Iris was the Greek goddess of the rainbow, traveling its arc to carry messages from the ancient gods to mankind. Pure poetry in motion, and a fitting namesake for a colorful, statuesque, sometimes fragrant flower that for centuries was the emblem of the French monarchy.

Like many iris-growers, Ron Thoman loves the tall bearded ones. "They're larger and make a big splash and have a very extroverted personality," he says.

They grow from a fleshy, bulblike stem called a rhizome that spreads horizontally just below the soil surface. You'll need to plant them high and dry with plenty of breathing room. After about four years, or when the blooms start diminishing, they'll need to be divided.

As much as they go for the "beards," devoted irisarians encourage gardeners to consider other varieties, too. Siberians are an excellent landscape plant, and dwarf irises spread rapidly, forming a mat to squeeze out weeds. The dwarfs also don't need to be divided.

"Get six, and in one year, you'll have a beautiful bed of iris to drool over," says Carol Ann Moyer.

Whatever your choice, remember that irises, sometimes called "flags," are fairly easy to grow. They can last forever, and there's a big payoff. With their regal blossoms and sword-shaped foliage, they can easily be the focal point of your garden.

And once you're hooked, you can literally spread the word by dividing and sharing your rhizomes. That's why the iris' other nickname is "the friendship flower."

Several iris-centered events are coming up:

On Sunday, Delaware Valley College, 700 E. Butler Ave., Doylestown, dedicates the Carol Ann Moyer Iris Garden at 3:30 p.m., capping an iris program that begins at 1.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the college, Moyer gives a garden tour followed by a talk on "The New Iris."

On May 26, the Delaware Valley Iris Society sponsors an iris show from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tyler Arboretum, 515 Painter Rd., Media.

On July 21, the iris society holds a sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Jenkins Arboretum, 631 Berwyn-Baptist Rd., Devon.


- Virginia A. Smith