Iris reticulata

…the best way to know a flower is to paint it. Wandering round our gardens, admiring the borders, we do not scrutinize our flowers in close-up. We think we know them, we could immediately describe their height and colours. But if asked how many petals a tulip has, we might falter. And what about the petals of the lily? The fritillary? The amaryllis?

–“The Artist and the Flowers”, Irises and Other Flowers, Watercolours by Elizabeth Blackadder, Commentary by Deborah Kellaway

My mother’s favourite flower was the iris and she filled her gardens with them, especially after she moved to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve followed her example, growing irises in every garden I’ve had, but for many years I was only familiar with bearded irises with their impressive height and showy standards and falls.

About five years ago, a friend introduced me to Iris reticulata. Although the flowers are similar in shape and colour to bearded irises, the reticulatas are tiny, only 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) in height. They flower very early here on Vancouver Island, at about the same time as snowdrops, and provide a much needed splash of colour at the end of winter. I grow them in pots and had a good display this year. Unfortunately, all of the photos I took of them were lost in a computer crash about three weeks ago. I have been given permission by the author of to link to a post on Iris reticulata “Cantab”, where you can see a fine close up photograph of this flower. This post also points out the interesting fact that this “dwarf iris species is called reticulata as the bulb is covered with a fibrous net.” The Latin word “reticulatus” (netted) is also the source of “reticule”: an old-fashioned word for a small handbag, originally made from netted fabric.

Iris reticulata drawingIrises are named for the Greek goddess Iris, who was associated with communication, messages, the rainbow and new endeavors. Following on from this, the meaning of “Iris” in the language of flowers is “message” or “I have a message for you”.

Prior to the computer crash, I had completed a detailed drawing of my own tiny irises, so all was not lost. To return to the thought expressed in the quotation at the beginning of this post, normally “we do not scrutinize our flowers in close-up”. Looking closely at Iris reticulata in order to make a drawing (and then a painting), I was amazed by the intricacy of the yellow and white markings on the blue-violet flowers.

Test PatternsI had determined the composition of the painting in the drawing, but had only indicated areas of texture or pattern with scribbles, leaving the selection of specific pattern and areas of colour to the painting process itself. When it came time to make these choices, I found I needed to experiment a bit, without committing my choices to paint. I traced out an area of the painting and copied this shape several times onto a piece of watercolour paper. Then, I painted my test shapes in different patterns and colours, cut them out and placed each of the cutout shapes in turn onto the unfinished painting. This was a great help to me in making the choices necessary to the completion of the painting.

"Iris reticulata", watercolour, 14" x 18"

“Iris reticulata”, watercolour, 14″ x 18″


21 thoughts on “Iris reticulata

  1. I knew I’ll find something interesting here! Somehow a very soothing painting and a ingenious combination! I always liked blue mixed with orange and yellow – It did snow a bit today so I was like the irritable gardener from your last post, the painting did me well.


    • I’m glad my painting managed to sooth your snow induced irritability. We’ve had nothing but rain, so it’s hard to really get going with all that needs doing in the garden.The cheerful daffodils and blossoming trees are a great irritability soother, though. 🙂


  2. I am a textile artist and I also think like you that by , in your case painting, I start to really know a plant by sketching then stitching pictures of plants.I particularly love it stitch Eucomis in all its stages…. I really like your paintings they are so soft…


  3. What a lovely painting. I like the way you got the intricacy of pattern across. I love iris reticulata, and I have several of them in my garden. The bearded irises also have amazing detail in their petals. I have one that looks to be beige from a distance, but when you get right up to it and look closely it is absolutely abundant with iridescence in rainbow colors.

    I have always been a fan of the “language’ of flowers, and frequently think about that when I am gardening.

    retinues of reticent reticules ridiculously redolent of refreshment


  4. Especially lovely painting. I liked your explanation and illustration of your method of deciding what and which patterns to use; they look kind of Japanese to me and the subtle shades are much to my taste.
    If I remember rightly, the iris is also a symbol of hope.
    And again, if I remember rightly, reticules used to be filled with aromatic herbs and spices when in past centuries life was a lot more stinky. 🙂


    • Thank you for pointing out that the iris is also a symbol of hope. I’ve made the mistake of relying on one source only. “Hope” is not surprising as a meaning for iris, given the association of the goddess Iris with the rainbow. It’s also good to hear more about the reticule, a word you don’t often hear these days. It’s a fun word, isn’t it? Reticule, reticule, reticule.


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