Iris farm displays array of color, variety
Irises are one of my guilty pleasures. I rarely dedicate garden space to a flower that (mostly) blooms only once per season, but irises are so spectacular that they’re worth it.
For a short time, the iris is the statuesque queen of the garden, presiding over all the greenery in her short-lived splendor.
Appropriately, the name “Iris” comes from the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and every color is represented at Willow Bend Iris Farm, 2331 J Road. May is prime time for iris blooms, and you can see about 800 different varieties at Willow Bend.
Owners Darrell and Victoria Rule, who moved the business to Grand Junction from Eckert in 2005, are veritable iris experts and offer a wealth of knowledge for gardeners. When you visit them at Willow Bend, you’re in for a treat as they rattle off facts about bearded iris, aril-bred iris, iris that smell like citrus and what year each variety was introduced.
Willow Bend features 150 historic varieties, so you can grow the same flowers you remember from grandma’s yard. “Some of these go way back to the 1850s,” Darrell said.
Other, showier varieties were hybridized more recently to bloom in a sunset of colors and feature ruffles like a dancer’s tutu.
Irises are one of the easiest perennials to grow, according to the Rules.
“You don’t have to baby-sit these at all,” Victoria said. “You just stick them in the ground and leave them.”
Visiting Willow Bend when the irises are in bloom is a bit like a game of pinball. You think you found the most gorgeous, velvety bloom in the whole field when, ooh! What’s that over there? A sparkly periwinkle iris with petals resembling a ruffled petticoat!
And what’s that fruity aroma? Why, this one smells kind of like grape soda!
Customers bounce around the field from flower to flower like bees searching for a cache of pollen.
Perusing the names of the different varieties is a bit like trying to decide on a paint color at the hardware store.
Are you a Beatles fan? How about “Abbey Road?” There’s always “Amigo” for a gardener friend. Know a runner who also likes iris? There’s the “Bolder Boulder.” Or how about a blazingly bright, Tweety-bird-yellow bloom called “That’s All, Folks?”
“A lot of people buy iris just by the name,” said Darrell, mentioning that they planted a variety called “Baboon’s Bottom” thinking it wouldn’t be very popular, but people liked it.
Some varieties resemble their names and others don’t. One of Darrell’s favorites is “Bold Vision,” whose name doesn’t do its distinct coloring justice. “It has this burnt edge around it,” he said. “It’s kind of like parchment.”
“Bubbles Galore” lives up to its name, as the flowers glitter in the sunshine with iridescent “fairy dust,” the term used to describe the shimmer on its petals.
The hundreds of irises at Willow Bend represent just a drop in the bucket of the iris world. The American Iris Society’s online wiki (http://www.irises.org) references more than 42,000 cultivars. The advantage to purchasing iris from a local nursery such as Willow Bend, which cultivates the plants outside in native soil, is that they’ve already tested a variety and acclimatized it to our unique Grand Valley growing conditions.
The Rules work with roughly 30 different hybridizers and try not to order iris from east of the Mississippi River, to help choose varieties that grow best in the West. They’ve even tested varieties to see if they will bloom more than once.
“We have six (varieties) that will consistently re-bloom here in the valley,” Victoria said.
Surprisingly, iris are drought-tolerant and don’t need watered much. The Rules irrigate their iris plants around April 15 and don’t water them again until the first week of June. The plants like hot sun and can easily be included in a xeriscape.
Iris don’t have many natural enemies and the Grand Valley’s climate prevents much of the fungal problems they experience elsewhere. The thick tuberous roots, called “rhizomes,” don’t like to be overwatered or fertilized too much.
Willow Bend invites customers to come look at the flowers this month so they know what they’re ordering. You can reserve iris for planting in August, when you can plant the rhizomes so they become established before winter.
The Rules also specialize in organic garden solutions.
Willow Bend is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Blooms will be available for viewing and pre-ordering until June 1. You also can visit them online at http://www.willowbendirisfarm.com.