Flowers are in full bloom at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens.
The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens are in full bloom, captivating visitors with over 14,000 irises in bronze, purple, maroon, gold, and white. This past weekend I headed to the Gardens at dusk with my mother, and the night quickly became quite magical. Located just beside the Gardens is the Victorian-style Walther House in which we sat and listened to live jazz music.
The waning sunlight graced the crowd as cool breezes carried the scents of iris, lilac, peony, and honey suckles; the relaxed tones of the Joe Verrusio & Bob Miller Duo completed the mood. (Click here to listen to the pair play the Gardens in 2013.) Together the two have soothed audiences with guitar and saxophone renditions of jazz favorites since the ‘70s. Their two-hour set included: “Rosetta,” “Isn’t it Romantic,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Oh You Crazy Moon,” and “On a Misty Night.” The music was enthralling and the environment was exquisite.
The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens host events regularly. The next big event is a free workshop: How to Start a Vegetable Garden. It will take place on Saturday, June 6 at 10 a.m. at the Teaching Garden behind the Walther House. Pre-registration by phone is required at (973) 228-2210. For more information, click here.
The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens are located on the serene grounds of Mountainside Park. Throughout the season, the gardens produce over 100,000 blooms in roughly 3,000 varieties of irises. “Iris” means rainbow in ancient Greek, and the gardens “rainbow hill” contains 26 beds of bearded irises, with names like “Celtic Glory,” “Yo,” and “Happenstance.” The flowers are registered with the American Iris Society, and some hybrids date back to the 1500s. Bearded irises are named for the brightly colored fuzzy stripe appearing at the base of the voluptuous, velvety petals. The beards are like landing strips for insects that pollinate the flowers.
Irises consist of six petals: three standard petals that stand up and three “falls” that gently droop. Irises sprout from rhizomes, which look something like ginger root. It is important when planting irises to keep the rhizomes above ground or no more than ½ in. deep in soil. Growing irises requires plenty of direct sunlight, heat, and efficient drainage. Do not overwater these beauties. The best time to buy and plant them is right after they’ve flowered, so if you’re planning next years garden, you’re just in time.
If you’d like to help support the gardens, you can donate online or in person, or drop into the Bloom Room gift shop for gardening tools, decorative accessories, and whimsical gifts. The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens are open year round, dawn to dusk.