Just after the earliest crocuses flood the barren ground around here with soft colors, the spiky leaves of the Reticulated Irises start poking through the leaf litter and whetting my appetite for what's to follow: truly gorgeous deep-blue flowers with wonderfully startling yellow throats. Iris reticulata is a super-hardy native of Northern and southern Turkey, northeastern Iraq, northern and western Iran, and Russia, according to the experts at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the plant packs an amazing amount of beauty in a miniature package. These flowers are less than six inches above the layer of oak and maple leaves, but they're no less eye-catching than their much larger cousins. They're also easier to grow: just put the bulbs in the ground in the fall and reap the rewards not long after the passage of the vernal equinox. For the winter-weary, the sight of these gems, the first of which blossomed today, is balm for the beleaguered soul.