The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray

Bill Rodgers' Secret Garden


Brianna Wray

Even neighborhood kitties peruse the the stalks and stems.

WAITSBURG-All over town irises are in bloom, but none quite so plentiful as Bill Rodger's Secret Garden. Waitsburg's own photographer is changing the landscape by hand. Rodgers is in the process of moving his iris garden from a friend's horse pasture in College Place to an undisclosed location in Waitsburg.

Irises are perennial plants, growing from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous irises) or, in drier climates, from bulbs (bulbous irises). Rhizomes put out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals.

From these, bloom long, erect flowering stems which may be simple or branched, solid or hollow, and flattened or have a circular ruffled cross-section. Other popular rhizomes are turmeric, ginger, ferns, and lotus.

"A rhizome is a stem that acts like a bulb," Rodgers explains, "bulbs are leaves folded over each other. Irises are very hardy, and don't need a lot of babying. They can take heat without being watered. They're almost impossible to kill. They amaze me."

Rodgers started growing irises twenty years ago.

"I got a catalogue from Schreiner's in Salem, Oregon. I bought a collection of twelve different ones and they were so wonderful the next year I ordered a collection of twenty different more and that turned into a collection of about 200 different varieties from different places," he said.

He admits to being a sucker for online sellers.

"I see things I don't have and I buy them."

Though only about half the collection has made its way to the new field, the blooms are bountiful. The rest will make their trek in two weeks.

"They're usually best the third year. Each plant will spread out and have ten or fifteen. It's a bazillion flowers," Rodgers said.

The move was initiated so that Rodgers could better attend to weeding the garden.

"At a certain time of the year you need to be in the iris bed every couple of days. The plot was getting neglected, so they'll all be here, and I can tend to them," he said. "They don't require much care at all, but you have to keep the weeds out. Once the weeds get between the knuckles you can't pull them. You basically have to dig everything up, divide them, separate the weeds and wash them real good before replanting. It's a lot of work. Keeping the weeds out is number one focus."

Throughout the five- to six-week bloom, Rodgers archives each variety of the collection. It's impossible to tell which are thriving until they flower. A lot of them are very similar. Because Rodgers cherishes the unique quality of each iris, he culls duplicates.

Irises are notoriously tricky to pick a bouquet of. The blooms are so delicate, and the stems are so thick, particular vases are required. It's best to pick them before the buds open, allowing them to fully flower in the vase. Once cut, irises only last a few days.

Pro tip: When the flowers shrivel, pinch them off or they will drip ink that will ruin whatever surface it lands on.

"I have ruined many a piece of furniture; be diligent," Rodgers suggests.

He hopes to plant more about town. Every three years, when they are divided, Rodgers ends up with hundreds of extras. "I just like to grow them," he said. "They're fun to look at. Each one is so amazing."

See more of these exceptional beauties throughout town, in planter boxes on Main Street, or grow your own.


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