The quest for “Ferrari” red

by Rebecca Bricker on May 3, 2015

Just below the touristy scene of Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo — where the views of the city are spectacular — there’s a secret garden.

You find it by following an almost-hidden path, down stone steps, to the olive-tree terraces that hug the eastern side of the hill below the piazza.

It’s another world entirely. Where pathways meander under the trees. Where you’ll find a comfortable bench and maybe even an artist creating a sketch.

But what makes this garden world-renowned are its beds of prize-winning irises.








The iris is the emblem of Florence. So it stands to reason that iris growers have been making horticultural history here since the first iris rhizomes were planted in the 1950s.

The Societa Italiana dell’Iris, founded in Florence in 1959, is famous for its iris cultivars and hosts the international “Premio Firenze” iris competition each year.

The garden is open to the public for only one month of the year — usually from late April to late May (this year: April 25-May 20, daily 10-12:30 a.m./3-7 p.m.).

There’s no admission fee, but there is a donation jar near the information/gift tent, where I met a member of the Iris Society.








She helped me choose two irises from the sale flats. The Society offers prize winners from the competition four years prior. So my irises were beauty contestants from the 2011 pageant. They’re not in bloom yet. But I’ve seen a photo of one – she’s called “Giallo Limone,” with two shades of yellow. The other is a deep orange and pink – they didn’t have a photo, but I’m imagining she’s a bit of a tart. 😉

For 56 years, the Iris Society has been trying to hybridize a red iris, to emulate the red fleur-de-lis of Florence. “It is our dream,” the woman told me. A young man behind the table said, “We want Ferrari red.”

“Just park a red Ferrari next to the flower beds and it will happen,” I suggested.







We all laughed. I thanked them for sharing their prize winners with me.

As I re-entered the mayhem of the piazza, I stopped short and let out a little gasp. In front of me was a red Ferrari (which hadn’t been there when I arrived).

I smiled and thought, Maybe this is the year. 😉