Creating beauty

Local Iris farm is the site of national convention

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The Mount Pleasant Iris Farm is located six miles east of Washougal at milepost 22.9, directly off of state Route 14. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week through July. For more information, visit www.mtpleasantiris.com.

"I have a love of this flower and a love of the people who are involved. We are all gardeners at heart and there is nothing better."

-- Chad Harris

The Mount Pleasant Iris Farm is located six miles east of Washougal at milepost 22.9, directly off of state Route 14. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week through July. For more information, visit www.mtpleasantiris.com.

Venita Faye Scott knows a thing or two about irises.

The 92-year-old Forth Worth, Texas, resident has been attending the American Iris Society National Convention for 50 years.

This year, Mount Pleasant Iris Farm hosted the event, which drew some 600 attendees.

“I have been a part of this my whole life,” Scott declared, gazing about the expansive property. “I remember as a teen when my dad served as a judge, I would take a Dr. Pepper and go with him.”

Of all the conventions she’s attended, the Mount Pleasant Iris Farm ranks toward the top.

“I have a love of this flower and a love of the people who are involved. We are all gardeners at heart and there is nothing better.”

— Chad Harris

“I think it is just beautiful,” Scott said. “And it is good to be with people that you know, who take an interest in what is happening.”

The farm, owned by Chad Harris and Dale Grams, is the site of a National Display Garden of Japanese iris. It is also one of seven in the United States that produce the rare Aspen water iris. Located six miles east of Washougal, a dazzling array of colors are visible from the road.

Harris, 60, has been involved in the Iris Society since he was 20.

“I am a gardener at heart and there is a certain type of texture I wanted for a garden,” he said. “I couldn’t find it anywhere and was sent to an iris farm. That’s where I discovered the American Iris Society.”

Harris has been growing and hybridizing iris ensata for more than 30 years. He has also started working with a closely related iris: Iris laevigata, considered the true water iris of Asia, and a new species cross-hybrid involving iris ensata, called “pseudata.”

In addition to being a member of the American Iris Society and several sub-chapters, Harris serves as a master garden judge and is an active member of the Greater Portland Iris Society of Oregon.

It is the second time the farm has been chosen as the site of the national convention. The last instance was in 2006. Having 600 people converge on one’s property would seem like a logistical nightmare, but Harris enjoys it.

“I have a love of this flower and a love of the people who are involved,” he said. “We are all gardeners at heart and there is nothing better.”

The convention, which ran from May 18 to 25, was attended by breeders, growers and judges from around the world. They evaluated the latest work in iris breeding.

“What we are doing is evaluating plants to vote on over a course of several years,” Harris said. “The judges are looking at them in these weather conditions versus Dallas and other climates. This is a snapshot of what the plant can do in different regions.”

Barbara Sonz of Fountain Valley, California, is attending her first convention.

“These flowers are beautiful,” she said. “I wanted to share my love of them with other people who are passionate about the iris.”

Sonz got involved with the Iris Society after visiting a friend’s garden and noting the beauty of the flowers.

The national convention was her first visit to the Pacific Northwest.

“It is absolutely beautiful and the color combinations are unbelievable,” she said. “This has been a great experience.”

Marty Smith of Yakima, Washington, has been breeding the iris for 32 years. As a child, her uncle was a nationally known hybridizer. She remembers tagging along with him to events.

“I remember being really bored,” she said with a smile. “But when I got older I started reading books about it and figured if he could it, I could too. My husband would call it an obsession, but I saw it as a hobby.”

She has attended several conventions during her years as an iris breeder.

“I have lots of friends here,” she said. “We are all aging, but it is nice to get together for dinner and see the plants. There is something really satisfying about creating beauty and being able to share it.”

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