Archive for Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Mrs. Miller’s iris garden

September 8, 2004

This week, everyone will have a chance to take home a little piece of Mrs. Miller's iris garden.

In the 1950s, the late Corinne Miller devoted much of her time to establishing an iris garden. As the years went by, her garden grew, and eventually became a public attraction each May when the iris bloomed.

For the past two years, Ernie Morrow has been working to bring the garden back to shape. That work of course, includes thinning out the iris tubers, the extras of which will be sold this week.

The iris sale will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Canaan Farm. The farm is about four miles northwest of Tonganoxie on Kansas Highway 16. The farm is located on the left side of the highway just before the road curves to the right. Signs will be posted.

Miller's daughter Biddy Hurlbut, said her mother started out with gladiolas.

"But my father liked what he called flags," Hurlbut said. "That was really a good word for the old iris because they were floppy every time a little breeze came along."

Hurlbut's father, who was a pilot, flew her mother around the country to visit iris hybridizers.

In Iowa, Charles and Corinne Miller admired a burnt red iris named Pepperpot. When Charles asked if he could purchase it, he was told no, because there were just a couple of the experimental plants.

But he persisted.

"She gave him a plant and charged him $125 for it," Hurlbut said.

The plants thrived in the Tonganoxie garden.

"It's just a wonderful plant," Hurlbut said. "We grew it just about everywhere -- that one little fan survived."

As did many more.

Hurlbut said the garden includes numerous old varieties of iris.

"The whole goal of Ernie going there was to revive an antique iris garden," Hurlbut said. "It will be very special because it will include the old ones that people haven't seen for many years."

Morrow, who has spent the last two years attempting to catalogue the iris as well as tend to the garden, said at one time it was likely there were 2,500 varieties of iris on the farm.

"I think it's down to 250 or 300 varieties now," Morrow said.

He noted the garden covers about an acre of ground.

Learning what varieties they are has been a painstaking process. Morrow compared the iris blooms to notes and photographs made by Mrs. Miller.

And that's why buyers at this week's sale will know what plants they're getting.

"Everything that I have for sale is identified by a photograph," Morrow said. "We think we can be 92 percent sure of the color they're getting."

Meanwhile, area residents can mark their calendars to tour the iris garden in mid-May. Along with the iris are numerous perennials.

Hurlbut said she's thrilled with Morrow's progress.

"He's turned the place into a real little masterpiece," Hurlbut said.

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