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When Iris Eyes Are Smiling

Vienna garden highlights 350 iris hybrids.

In front of a house sitting on a shady road off Vale Road are chairs facing the roadway. Not just any chairs but colorful wood high-backed chairs with holes in the seat. In these holes are planters and in the planters are flowers and greenery. That’s the first sign that this is no ordinary home and an even less than ordinary yard.

Out in the back are the makings of a botanical park. Rows of irises, in every hue and color combination created by nature and man, are the centerpiece of the one-half acre lot belonging to Linda and Brian Roberts.

"I do all this work for the enjoyment of the flowers," said Linda Roberts. "I realize it is a short blooming season, but it is worth [it] for the month that they bloom, to be able to enjoy them and share them with people."

Linda Roberts bought her first iris plant from a woman in Reston more than 20 years ago. She started out with a basic blue. From that first basic blue, the garden has grown to highlight irises that are peach, beige and brown, black ([called ‘Drama Queen’) and every pastel, every primary color, every secondary color in between. Roberts keeps a log of her iris plants, when they were planted and details of the flowers’ character. Color photos identify the bloom.

One does not plant an iris bulb. One plants an iris rhizome. Iris plants "walk," that is, the shoots spread out. There is a "mother" shoot that spreads new shoots. It’s called the mother shoot because it produces "children," explained Roberts.

Each shoot blooms but once in its lifetime. Unlike bulbs in the Northern Virginia climate, iris rhizomes do not ordinarily need to be dug up and protected during the winter months.

Every year, when the iris garden is at its peak of bloom, the Roberts throw a garden party for neighbors. Every family brings something to snack on and the Roberts make sure there are plenty of refreshments. The Roberts have hosted the garden party for about 12 years now, and 20 to 30 friends usually show up, children included.

In the gardens surrounding the home the Roberts have lived in for more than 20 years, are not only iris gardens but spectacular peonies and plantings of common flower varieties. Linda Roberts and her husband cultivate a vegetable garden, too. In it are tomato, pepper and eggplant plants. What enhances a yard that pays homage to nature more than a screened gazebo? The Roberts have that, too. The 12 by 18 foot gazebo was built by Linda’s husband, Brian, from recycled materials — barnwood, table legs, banisters and railings among the found treasures.

There’s a pottery shed, too.

When Linda Roberts is not gardening or working at a full-time job, she quilts. The house, she admits, is geared toward gardening, though.

There is a local chapter of an iris society in Northern Virginia and plenty of information on the internet, Linda Roberts said. She recommends looking up Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Oregon for information on irises.

"What do I get out of my garden? The beauty of the flowers, and the ability to share them with other people," said Roberts.