Last May I was fortunate to be able to spend the morning in Scotts Valley painting the tall bearded iris growing at Jim and Irene Cummins place. On their property they grow hundreds of varieties and if you are an aficionado of this regal flower you have a chance to add to your collection when the Monterey Bay Iris Society hosts their annual sale. Your first opportunity is at Deer Park in Aptos on August 4th from 9:00-noon and another sale takes place at Cabrillo Farmer’s Market on August 11th also from 9:00-noon.
Jim and Irene welcomed my group of fellow artists sharing the history of their property and their growing tips. Amidst the beds of prized bearded iris is an impressive antique farming implement collection. This historic property dates back to 1849 when an older house was built as a stagecoach stop where a fresh team of horses could be changed out.
Jim told me that considering the history of the property he and Irene started displaying the old stuff they had and decided to add more by going to auctions and yard sales. Everywhere you look they have created an interesting vignette of plants and artifacts. Displayed on the old barn is an impressive vintage wrench collection as well as dozens of spigot handles. Antique tractor seats, watering cans, washing tubs, rusted bed frames, wagons, old kiddie cars- you name it, Jim and Irene have collected it.
Due to the abundance of old wood on the property Jim said he started building Irene birdhouses. With so many interesting things to enjoy I had a hard time deciding what to paint. I took dozens of photos but settled on capturing their magnificent tall bearded iris in full bloom.
Jim is on the board of the Tall Bearded Iris Society (TBIS) and is also active in Historic Iris Preservation Society. As I walked around the blooming iris beds I noticed many had the name of Joe Ghio as their hybridizer. Some of the Cummins original rhizomes were collected from him as well as other iris gardens in the area. Early on they could only afford to buy a few of their older and less expensive offerings but as their garden began to grow they joined the Monterey Bay Iris Society.
The Cummins iris farm has been so successful that in 2019 when the National Convention is being hosted by Region 14 their garden will be one of the host gardens on the tour.
When I asked Jim for the growing tips that make his iris so spectacular he told me he mostly uses lawn trimmings and tree leaves along with their native sand to break the soil down. “Iris don’t seem to care much as to soil type, they just need good drainage”, he said. He fertilizes with a balanced granular 15-15-15 fertilizer, using only an 1/8 cup or less sprinkled around each clump around Valentines Day and again in August or September. Another tip he told me was to be sure to plant the rhizomes real shallow with the tops showing and about 12-18 inches apart. They water every 2-3 weeks although he says they can go longer between irrigations.
At the upcoming sales, there will be a “How to Grow Iris” handout available as well as many member of the society available to answer question. At $4 each for these spectacular iris or 20 for $60 adding to or starting an iris collection may just be in your future.