Garden Calendar: Irises colorful, easy to grow

Irises are an old standby for any Kansas gardener, and it just so happens the flowers are available at a farm northeast of Lawrence in rural Leavenworth County.

Meri and David O’Hare, the owners of Just “Sew” Happens farm, have more than 200 colors of irises for sale as tubers or for bouquets. The farm name is representative of David’s ability to find the right tool or object for the O’Hares’ projects and for Meri’s other interest in quilting.

The O’Hares started planting irises five years ago on a sloping, well-drained hillside next to their driveway.

Today, visitors are greeted by a patchwork of color created by the blooming flowers. A ruffled, deep-purple iris catches my eye first, but my interest is quickly overtaken by flowers in less common peachy hues.

Meri points out one of her favorites.

“It’s unique,” she says, “and aren’t we all in our own way?”

Other shades of magenta and purple wave in the breeze, and I think about how nice some of the ruffly white irises would look in front of a deep-pink weigela or just about any dark-green shrub.

This is only the second year the O’Hares have offered iris tubers for sale. The ideal time to dig and divide the plants is just after flowering, but they are tough enough to be divided during flowering when customers can see the bloom colors and shapes.

After planting, the flowers need a little supplemental watering to establish in their new site, but otherwise have few maintenance requirements.

The O’Hares planted irises because of the flowers’ ability to adapt to nearly any garden site. Irises do need well-drained soil and a minimum of about 6 hours of sunlight per day, and should be planted with the tuber at the soil surface. In poorly drained soil, tubers can be placed a little higher, although the better option is to add compost or organic matter prior to planting to improve soil drainage.

Irises are susceptible to a few insect and disease problems, most commonly the iris borer. The O’Hares destroy spent foliage from their iris plants each year to destroy overwintering sites for the iris borer and other pests.

Another unique facet of the Just “Sew” Happens gardens are small animal and insect sculptures dotted throughout the irises and other gardens. David makes the sculptures from old, nonworking tools and machinery, creating hummingbirds and other creatures from things like broken pliers, old gears and rake tines.

In addition to enjoying the beauty of the irises and sculptures, the O’Hares invite customers to bring a picnic basket and enjoy the other gardens and the fresh air.

“We’ve tried to make a place where if people want to bring their fried chicken or their peanut butter and jelly, they could,” Meri says.

One area in particular offers the shade of a big, old American elm over the small seating area. Hostas, bleeding hearts and native spiderwort complete the feel for the garden the O’Hares’ grandson has adequately named the Tranquility Garden.

Just “Sew” Happens is also certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat site.

The farm is located at 20314 235th St., Tonganoxie. A red flag at the gate with the word “Iris” waves when the farm is open, but you can call ahead to be sure at 913-845-0914.