When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee Again

It’s that time of year again!  The irises are blooming here in Tennessee!  Having a 7-week-old baby, I haven’t gotten out much in the last couple of months, so that may have made the sight of my first iris bloom all that more exciting this year.  I jumped up and down a little bit and told my 7-week-old that we had an iris bloom in the front flower bed.  She wasn’t as excited as I was.

A couple of years ago, I learned about (and wrote a blog post about) the history of the iris as a state flower of Tennessee and how there was a bit of controversy around it as Tennessee had already adopted a state flower that the state legislature apparently forgot about.  Well, in addition to having multiple state flowers, Tennessee also has multiple state songs and one of those songs is dedicated to the iris and springtime in Tennessee.  In 1935, “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” by Willa Waid Newman was adopted as a state song of Tennessee, though I dare say most Tennesseans today don’t know about it and would answer that the state song of Tennessee is one of the more well known of the list of official state songs like, “The Tennessee Waltz” or of course “Rocky Top”.

But in 1935, apparently “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” was quite the popular jam, at least locally.  Willa Waid Newman was a songwriter living in Nashville who wrote the song while working on her PH.D and according to the article clipping below, one of her previous songs had been recognized by President Roosevelt.  “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” was featured at pageants during Iris Festival Week and “is now in much demand throughout the state” according to the article.

As I learned when reading about the history of the state flower, there were very heated debates between flower advocates about the official state flower.  Between that debate, Iris Festival Week being celebrated in schools, and this song which found itself “in much demand throughout the state” people have clearly always been quite taken with this stunning flower.  And I get it.  As I said earlier, I jumped up and down when I saw that first bloom out the window.  And I wasn’t joking.  I actually did that.

But it’s not just the flower itself that creates that kind of emotion.  The lyrics of the song paint a picture of springtime in Tennessee and memories of spring days of the past and the longing for home.

For me, the irises that grow in my front flower beds tell the story of the last 15 years.  When I bought my house in Nashville so many years ago, I had no idea the hidden gems of those iris bulbs that existed buried around the patio and when I moved, I dug them up and replanted them in my flower beds here.  Those bulbs that continue to produce beautiful blooms today have seen me through 15 springtimes and witnessed moves, marriage, new jobs, and now this spring, a new baby. 

So as another Spring and Iris season is upon us, I thank God for this year’s new blessings that the irises’ are witness to as they make their highly anticipated yearly return. 

“When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee”

Sweetness of Spring memories bring

Of a place I long to be.

Land of Sunshine calls this old heart of mine,

Come back to Tennessee.

Rocks and the rills deep tinted hills,

There’s no spot so dear to me,

Where’er I roam still it’s my Home Sweet Home,

My own, my Tennessee.


When it’s Iris time down in Tennessee,

I’ll be coming back to stay

Where the mockingbird sings at the break of day

A lilting love song gay.

Where the Iris grows,

Where the Harpeth flows,

That is where I long to be.

There’s a picture there that lives in memory

When it’s Iris time in Tennessee

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