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Iris Blooms in Florence

Ann J. Reavis

Iris Festival sign, photo by Ann Reavis, 2005

May is the month when wisteria decorates the palazzo walls, villa gardens burst forth in bloom and Tuscan wild flowers are at their peak. May 2 to 20 is when the 49th International Iris Competition takes place at the "Podere dei Bastioni" garden on the eastern side of Piazzale Michelangelo and Florence becomes once again the world capital of the iris.

Iris Festival, photo by Ann Reavis, 2005

This year the competition will display over 300 iris varieties created by over 150 competitors. The International Iris Competition, started in 1954, will award prizes on May 15 in a special ceremony in the Palazzo Vecchio. Each year the competition attracts professional and amateur flower breeders from all over the world. New colors and uniquely shaped irises are introduced at the yearly meeting and displayed in the massive garden.

The Podere dei Bastioni garden, open to the public at no charge, is the perfect place to wander on a sunny afternoon, taking in the mass of color of thousands of flowers in hundreds of terraced beds descending the east slope of Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the Renaissance city center spread out below.

Iris Festival, photo by Ann Reavis, 2005

The iris, or Florentine Lily, has been the symbol of Florence for over 750 years. The Tuscan word for iris, giaggiolo, is derived from the Latin word for sword. The white wild iris "alba fiorentina" of the Arno river valley first appeared on a field of red on the flags of Florence around 1250. The Guelphs inverted the colors in 1266 when they defeated the Ghibellines and took control of Florence. From then until today the red iris on a field of white has flown on banners throughout Florence. Even the money of Renaissance Florence, the Florin, displayed the iris on one side.

At the awards ceremony on May 15 the city council will grant the "City of Florence Award" to the iris that has the red color closest to the crimson on the city flag. An international judging panel will present the "Gold Florin Award" to the iris variety selected as best of the show.

© Ann J. Reavis, 2005

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