If you happen to have the good fortune to be in Florence in spring and need a respite from the crowded piazzas and museums, head across the Arno to Piazzale Michelangelo. You can’t miss it! David towers over his city and it is the location of a famous not-to-be-missed view of Florence.
However, there’s something else nearby that you won’t want to miss. Just look over David’s right shoulder, walk across Viale dei Colli and you’ll find the entrance to Il Giardino dell’Iris, the Iris Garden.
The symbol of Florence since 1251, the perennial iris (giglio in Italian) takes its name from the Greek word for rainbow. The red stylized iris (also recognized as the fleur de lis) in the coat-of-arms of Florence originated from the white iris which is native to and once grew within Florence.
The symbol of the white iris with a red background was reversed changing the iris to red and on a white background when…well, there are several versions – one attributes it to the Medici family, the other to the triumph of the Guelfs over the Ghibellines. Whatever the case, it sparked a long time effort to create a red iris hybrid (and they’re still trying!).
A non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating irises, the Società Italiana dell’Iris, has owned and operated the gardens since 1954. Open only from April 25th to May 20th, in addition to over 2500 types of irises, the gardens offer a tranquil setting accentuated with paths lined with blooming rose bushes and olive trees, and the twittering of very happy birds. There are benches to sit and admire both the lovely irises and, of course, spectacular Florence.
The garden is free to the public although donations are welcome, and what a good cause! After all, what price beauty?