Iris Garden, Florence

May seems to be (but it actually isn’t) the month of the year with the most possibilities for entertainment. Because of the mild temperatures and the strong desire to stay outside, we decided to visit the Iris Garden in Florence. It opens its small gate on the 25th of April and it closes it on the 30th of May. Irises bloom and fade very quickly, for which reason the right day has to be chosen carefully. The rest is luck.

Perfect time management means combining pleasure with utility. Firstly we wanted to enjoy a nice walk and then caress our spirit, heart and soul by visiting the Iris Garden. 

We left the car near Porta Romana. The initial idea was to go to Piazzale Michelangelo and the close garden by walking up the monumental staircase with its about four hundred steps (!). After the visit we would have taken Viale dei Colli to go back to our car.  “Viale dei Colli” means Viale Michelangelo, Viale Galilei and Viale Nicolò Machiavelli which connect Porta Romana to the San Nicolò bridge. The Iris Garden is about half way. 

Unfortunately (or luckily?) the monumental staircase was closed for renovation. Therefore we decided to walk to our destination on the Viale dei Colli in an easy forty-five minutes. The residential area immersed in the green is truly stunning. The amazing glimpses of Florence and Fiesole invite inhabitants, tourists and painters, each of them in their own way, to capture the magic of the place.

Once we arrived at Piazzale Michelangelo with David in plain sight we realized that even five hundred years ago, beauty and a perfect shape have been important. Oh yes. Definitely. Rethinking, climbing the hill on the four hundred step staircase would have done us really good. At least, however, we did not give in to nice and sugary soft drinks or ice cream. Water, we bought plain water.

The entrance of the garden is a little secluded but easy to find. Going down the steps we found ourselves in an unexpected, enchanted world. Everything is intimate and familiar. No horde of tourists who invade the city like locusts nearly all year long. It looks as if the inhabitants created a small happy island which belongs only to them. A safe place where kids play and old friends chat comfortably seated on one of the park benches generously distributed around the whole garden. No prohibition sign, if anything some rare invitation here or there to be careful where to put your feet.

The Iris Garden was born in the distant 1954 but only three years later, in 1957, it has been officially opened. The idea came from Flaminia Specht and Nita Stross Radicati, both passionate breeders. The project for the garden had been entrusted to the architect Prof. Giuliano Zetti. Up to today the godmother, if you like, has been the Società Italiana dell’Iris. 

The blooming irises were wonderful. As far as the eye could see every possible shade except of the truly red iris on the coat of arms of Florence up to now an unattained goal.  Light and delicate flowers gave way to the bright and bold ones, but there were bicoloured varieties, too. Irises everywhere: tall, small, sturdy, fragile, gently scented or without any fragrance. We could have taken pictures for hours and hours without getting tired.

Particularly interesting were the small white signboards strewn here and there. Each of them showed the denomination of the iris and its year of creation along with the breeder’s name and country of origin. The Garden, by the way one of the most famous in the world, is hosting iris cultivars from everywhere. 

Plant hybridization, at first sight, does not look easy but still doable. Exactly like in real life it takes a mother and a father. With the help of tweezers breeders take the anther bearing the pollen, in our case a father, in order to transfer it to a mother. There must not be any morning dew left on her. Then she should not have been in full bloom for more than two days. At that point, however, everything is getting highly specialized. It is obvious that there are worlds between lovers of irises and practitioners. Exactly these worlds make the difference between the people who try their luck and the ones who know exactly what they are doing.

The ones who know exactly what they are doing present the best cultivars at the Concorso Internazionale dell’Iris. The Società dell’Iris, in Florence, in fact, hosts every year a well-attended iris breeders’ competition. An international jury chooses and rewards the most beautiful new breeds. They will then find forever a place inside the garden marked with one of the small, white signboards mentioned before. 

We wanted and had to make room for other visitors because only a limited number of people  is admitted at a time. Once back at Piazzale Michelangelo we decided to walk down towards Porta San Niccolò and Piazza Poggi, by the way in less than ten minutes. From there, first along the river Arno, then on the left towards Palazzo Pitti we finally came back to Porta Romana and our car.

Beautiful, very very beautiful, indeed. Absolutely not to be missed next year. 

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