A flowery love affair | TheUnion.com

A flowery love affair

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a monthly column that will take a closer look at some of the many area nonprofit organizations. Also look for The Union’s Nonprofit column appearing every Monday on Page A3.

Spring may seem like a long dream away right now, but following a pleasant afternoon with Yvette Meador, it seems like the season of new life could start busting out in no time at all.

As president of the Sierra Foothills Iris Society, Meador has the promise of irises springing up all around her property, from pots along her driveway and fence lines to flower beds brimming with stalks of potential.

As Meador says, “Please feel sorry for my husband. He has to live with me and my iris.”

It takes only about 10 seconds in the presence of Meador to ascertain that she lives and breathes this flower – right down to the iris cursor on her computer screen.

Her love affair with the flower began 11 years ago when she was a Master Composter at the Auburn fairgrounds. She walked into one of the exhibition rooms during the Placer County Fair and was bowled over by the iris display. Meador joined the iris society and began to learn more and more about this perennial.

“This year is a milestone for me,” she said. “Eleven years as a Master Composter, 10 years as a charter member of our iris society, and 10 years with the Placer County Master Gardeners.”

The flower is named for Iris, Greek goddess of the rainbow. A fitting name, since there are thousands of new cultivars appearing annually and over 200 species of iris.

Meador collects installments of a book called the “Iris Check List,” which lists all the names of irises during a particular time period. One such book covered all introductions of irises from the 1990s, was more than an inch thick, and listed iris names from Aardvark Antickz to Zero. Of course I had to look and see if any iris had my name, and sure enough, there was Pamela Cameron and Pamela Hart – enough of an excuse for me to embrace this flower, too.

I learned a lot from this time spent with Meador. I thought all irises grew from bulbs. Wrong.

Some grow from roots, called rhizomes. I didn’t even know what made a bearded iris bearded.

They’re so named because of the thick, bushy “beard” on each of the lower petals of the blossoms.

The most commonly grown iris is the tall bearded, or German, iris. Meador points to Rob Cromwell as the one who had a lot to do with forming the Sierra Foothills Iris Society. He had started his own commercial iris garden, Blue Iris Country Gardens, located in Grass Valley by Bear River. At first, SFIS met at various members’ houses. Now they meet in the Auburn Civic Center.

The SFIS does all it can to promote the genus iris. According to the Web site of the American Iris Society, to which the SFIS belongs, the nonprofit exists “for the sole purpose of promoting the culture and improvement of the iris.”

“We have donated lots and lots of iris to various places like churches, the Placer Nature Center, Applegate Civic Center, and Live Oak Waldorf School – we are always trying to encourage the youth,” Meador said. The members also make themselves available as guest speakers.

In 2004, the SFIS sponsored its eighth annual show. The show is put on according to the American Iris Society rules and regulations, and is judged by AIS judges. Many schools contributed to the youth section of the show by coloring pictures of an iris flower. Students are also encouraged to participate by entering an arrangement or just a stalk of an iris.

Several members of the SFIS have been guests on KAHI 950 radio to answer callers’ questions.

Monthly meetings showcase speakers on a variety of subjects, ranging from how to grow different species of iris, how to show an iris in a show, garden grooming and disease control.

Next summer, SFIS will sell irises at both the Auburn and Grass Valley Raley’s. This is the public’s big chance to experience purchasing an iris at a reasonable price. Watch my nonprofits column on Monday’s for specific dates.

According to Meador, irises are great to grow in the foothills. Whether you prefer a type of bearded iris, Space Age, Aril and Arilbred, Historic, Siberian, Spuria, Louisiana, Japanese, Pacific Coast Native, or bulbous, the SFIS can help you grow and nurture your bulbs and rhizomes.

They are deer resistant (not deer proof), hearty, drought tolerant and multiply easily. One other advantage: it doesn’t matter how much space you have. Irises can be grown in a pot or they can cover several acres.

Meador says if you’re interested in learning more about the genus iris, join them at their monthly meetings. Who knows? Soon you may know that “standards” means the upright petals of the bloom, and “falls” are the lower petals of the flower. And if you’re really clever, there may come a time when you have an iris named after you.

How to learn more

For more information on the Sierra Foothill Iris Society, contact Yvette Meador at ymeador@cwnet.com by e-mail, or call 305-7949.

The group meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Rose Room of the Auburn Civic Center.

The American Iris Society’s Web site is http://www.irises.org

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