A recent visitor to the state Capitol was disappointed when he found he'd missed the blooming season of the irises on the Capitol grounds. He was further agitated to discover that the iris bed isn't even in its old place of honor at the foot of the steps on the south side of the Capitol, having been moved to a less visible location a few hundred yards away, and that there's discussion of removing the irises from the Capitol grounds entirely. That would be a serious blow to grounds that already have too much bad statuary where flowers could be growing.
Since 1969, when the first bed was planted, the irises have reigned gloriously but briefly every spring, the showiest of the Capitol's flora. The iris bed has always been a cooperative effort between the secretary of state (Kelly Bryant in 1969) and the Central Arkansas Iris Society. The secretary of state, who controls the Capitol grounds, provides the space. The Society plants and maintains the garden, with assistance from the Capitol grounds crew, in exchange for having a prominent place to exhibit their irises. The public gets to enjoy the wildly colorful flowers, which come in many exotic permutations, some with names almost as colorful: "Maid of Orange," "Maui Moonlight," "Red Zinger."
The iris garden was moved this year, at the instigation of the secretary of state's office, according to Iris Society members. Robert Treadway, president of the Central Arkansas Iris Society, said there'd been discussion about moving the Capitol iris beds in previous years, but nothing came of it. This year, the secretary of state's office, under new Secretary of State Charlie Daniels, gave the word that "they wanted the irises moved ASAP. … They promised to build us new beds immediately and found the spot where we are located now. [A lower-visibility site near the Arkansas Supreme Court chambers.]"
As for the reason for the move, Treadway said "Their message was that the irises looked bad when not in their all-too-short bloom cycle." Secretary of State Daniels told the Arkansas Times the irises had been moved to a spot "more conducive to irises." The secretary of state's newsletter says the irises were moved to "a more hospitable location."
The Iris Society assented to the move, although some members resisted, including Bruce Streett, a member of the Society's Board of Directors, who is listed on the group's web page as the contact person for the Society. At the request of the secretary of state's office, the society also gave $1,000 - but not cheerfully - to buy topsoil, mulch and sand for the new location, Treadway said. The new location also includes a new plaque saluting both the Iris Society and Secretary of State Charlie Daniels, whose name was not mentioned on the old plaques.
Asked if he was satisfied with the new location, Treadway said "Not exactly. Our old beds had much better visibility and we are now crammed up against a wall that wasn't in the original design. We also had to add mulch and rings to our plantings that will not make digging and maintaining the beds any easier.
"We did investigate other places to have iris beds, but chose to stay at the Capitol for several reasons. One is security for the iris and our members working on the beds. Also access to water and ample parking were considered. We will continue to investigate other public places and if one comes available I would have no qualms about vacating the current beds at the Capitol."
What replaced the iris in the old location? "The landscaping they put in the old beds is less than interesting," Treadway said. "I guess they like the 'green moustache' type of landscaping. The bearded iris were certainly formal enough for the setting, and not nearly as boring as the green hedge planted there now."