Irises and I always have had a love-hate relationship.
I love them each spring when their flowers are blooming and their fronds are strong and upright, but I hate them when the flowers wilt and the fronds turn brown and limp.
This all happens within five minutes.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm shallow for turning against the very plants that give me pleasure just because they're past their prime. You're thinking, "What if people dumped you the moment you show signs of withering?"
Actually, most days what's in the compost would compare favorably to me, but the point is, I'm not being mean to these plants. I'm just tidying up by removing the brown fronds. And the half-brown fronds. And the brown-only-at-the-tip fronds, and sometimes the frond next to them by accident. Or maybe not by accident.
I'm nicer early in the summer. I know the other irises get nutrients from aging fronds, and I wait patiently for each spear to turn the color of toast, not a vitamin left to share, before I pluck it. Two months later, I remind myself of someone handed a fly swatter after being dive-bombed by a fly all afternoon. Fronds lolling on the walk like poolside sunbathers? Whap. Fronds yellow with fawn-like spots? Whap. Those that just plain annoy me? Whap-whap-whap.
In other words, by September, my love is as tough as overripe sweet corn. To everything there is a season, and an iris on Halloween is like a snowman on the beach.
But say you do coddle your iris into unnatural old age. What do you get for your efforts? You get iris fronds poking through a 10-inch snowfall. If things are going to poke through a snowfall, they ought to be conifers. Or better yet, a snow shovel. Not spring flowers. Spring flowers plus autumn equals dissonance.
Lest you think I slaughter irises for fun, I assure you they bounce back every year, as feisty and indomitable as Lisa Simpson. I might inadvertently be doing something right. I doubt it, though. If these plants thrive, it's to spite me.
I also enjoy culling limp brown blades from the day-lily plants in our yard. I can pull clumps of spent leaves from the plant in one huge handful, allowing the plant room to breathe and giving me the kind of satisfaction children get from peeling knee scabs. Without lilies and irises, I'd have only picking up sticks in the yard to provide that peculiar gratification, which I don't get, by the way, from pulling dandelions and raking leaves.
Years ago, a thunderstorm blew through minutes before my younger daughter and now son-in-law were to be married on the lawn south of our house. The storm was followed by a beautiful early summer evening and the ceremony proceeded as planned in a yard now littered with limbs and leaves.
I knew I needed to ignore those limbs. A member of the wedding party doesn't look her best clomping around collecting wet branches in her mother-of-the-bride finery. I resisted the temptation until conversation with guests took me too close to a scattering of walnut-tree detritus, at which point I started reaching for the nearest branches the way flowers turn to the sun. Fortunately, the guests took it upon themselves to save me from my own compulsions.
"Leave those alone," they said. Or maybe it was "Stop that!" Hand slapping might have occurred. And I did stop, by the skin of my teeth.
I only wish I had the same urge to accomplish meaningful work. Were I as drawn to serious scholarship as I am to ridding my 2 acres of dried iris fronds, I might have gotten somewhere in this life. As it is, when the subject of my accomplishments arises, I point to the compost off in the yard.
"You see all that brown stuff?" I say. "That brown stuff represents hours of focused frond-culling."
Then I'll turn around and go back to the house, unless a trail of creeping Charlie distracts me and I spend the next two hours making the world, if not a better place, then at least a place no longer infested with ground ivy.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.