The Iris Garden in a Blink

The rare white iris in the Florence garden

The Iris Garden, located near to Piazzale Michelangelo, is a fleeting botanical splendour not to be missed. Created in 1957 for the International Iris Competition (hosted by the Italian Iris Society), this year’s contest will be taking place from May 8 – 13 (65th edition).

Forming a vibrant oasis of thousands of varieties, a considerable number of ancient and rare species of iris can be found here, including the white iris Florentina. It opens for only a few weeks each year, until May 20.

Entrance to the garden is free; the garden is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, with last entrance at 5:30 pm. Visitors are invited to wander freely through the five-acre park and enjoy the display. The iris garden can be reached either by bus (no. 12 outside the station, or no.13 from Rotonda Barbetti, heading to Piazzale Michelangelo); or by foot, starting from the city centre. The walk is easily doable and will give you a chance to admire the expanding city vista and Tuscan landscape.

The iris is a resilient flower and will grow in a range of climates. White and pale varieties of iris have historically grown in and around Florence; the rarer white variety was named the iris Florentina by the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus. Up until 1250, this delicate white iris, set against a red backdrop, served as the symbol of Florence. But following the installation of the Guelph party, the colour scheme was inverted to indicate a change in the political party. The red iris against a white backdrop remains Florence’s coat of arms to this day.

Ambling through the garden, which lies on an earthy slope descending from Piazzale Michelangelo, the guest will encounter irises of all colours, from deep magentas to swirling, variegated blues. And nestled among the beds sit gnarled and characterful olive trees, which existed prior to the cultivation of the garden. This particular marriage of the olive tree with the iris is an ancient tradition, still preserved in certain parts of Italy, as in Chianti, for example.

To book a guided tour (at a cost €5) of the garden on Sunday, offered at 11 am or 4 pm, send an email to or visit the official site, (sophie holloway)