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We have been featured in the current issue of Our Gardens, the publication of Garden Clubs of Australia. Here is the full article written by Michael Barnes.
THE BEST OF ALL WORLDS
Having spent the first 30 years of my life in the city, the next 10 on rural acreage and then the subsequent decade back in the heart of Sydney, Bilpin in the lower Blue Mountains has now proved the best of all worlds for me.
Retiring at 50 from a successful and enjoyable career in senior management has also proved ideal. I’ve now got time to pursue my interests, travel extensively to further pursue those interests, and also the time to involve myself with a diverse range of not for profit organisations that parallel my interests.
And by "interests", it’s safe to assume I mean"obsessions"!
One of the undoubted obsessions is growing Iris, and they too offer balance. I can concentrate on promoting, showing and hybridising in late spring, I can dig and divide as much as I choose over summer, and I can pretty much ignore them for the balance of the year! They are incredibly resilient, even in the increasingly tough climate we seem to face.
From Melbourne, the family moved to Sydney as I started school, and despite the demands of a high-profile job, Dad enjoyed working in our garden.. A few decades later, when planning their retirement, Mum and Dad looked for between five and 20 acres a few hours from Sydney, with the intention of developing an interesting garden.
During my university days, and early working career, I enjoyed many weekends at myparents’ place just west of the Blue Mountains, and it is at this stage that I got struck by the “Iris Virus”. We had 100m of raised beds and because of their visibility from the Great Western Highway, we did become known as the ‘people with the Iris’. I did a small amount of hybridising at this stage but those plans ended up on hold.
Jumping forward 20 years to my retirement, I was keen to remain within easy reach of Sydney but enjoy all that only acreage can bring. My 25 acres of glorious basalt over shale at Bilpin really has proven ideal for me.
The Bilpin Iris Farm from above.
I’m not good at doing things by halves, so the 42 Iris rhizomes I planted four years ago have now expanded to 1600m of iris beds, showcasing clumps of 1084 different tall bearded cultivars in addition to dwarf and intermediate beardeds, wetlands and water iris.
The iris do so well here that I really had to find a way to sell, and last year I had the good fortune to start chatting to a landscape architecture student who worked on weekends at a plant nursery in Sydney. One thing led to another, and “Iris Australis” was born with Louis managing the website and social media from Sydney, while I look after the garden and shipping of orders.
Potted Iris tables at our open day. Visitors can take home on the day what caught their eye in the garden!
We only have 300 odd cultivars on the sales site at the moment, but plan to add another 600-700 this year.
I was set back a bit this summer by the bushfires. While the house and garden were saved, the fencing, cattle yards, pumps, paddocks and wind breaks were cooked.
For my sins, I am now President of the Iris Society of Australia, Treasurer and Secretary of the NSW branch, and national coordinator and a judge of the Dykes Medal Trial Garden program, which assesses new cultivars that have won their way through state-based trial gardens.
MIchael Judging the Iris Ensata (Japanese) in the NSW Trial Garden at Everglades, Leura.
I’ve also been fortunate in being able to travel for several months each year. In addition to pursuing my other obsessions, opera and three day (horse) events, I’ve enjoyed irises across America, Italy, France, Great Britain, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic in the last couple of years. Covid 19 ruined planned 2020 travels to conventions in America and Canada, in addition to gardens in France, Slovakia and America.
Hybridisers around the world have been generous, not just with sharing their wisdom, but also with seed. While quarantine makes importing rhizomes complex and expensive, seed can be imported under strict conditions, and I’ve enjoyed working with international seed in recent years, in addition to what I’ve hybridised at home. Of particular interest are 450 miniature tall bearded iris seedlings from America. The proportions of MTBs are just a delight and I look forward to increasing their popularity in Australia. I’ve also just planted seed from Anton Mego in Slovakia.
I welcomed hundreds of visitors in 2019 and hope to see many more this year, whether travelling individually or with garden clubs. From about 3 October to 1 November, the place should be particularly spectacular with tens of thousands of blooms.
Behind the scenes at RUSHH Magazine photoshoot for DIOR at Iris Australis!
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