A gardener’s April day trip
On a recent visit to Coarsegold, California, I stopped by the Hillside Iris Farm of Bill Tyson, just before the peak bloom. His farm is open to the public just during the month of April when Iris are in full bloom and ready to order by color and shape. You choose the ones you want, then in July, the Iris roots are ready for pick up and planting at just the right time in late summer.
Bill Tyson, a retired entomologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, already had experimented in hybridizing dahlias years ago, so when a friend, John Weiler, gave him a few named varieties he soon became hooked. He started farming Iris in 1989 and the terraced rows of iris advance up the hill, giving the farm its name. He especially likes to hybridize the group of Novelty iris called Broken Colors. Bill serves as treasurer of the Yosemite Iris Society and has won many awards for his iris introductions
Wildflowers would take over the Iris farm, but Bill uses his hula-hoe, he says, to hoe out all but a few bands of poppies, toadflax and lupine.
Planting and care of Iris
The best time to plant iris is late summer through early fall. For best growth and bloom, iris need at least half a day of full sun. The most common mistake made when planting bearded iris is planting the root too deep. Here’s a good way. Make a shallow trough in the soil and in the center make a small mound of soil. The root or rhizome is placed on top of the mound so that 1/3 of it will be above the soil. Spread the roots out and firmly pack the soil around the roots and water liberally.
When first entering an Iris show, Bill won two ribbons, further interesting him in the hybridizing process. Now he serves as treasurer of the Yosemite Iris Society. If you are interested in Iris and want to learn to grow your own the Society’s meeting would be a place to start.
A relationship has formed between the Yosemite Iris Society and Coarsegold Elementary School, under the wing of Carolyn Hoover, President of the of the club. Bill explains that more than 60 students have joined the Society, learn about how to grow and care for them and enter their irises in a special youth division.
Bill does all his own hybridizing, planting, fertilizing and hoeing of weeds, with occasional help from family members. Water is funneled from this seasonal stream on one side of the property.
Experiment: Planting Iris from seed
If you’d like to try planting iris from seed, keep an eye out for the seed pods that form on the drying flower stem. Each pod can hold several seeds. Snip the seedpod and let them dry until Fall, then plant each seed at a depth of one-half inch in nursery pots. Place the pots under light shade to over-winter outdoors. Keep watered if the soil dries out.
Watch for seeds to sprout after a few months, then move the pots to a sunny location. Continue to water, occasionally allowing the top half-inch to dry out slightly. In Spring after the last frost, transplant into a sunny garden bed. I’ll be trying this experiment and watching for seed pods!
Bill makes name labels with of short strips of discarded and recycled window blinds. Paint markers, he says, have proven to last the longest out in the weather.
When iris become crowded, they don’t bloom as well. Bill recommends dividing iris that no longer bloom well in July or August and replant one plant where the old clump was. Space out the rest 18″ apart and fertilize with mushroom or any rich compost.
Iris bloom will peak at the farm at mid-month in April, but many were beginning to bloom when I visited a week ago. In addition to the easy ordering process, Bill has also potted up hundreds of extra Iris, ready to take home, priced at $5-9 dollars each.
If you go:
Hillside Iris Gardens
Owner: Bill Tyson
43315 Ranger Circle, Coarsegold, CA 93614 559-658-7987
Bill welcomes your questions!