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This spectacular iris nursery is tucked among Atascadero’s oak trees

Iris gardens
Iris gardens

Just north of Santa Margarita, in the southernmost part of Atascadero, is a unique and beautiful iris nursery that is really more of a farm. Tucked back among the oak trees beside a seasonal creek, Susan Bettencourt has created a fun and inviting destination that everyone needs to see, even if you are not an iris gardener.

Every year Bettencourt opens her Garden Farms Nursery to the public on weekends from mid-April through May. This year the nursery will open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting on Saturday, April 15.

The first weekend of May (weather permitting) Bettencourt will host her annual free event, “Chocolate in the Garden.” In the past she has had hot chocolate, fudge, cookies, and even a chocolate fountain with strawberries.

You can look at over 250 varieties of iris in the front pastures of the property. And if you visit in 2018 there will be a walking bridge over the creek that will expand to the west portion of her property with several more blooms.

Along with the beautiful flowers to see, Bettencourt brings her horses in from their pastures, gathers the chickens from the garden and has the local celebrity — “Peaches,” her pet pig — greet everyone who stops by.

Bettencourt has an open air store where you can purchase potted plants, flowers and herbs. At that time you can chose your iris varieties to buy such as Fringe of Gold, Sultan’s Palace, Spiced Custard or Coral Point. Once the plants are dormant in August or September, Bettencourt digs up the irises, divides, cleans, trims, packages and delivers your order.

You will want to plant your irises as soon as possible and water sparingly until the first rain. No other care is needed, and in February the plant will send up green leaves. In April you will see buds and then blooms.

In late May the blooms will die. Then you should cut off the flower stalks. But don’t cut the leaves so the plant can store up energy for next year. Wait until the leaves turn yellow or brown before cutting back to the ground. On some varieties the leaves don’t die back, so Bettencourt recommends pruning them back to the ground at the end of fall.

Every three to five years you will need to dig up your irises and divide. Irises grow from rhizomes rather than bulbs, and the main rhizome or “mom” will have several babies growing that will bloom the following year. Break off the babies and you now have new iris plants! The mom will never bloom again but will continue to create new babies if you replant.

Bettencourt has been growing irises since 2004 when she bought the inventory of an iris nursery that had closed and planted all the rhizomes over half of the front pasture. The business has been growing (literally) every year and it is slowly taking over her entire front property!

All of her irises are healthy and are inspected by the state Department of Agriculture for diseases and pests. In theory, Bettencourt said, irises are gopher and deer resistant. “But if they are hungry enough, they will eat anything,” she added.

Irises are also drought-tolerant. Even if they don’t bloom one year, there is a good chance they will come back once the rains return.

Bettencourt suggested following “Garden Farms Nursery” on Facebook to keep updated on bloom times, relevant information, varieties such as Cherry Smoke or Bye Bye Blues and the popular event, “Chocolate in the Garden.”

The event is just before Mother’s Day, so stop by and visit Bettencourt and Peaches, enjoy some chocolate, walk through the beautiful gardens, and buy a unique easy-care gift for Mom that will last for years and years.

Tami Reece is a 30-year gardener and food preserver living in Paso Robles. Email her if you know of a unique and beautiful garden at rosepetalranch96@gmail.com.

Growing tips

  • You do not need special soil for irises but make sure it drains well.
  • Irises need at least 6 hours of sun.
  • Irises are perennial, which means they will return year after year.
  • Each stem produces 9 to 12 flowering buds.
  • The name iris is from the Greek word meaning rainbow.
  • Blue is the most popular color of Irises.

If you go

Garden Farms Nursery

14955 Chispa Rd., Atascadero

(805) 286-0957

Open: April 15 through May, weekends only

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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