MARK AND CINDY NELSON stroll through the High Sierra Iris and Wedding Garden on Hassler Road in Camino on Wednesday. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins


Blooming irises herald spring

By From page A1 | May 21, 2012

One of the harbingers that spring has arrived is when the irises make their appearance.

Though short-lived, these beautiful and stately flowers have inspired many a painter, gardener, and commercial grower.

Two such commercial ventures are in Camino and Somerset.

The one in Camino is called the High Sierra Iris and Wedding Garden and is owned by Nancy and Mike Visman. With over 1,100 varieties to choose from, it’s easy to go a little iris crazy and want to buy at least one of each.

Visman said their peak bloom season is the second or third week of May so right now is the best time to visit and pick out what blooms you want for your garden or as special gifts for others. She said she has some potted plants for people to take with them but if they come to the farm and find something in the field they want, the plants are usually dug up from July through August and then sent to customers. “But I will dig to my customers’ schedules,” she said.

Visman also sells irises at the farmer’s market. But the selection is more limited.

Most of the varieties they sell at the garden are bearded irises but they also sell Japanese, water and Siberian irises.

The rhizomes sell for between $2 to $8 dollars with the average price being $5. Visman said the most popular colors are bold deep oranges, blacks and golds. “Anything that pops with color,” she said.

Visman said people are attracted to irises because “you can’t get this range of colors in any other flower except orchids. Almost every color is available but true red. It is a ‘welcome to spring’ type flower and there is no other flower like them.”

High Sierra Iris and Wedding Garden also hosts weddings from May through October. Adjacent to the flowering beds of iris is a beautiful grassy area that leads to an arbor overlooking a pond. Visman said they are booked just about every weekend through October. Other groups also rent the site such as garden clubs, Eskaton Village and the Tahoe Art League.

People can find the High Sierra Iris and Wedding Garden at 3170 Hassler Road in Camino. Its hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day thru May or by appointment. You can visit its Website at

Another large commercial iris operation is in Somerset. Owned by Mary Hess and her husband, the Bluebird Haven Iris Garden has been in operation at its current location for 25 years. They grow 3,500 varieties of iris and Hess estimates they have 300,000 different plants on site.

Hess said they sell most of their irises by people coming out to the garden and picking the blooms they want. But she also sells through her Website which is why, when I met her, she was wandering through the flowers taking photographs.

As with High Sierra Iris and Wedding Garden, people place their orders with Hess for the rhizomes when the flowers are in bloom. Then they are dug up and shipped in July and August. She said the most popular varieties are pinks, blacks and oranges, but those colors are also harder to grow. Since the season when most varieties bloom goes from mid April thru the end of May, now is the time to make a trip to Bluebird Haven Iris Garden to buy the varieties you want.

Plants sell from $4 to $10 but most are in the $4 to $8 range. Hess said it depends “on their age, growability and how ‘absolutely gorgeous’ they are.”

Hess says she has the largest commercial historic iris garden on the West Coast and possibly in the country. She also has a tremendous number of rare plants for sale including early varieties that once were available and now are hard to find. Her oldest variety dates from the 1600s, is a white and purple plicata, and according to Hess, smells like concord grapes.

Hess said irises are easy to grow. She got her start from her aunt who gave her some when she was first married. The plants did so well she ordered more and more and before she knew it, she was a commercial grower.

Bluebird Haven Iris Garden is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week from now until May 27. However Hess said they may stay open later if the irises remain in bloom. Bluebird Haven Iris Garden is located at 6940 Fairplay Road in Somerset. Its Website is

So if you don’t have any of these extravagantly beautiful flowers in your garden, it’s time to enjoy the experience of growing some of your own and watch them welcome in spring each year.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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