Portfolio | Storied irises return

Posted: September 07, 2007

Back in June, Joann Taylor thinned out her irises in Portland, Ore., packed about 18 pounds of extra rhizomes into a box, and shipped them off to Cheltenham Township, where she grew up.

These irises are special, descended from a variety planted by John McDermott, Taylor's great-grandfather, more than a century ago on the 49-acre estate belonging to the Elkins family, for whom the Cheltenham neighborhood Elkins Park is named. The estate, known as Elstowe Manor, was on Ashbourne Road.

McDermott, an Irish immigrant, was the Elkinses' gardener, and as Taylor recounts the story, he loved these flowers so much he planted them at his own house on Beech Avenue.

In the decades since, family members have carted them all over the country.

Now, they're coming home. As part of the township's Market Day celebration tomorrow, Taylor's irises will be planted at noon along the front patio of the historic Richard Wall House Museum in Elkins Park.

Taylor, 48, has hundreds of her great-grandfather's irises growing in her garden. She doesn't know what kind they are, but says they're deep purple, not too tall, with flowers the size of a baseball.

"They thrive like nobody's business," says Taylor, a color scientist, who lived in Cheltenham's LaMott section till she was 14.

The irises also thrive at Taylor's sister's home in Upstate New York and at their family's former homes in Cheltenham and the Poconos.

"Nobody waxes on forever about the irises, but we've always known where they came from, and that's cool," Taylor says.

- Virginia A. Smith

Market Day is scheduled for tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Richard Wall House Museum, Church Road and Wall Park Drive, Elkins Park. Admission and parking are free. The event also will feature collectibles, antiques, jewelry, toys, crafts, and food.

For information, go to www.cheltenhamtownship.org/histcomm/market.htm.

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