Iris Garden

I love this time of year. We visited our friends on Sunday and came home with an armful of irises from their garden. They are just gorgeous! Brightened up our living room completely. So, today, I decided to write about irises. 🙂

Abandoned Orchard

My own photo – Abandoned Orchard

The scent of this particular iris from my friends was subtle. You need to get very close to the flower to smell its sweet, slightly powdery and somewhat honey like scent. Unfortunately these lovely flowers don’t last long. Within a day, the open flowers would decay and they turn into blobs of violet-coloured rubbery goo…

Quite a few people believe that iris flowers have almost no smell. That’s not true! Some do, some don’t but, did you know, if you care to look through the garden catalogs, you’ll find a category of ‘Fragrant Iris’. The odor characteristics of the iris flowers are wide; from musky to spicy, peachy to violety. I personally smelt only handful different kinds but definitely there were ones with make-you-feel-dizzy type strong scent and even one with chocolaty scent.

In perfumery, rhizomes (or called ‘root’) of Sweet Iris (Iris pallida), German Iris (I. germanica), Florentine Iris (I. florentina) and Cemetery Iris (I. albicans) are harvested and used as orris root and it is one of the most expensive ingredients due to the fact that the yield is very low and the preparation is time and labour-consuming. There are synthetic orris available which are replication of the materials known as orris butter, orris concrete or orris absolute. Orris was once a common ingredient in face powder, which might be one of the reasons that the smell of orris is often described as ‘make up’ smell. I have to say, orris root smells totally different to the smell of the flower and it smells a bit like earthy carrots.


My own photo – Iris

Iris flowers do not yield an essential oil, so the “Iris” fragrances in the market are usually created with its rhizomes (orris root). Sometimes they are perfumer’s creative reconstructions of the scent of the flowers or an image of the flowers using other natural or synthetic essences.

There are soooo many iris fragrances in the market and there’s no way I can cover all of them but I’d like to name a few notable ones here;
Hiris by Hermes — The first minutes are wonderful then it becomes very subtle. Powdery. Easy to wear.
Infusion d’Iris Eau de Parfum Absolue by Prada – Bittersweet and somewhat smoky. I love it!
Bois d’Iris by Van Cleef & Arpels – Dry, woody, sweet and dusky.
Iris Bleu Gris by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier – It’s supposed to be a masculine scent but I would say unisex. Lush powdery. A bit too green for my liking.
Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens – Pretty strong opening but love the drydown.

The Songs of Bilitis Cover

The Book Cover of The Songs of Bilitis

From their earliest years, irises were used as a medicine and, in some parts of the world, an ingredient for love potions. Love – iris association isn’t so common but there was a poet who loved to link irises to sensual love; Pierre Louÿs. In his well praised collection of poems of pagan sensuality and love of beauty, The Songs of Bilitis (Les Chansons de Bilitis), irises emerges among the tenderly erotic scenes. He also mentions irises in his other literary works and, like in The Songs of Bilitis, a hint of sensuality and femininity are entwined with the flower.

I personally don’t associate irises with sexuality; to me it’s more like nobleness, honourableness or spirituality.

What about you?


Excerpts from The Songs of Bilitis;


I bathed alone in the stream in the wood.
I must have frightened the poor naïads,
for I could scarcely see them far away in the dark water.

I called to them.
To mimic them I plaited iris blossoms,
black as my hair,
about my neck,
twined with knots of yellow gilly-flowers.

With a long floating weed,
I made myself a green girdle,
and to see it I pressed my breasts and inclined my head a little.

And I called:
“Naïads! naïads! play with me, be nice.”
But the naïads are transparent,
and perhaps I even caressed their lissom arms, unknowing!



Where were you?

At the florist’s. I bought some lovely irises. Behold them, I have brought them just for you.

And you took all that time to buy four flowers?

The merchant kept me waiting.

Your cheeks are pale, and your eyes are shining.

The weariness of walking such away.

Your hair is wet and tangled.

The heat is great, the wind has tossed my hair.

Your girdle was untied. I made the knot myself, and not as hard as that.

So loose it opened; a passing slave tied it up for me.

There is a spot on your dress.

The flowers dripped.

Mnasidika, my little soul, your irises are far more beautiful than can be bought in all of Mytilene.

How well I know it, oh, how well I know!


The Songs of Bolitis

The Songs of Bilitis – Image borrowed from Sacred Text Archive


At night, they left us on a high white terrace, fainting among the roses. Warm perspiration flowed like heavy tears from our armpits, running on our breasts. An over-whelming pleasure-lust flushed our thrown-back heads.

Four captive doves, bathed in four different perfumes, fluttered silently above our heads. Drops of scent fell from their wings upon the naked women. I was streaming with the odor of the iris.

Oh, weariness! I laid my cheek upon a young girl’s belly, who cooled her body with my humid hair. My open mouth was drunken with her saffron-scented skin. She slowly closed her thighs about my neck.

I dreamed, but an exhausting dream awakened me: the iynx, bird of night-desires, sang madly from afar. I coughed and shivered. An arm, as languid as a flower, rose in the air, stretching towards the moon.