Wendy Begbie didn’t realise she had inherited her mother’s love of iris flowers until, as an adult, she saw a painting of her mother’s garden.
“My mother, Margaret Dodge, was a great gardener. I think she had me out in the garden with her probably before I could walk,” says Wendy, owner of the Amazing Iris Garden and nursery near Katikati.
“I knew mum loved flowers but I didn’t know the names of what she grew. It wasn’t until I saw a painting my aunt had done that I realised mum grew lots of irises so I guess that’s where I got my love of the flowers from. Mum would have loved this iris garden,” says Wendy, who grew up at Rerewhakaaitu.
Unfortunately Margaret died 25 years ago but Wendy must have absorbed her passion for the ‘rainbow flowers’ by osmosis because from a home gardener’s interest in the flowers, she is now a commercial grower.
As well, Wendy and husband Dave are dairy farmers. “Iris flowers have been among my favourites. I just wanted to keep collecting them. Every time I saw a new colour I wanted it.”
Sixteen years ago Wendy decided to become a commercial grower and for several years grew the flowers on leased land. Around 10 years ago she and Dave bought a three-hectare property in Walford Rd, just south of Katikati and began contouring it for iris gardens.
That included cutting into a hillside to provide enough flat land for the tens of thousands of plants which now grow there.
Wendy reckon it’s appropriate because of the wide variety of colours found in the flowers. “There is more variety in iris colours than any other flowers. Iris, however, doesn’t come in reds as in roses, but has burgundy and deeper tones.”
It’s these showy colours Wendy likes best. “The yellows and whites are nice but I love these kind of colour combinations,” she says, gently touching the flower of a Peaches and Wine Lousiana Iris.In 2006 ’Peaches and Wine’ was selected as the winner of The Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal which is the highest award for an iris bestowed by the Society for Louisiana Irises.
“Lousiana Iris doesn’t mind growing in damper conditions. The tall bearded iris, on the other hand, like hot, dry conditions.” The gardens also grow median and dwarf varieties and day lilies too.
“The iris we grow are propagated from rhizomes. Lifting and dividing the plants is one of the biggest jobs in the garden, along with weeding.
“We dig our irises in December and February for delivery, as this is the best time in our area to move and divide bearded irises. The irises are transported bare-rooted and the plant is quite happy but it has to be planted shortly after our customers receive it.”
This year’s exceptionally wet weather delayed the flowering of iris plants and just before Labour Weekend when the garden should have been a rainbow of colour, many blooms were yet to open. However, Wendy and the team of nursery supervisor Jo Tidman and staff Kerry Hunt and Julia Crabtree were philosophical.
“The flowers will open and we have until the first week in December for people to come and enjoy them,” says Wendy.
Improved facilities have been added this season to cater for the often large groups of flower enthusiasts from all over the country who visit the gardens.
“Most of our visitors are from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty but we do get groups from Wellington who make a special trip to see the gardens and enjoy other attractions in the area.”
New Zealand’s strict and costly biosecurity regulations mean Wendy hasn’t imported new varieties for around 10 years. “However, we can bring in seed and it takes about five years from planting the seed to having plants available for sale.”
Wendy, who has a full-time job away from the garden, hopes to find time in future to begin breeding her own varieties. Maybe she’ll name one for her mother Margaret.
The Amazing Iris Garden at 122 Walford Rd, just off Work Rd, South of Katikati, is open Thursday to Sunday from Labour Weekend to December, 9.30am-4pm and outside these times by appointment.