• For the love of Iris

    by  • April 2, 2016 • Field Trip, Plant Profiles

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    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.

    Historic Iris

    An Historic Iris blooming early

     

    Spring is for Iris!

    Spring is for Iris at Hillside Iris Farm!

     

    The entire hillside is terraced in rows and rows of iris

    The entire hillside is terraced in rows and rows of iris

    About Bill

    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

     

    Brick walkways make it easy to stroll through and see the different varieties

    Brick walkways make it easy to stroll through and see the different varieties

     

    Bill Tyson points out a patch of old-fashioned Iris

    Bill Tyson points out a patch of Historic Arilbred iris, Fair Enough White 1935

     

    Bill hoes out all but a few bands of colorful wildflowers

    Wildflowers grow between the rows of iris

    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.

    One of the upper terraces

    One of the upper terraces

    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.

     

    One award winning introduction is named after Bill Tyson daughter, Jessica Susanne

    One award winning introduction is named after Bill Tyson daughter, Jessica Susanne

    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.

     

    A stream provides water through a system of water troughs

    A stream provides water through a system of water troughs

    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!

     

    A bed of colorful early blooming Aril-bred Iris, hybrids of modern iris and iris species from the near east

    A bed of colorful early blooming Arilbred Iris, hybrids of modern iris and iris species from the near east

    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.

    Iris plants should be fertilized with compost and planted 18 inches apart

    Iris plants should be fertilized with compost and planted 18 inches apart

     

    Up the hill, a gazebo swing amuses youngsters while their parents choose

    Up the hill, a gazebo swing amuses youngsters while their parents choose

     

    A profusion of lacy Toadflax in Bill's garden

    A profusion of lacy Toadflax in Bill’s garden

     

    The iris thrive in sun and part shade

    The iris thrive in sun and part shade

    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.

    Bill pots up hundreds of extra Iris for gardener's instant gratification

    Bill pots up hundreds of extra Iris for gardener’s instant gratification

    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
    email billtyson@sti.net

    Bill welcomes your questions!

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    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.