The price couldn’t be beat. I plunked down $2.50 for an unlabeled long-leafed bulb plant of some kind at a Houston Garden Center. I took it home, put it in a pot, and plunked my new acquisition down on my new deck to see what it would do. What it did was stay green.
And that was all.
Green is well enough, so I let my mystery plant be. Occasionally I watered it. A visiting friend from Louisiana, however, informed me that my long-leafed acquisition was a Louisiana iris, a flower that likes to grow in swamps. It would not bloom until the springtime, she added. It was then June.
What was the chance of a no-account gardener like me keeping a swamp iris alive until the spring rolled in? On no account was I optimistic, but I fertilized it and poured in enough water to create, I supposed, a mini-swamp in which it might feel at home. I just kept watering. I also kept doubting, especially after winter brought a series of frosty nights that stunned Houstonians. I brought the pot of sharp green leaves indoors on several occasions, but thought the green was looking grim all the same. Springtime was slow in coming this year (by Houston standards), but at last the thermometer inched upward. The air became balmy and the deck took on a yellow-green cast from the thin coating of pollen over everything. I kept watering.
The iris is a lovely flower freighted with a tragic symbolism. The ethereal, fragrant violet-blue blossom represents the Virgin Mary but the sharp leaves suggest the sword that pierced her heart when she saw her Son crucified. For this reason the iris is often called the “sword lily.” Besides, the flower is often a deep purple, the color of the penitential season of Lent. The iris is, in short, a perfect flower for Lent.
I, however, have been having a highly imperfect Lent this year. (For that matter, all my Lents are highly imperfect.) A Louisiana iris that sank into its swamp or drooped onto the deck would be a fitting symbol of my personal Lent. Still, I kept watering.
This past Friday, the most penitential weekday of this penitential season, was a warm, sun-drenched day. Drinking in the late afternoon on my deck, I was surprised to find that two buds had appeared out of nowhere on my Louisiana swamp iris. They were not purple after all. Instead, two slivers of bright yellow peeped at me from among the long green leaves. I snapped some pictures, wondering if the slivers would bloom and when.
On Saturday both buds burst into brilliant, sunlight-golden bloom. They glowed all the brighter as the weather turned gloomy, and on the dull and chilly Sunday that followed they shouted about summer and sun and Resurrection. They were contrarian sword lilies, cutting through the chill, slashing the grey into slivers, arguing with Lent rather than keeping it. They insisted that Easter was already here. I believe! Help my unbelief.
I believe I’ll keep watering.