Irises in the Desert?


The Jim Thompson trail in Sedona, Arizona is a four-mile round trip hike offering up breathtaking views from vantage points of 4800 feet.  Oak Creek’s first settler, Jim Thompson, built the road in order to bring produce from his Oak Creek farm to the residents of Sedona. Eventually he made a homestead in Sedona and used the road to connect his two properties. Now a great hike along a formation called Steamboat Rock, it weaves through juniper and other pines, deciduous trees, and plenty of agave, prickly pear and hedgehog cacti.

We took it on during the middle of our stay, once our hiking muscles had acquired a bit more oomph, and our lungs had adjusted to the altitude.  About halfway through the walk we rounded a bend and came upon a huge swath of purple bearded irises blooming in a cleft of rock.  Irises!  Gorgeous and vibrant as if they were just waiting for Van Gogh to set up his easel and start smearing his palette with ropes of violet, cobalt, orange, goldenrod, and green.

Surprisingly there are irises all over town. Of course with water and a fairly hardy plant, you can grow most anything anywhere. We learned that the original pioneer women brought irises with them. What longing they must have felt as they set out, tucking a few precious corms of hope and memory as they began their westward trek.

But how did this particular stand of iris arrive, and manage to thrive, in this seemingly inhospitable site? It’s doubtful that a bird swallowed a random iris corm, passing out the remains in mid-air.  Last time I checked, irises had roots but not feet so they couldn’t have arrived under their own power. Perhaps a century plus ago the rivulet of spring rains that sustain the irises today was a steadier flow of water. Maybe Mrs. Thompson dug them into the earth midway between Sedona and Oak Creek, marking the place for respite along the way.

Gardeners often bring along a favorite plant to a new locale, transplanting it along with one’s self.  I have come to admire the hardy little cacti that grow in this most challenging terrain. Considering the effort of simply staying alive, their red and fuchsia blossoms, no bigger than a cotton ball, are all the more glorious. Returning home under mechanized horsepower, I’m as far from a farmwife as you can get. Instead of irises, I have planted a little dish garden of cacti (purchased locally, not poached!) To remind me. And to stoke the hope of returning one day.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “Irises in the Desert?

  1. Judi A.

    Sedona, one of my most favorite places. Truly am filled with jealousy, but lived it a bit through you. 🙂

  2. Elliot

    Just this weekend I said to Elizabeth as we walked, “If my mom was here, she would be able to tell us the names of all these plants and flowers.” Wonderful post, thank you.

  3. Debra Post author

    You are welcome!
    Next time I’m out there, we’ll walk together in the garden and I’ll give the flower names once more, as a poet once entreated.

Comments are closed.