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The Iris King

May 2, 2011

Spring in our garden has been spectacular! The irises have put on an outstanding show. Dwarf irises are among the first flowers to bloom. These small sturdy plants are cousins to the wild blue iris found in found in pine forests throughout the Southeast. Dwarf irises display their array of colors as the opening act to their taller family members.

On either side of our garden gate is a welcoming committee of pure white intermediate iris. They make delightful companions to dancing yellow daffodils. They conclude their blooming just as the tall bearded irises come into flower. From late April into May these stately debutantes make their début.

In our garden many of the tall irises are pass-along plants from the gardens of mothers and grandmothers on both sides of our family. Our son and daughter-in-law shared solid purple, gold, and pink bloomers from their first home. Some were given by a grieving husband. He wanted his wife’s irises to have a good home.

In mid-April I was pleasantly surprised by a stunning sight. A bed of reblooming irises planted last fall was in full display. They have names like Immortality and Resurrection. They came from my friend and pastoral colleague, Everette Lineburger.

Everette is known among his fellow Master Gardeners as the Iris King. Early in his ministry, when he was called as Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, the parsonage had a cottage garden planted by the previous pastor. Everette learned about the flowers he had inherited.

In 1955, he bought nine iris plants. Since that time he estimates that he has nurtured more than 1500 varieties. His irises have won awards from Charleston to Spartanburg. He has developed, named, and introduced thirteen new varieties. One is named for his wife, Ann; another, Deb’s Sunshine, is named for their daughter.  He became such an authority on the lovely flowers that he served seven years on the Board of the American Iris Society.

When Everette retired from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Spartanburg,  he started his backyard iris business at Quail Hill Gardens in Inman. At one time he had 750 varieties.

The colorful flowers were named from the goddess of the rainbow, Iris. The Greeks believed that Iris took messages from heaven to earth via the arc of the rainbow. Greek men planted an iris on the graves of their wives to insure that the soul would arrive in the Elysian Fields.

The iris is the national flower of France. Legend holds that upon his conversion to Christianity Clovis, king of the Franks, was presented a golden iris by an angel.  Joan of Arc carried a white flag bearing the fleur-de-lis, a stylized iris, when she led French troops to victory over the English.

The fleur-de-lis was used by the monarchs of France as a royal decoration. King Louis VI became the first French monarch to use the emblem on his shield.

Everette Lineberger is not French royalty. He is the Iris King!

 Kirk H. Neely
© May 2011

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