'Exquisite' is a word I associate with the likes of Meissen porcelain, Fabergé eggs, eighteenth century paper silhouettes, Wedgwood cameos, Thomas Bewick woodcuts, petit point purses, and the details in the paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In other words, pretty unattainable stuff that reveals an attention to detail that I find hard to believe is humanly possible. Despite all this, at the moment I have something truly exquisite in the house.
I've grown the tiny reticulata iris in the garden for years. The sad fact is, though, that they are so small and flower at such a bitterly cold time of year (Jan/Feb) that I barely get to see them properly as they require me to crouch down in a cold wind and stay there while I admire them. But last autumn I remembered that I'd read in a column by the late Elspeth Thompson that it was possible to grow these iris indoors. So in November I filled a couple of pots with iris reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin', one of my favourite iris which I'd previously only ever seen outside. (This particular iris is not cheap; another reason for planting just a few where I could appreciate them). Then I left them in the garage and forgot about them until last week when I saw that they were growing nicely but were very pale and in dire need of sunlight. So I brought them inside and, a few days later, this is what I have:
Two bowls of exquisite iris, small and and beautifully formed, with delicate markings and a most unusual mix of saffron yellow, violet shadows and indigo spots on a greenish-blue background. It's the kind of flower that requires a Collins or a Millais to do it justice. But if I can't paint them, at least I can enjoy them in a place where I can get as close as I like for as long as I like, and all the while staying warm.
[Iris bulbs from here.]