She's a true believer in the
beauty of the iris
By Virginia A. Smith
Inquirer Staff Writer
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Carol Ann Moyer works in the iris garden at Delaware Valley
College that will bear her name.
The folks at Delaware Valley College don't call Carol Ann Moyer
"The Iris Queen" for nothing.
iris pins and iris blouses, and every spare moment in her busy life she's
knee-deep in the school's iris garden, which she's almost singlehandedly
restored over the last six years.
80-foot-diameter garden, now neatly planted with 11,000 irises, will be
dedicated Sunday as the Carol Ann Moyer Iris Garden. It's an honor that
leaves this retired science teacher from Buckingham Township positively
used to all this attention," she demurs, but in two seconds flat she's
at it again, preaching her gospel of the iris.
bring a touch of heaven on Earth," she says, grinning as she describes
in her giveaway Chicago accent their "delicacy of flow, variation in
height, and massiveness of blooms."
garden is the joy of my life," she confides.
"the jewel of the campus," according to Bill Rein, class of '87,
now the horticulturist for the Henry Schmieder Arboretum, which occupies 60
of the college's 571 acres west of Doylestown.
The jewel is
looking mighty fine. This is prime iris season, especially for the tall
bearded ones, which are the most popular - and the biggest showoffs - in the
thousands of iris varieties, ranging from 6-inch miniatures and ground covers
such as Iris cristata (a U.S. native) to the bearded iris, which can
top three feet. Most grow best in full sun, but some thrive in woodland or
season doesn't just hug Memorial Day. With proper planning, you can have
blooms from April through July, with repeats in August and September.
doesn't sound like the irises of old!
always talk about Grandma's irises, and I certainly remember that in my
background," says Ron Thoman, president of the Delaware Valley Iris
Society, which has 110 members in Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.
purple, bearded iris 'Eleanor Roosevelt' was ubiquitous then and can still be
purchased - and spotted in cemeteries, backyards and abandoned lots. But as
any collector will tell you, the modern iris is a world removed.
very complicated," cautions Thoman, a retired mechanical engineer who
grows about 100 irises in his West Goshen garden.
taste of that complexity involving just the bearded irises, named for the
bushy "beards" on their lower petals. Originally, most of these
were native to central and southern Europe.
miniature dwarf bearded, the tiniest and earliest to bloom, and standard
dwarf bearded, which are a little bigger and bloom next, followed by
intermediate bearded, border bearded, miniature tall bearded, and (plain old)
also aril irises, which have peach-fuzzy beards but technically aren't
considered bearded. These hail from the Middle East and are hard to grow in
all but the warmest and driest parts of the United States.
there is the beardless-iris group, most from Asia, which comprise spurias,
Siberians, Japanese, Louisianas, Pacific Coast natives and species.
As for color,
irises now come in every possible shade except tomato red, including
combinations of blue and violet, such as 'Before the Storm,' that are
iris also looks and feels different. It's got more buds per stalk, individual
blooms last more than three days, and the plant can flower for two to three
had maybe three buds, bloomed for one day, then looked like a wet
washrag," Moyer says.
modern flowers are firm and rigid, nothing like the tissue-papery,
see-through antique petals.
people haven't a clue about the new iris," says Moyer, who's put
burgundy and pinks together in the new garden, and yellows and bronzes, and
blues, purples and whites.
garden had 14 straight beds, like soldiers on parade, which felt unnatural to
Moyer, a recently minted master gardener. The edges were flooded, the raised
beds sunken and overgrown. Some records were scribbled on a paper plate, but
most of the irises were unmarked.
goofy," Rein says.
puzzled over the redesign, she happened to visit the Health and Wellness
Center at Doylestown Hospital, where she walked through the labyrinth.
so calming," she says.
sparked an idea. For ease of walking and viewing, for comfort and meditation,
Moyer decided her new iris garden would be round.
And so it is:
Four paths intersect three ovals and lead to a century-old cutleaf Japanese
maple that's high, wide and deeply red. When Rein was a student, this
magnificent tree was hidden by arborvitae. Now, it's visible from nearby
was rebuilt with four truckloads of topsoil from the campus farm, two loads
of weed-squashing screenings, or small pebbles from a local quarry, mulch
brought in by students, and a combination of old and new irises.
$50 on spray paint to site the new beds and paths, then charted everything on
graph paper. Her husband, Jim, and son Daniel helped, but Moyer did all the
retired from teaching last year, she'd head to the college after work and
garden till nightfall. She made time, too, in summer, when she's the
volunteer head of the Science Center at Ockanickon Boy Scout Camp in
in my life, if I'm committed, it's either all or nothing," Moyer says.
"I'm not a halfway person."
Go to The
Inquirer's new gardening page at http://go.philly.com/gardening for blogs, tips, timely
stories, a calendar of plant sales and events, post-your-own photos,
discussions and more.
Contact gardening writer Virginia Smith at 215-854-5720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.