For the past 20 years, Mona Sweeney has added irises to the landscape around her Elizabethton home, but the showy flower has had a special place in her heart since she was a little girl.
“My irises have really done well this spring,” she said as she admired the rainbow of color — purple, maroon, blue, yellow and white — swaying in a gentle spring breeze.
“They’re my favorite flower,” Sweeney said as she spoke with a reporter on her front porch. A spring breeze ruffled the irises planted along her walkway during the conversation.
Sweeney’s 14-year-old dog, Sparky, sat with her on the porch as she shared stories about her irises.
“I’ve loved irises since I was a little girl,” Sweeney said. “I know some older people call them flags, but they’ve always been irises to me.”
She began collecting different irises two decades ago. Now her collection includes about 100 different irises in more than a dozen colors.
“Some were gifts,” Sweeney said. “Dr. Joe May’s wife gave me a lot of my irises.”
Sweeney also attends the Iris Festival held in Greeneville each spring. “I’ve bought some there,” she said.
Her garden also contains a hardy magnolia tree and a thriving yellow rose. She even has a banana tree.
Irises, however, remain her favorite flower.
“My thumbs are really not green,” she said with a laugh. “I like irises because they are so hardy and determined. You can grow them without going to a lot of trouble.”
While she enjoys adding new irises from time to time, a lot of the maintenance involves the other end of the cycle — removing them.
“When they get too thick, you have to separate them,” Sweeney said.
By thinning out her irises, she keeps them flourishing from year to year. She said this spring has been a very good blooming season for her favorite flower.
Now retired, Sweeney worked for 25 years in the office at East Tennessee Undergarment and then worked from 2003 to 2008 at Asbury Independent Living Center.
Retirement has given Sweeney more time to spend with family as well as to enjoy her irises.
She and her husband, Eugene, live on Watauga Avenue in Elizabethton.
Her children and their spouses are Bob and Vickie Berry, Rick and Michelle Bright, Becky Berry, Stanley and Angel White and David and Cindy Sweeney.
Her grandchildren are Heather Vaughn, Emilee Berry, Lacey, Logan and Levi White, Joshua Sweeney and Matthew Pierce.
Knowing her love of flowers, family members often present her with them as gifts.
“I do love flowers, and my irises have given me a lot of joy in my life,” Sweeney said.