jotted the next meeting date on my calendar and looked forward to returning.

I mentioned having a weak moment. Actually, there were two. My original caving in and attending the first meeting led to actually paying my dues and joining the club at my second meeting. My friend looked smug, but I ignored it and pretended I was doing it only for the sake of our friendship. It would give us a reason to get together for lunch once a month and then go to the meeting afterward, since I was already in town.

The second weak moment was when I received the catalog with my free iris: I opened it. The descriptions and names were exotic and most the prices very affordable. I won’t admit how many I marked initially, but I did manage to settle on 15 to keep my "free" one company.

There was a section in the catalog selling irises introduced more than 30 years ago and considered historic. I realized that the only iris I owned fell in that category. I soon found myself on a quest to identify the iris from my parent’s home, which had been planted there in 1950. I contacted the American Iris Society, conveniently listed in the catalog, in search of assistance. I sent a letter with a color photograph of my two-toned purple iris with a check for . . . you guessed it . . . membership. (Did I say three weak moments?)

I received a lot of information about caring for my new plants and a lead that the Historic Iris Preservation Society might be able to identify my plant. After contacting that group, they wrote back and said they had forwarded my letter and photograph to their identification expert and enclosed an application to join their club. There is no such thing as a free lunch and they were, after all, providing a service.

My historic iris was identified as Alcazar, a tall bearded iris introduced in 1910 by the firm Vilmorin-Andrieux et Cie located in Paris. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the prompt response and information. It was intriguing to learn that plants have genealogy and there are people who are diligently working to preserve and identify the great-great-grandparents of the irises being introduced today.

Years have passed since that first moment when I gave in to my friend’s repeated invitation to be her guest at the garden club. I have since made other friends, added plants to my yard, participated as chairman for various projects, and I’m going to be giving a brief demonstration this spring on the hybridization of irises to my club members. I’ve discovered along the way that my thumb is greener than I thought it was.


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