The City of Iris: Edmond’s Iris and Garden Society Flourishes for nearly 100 years

(l-r)Christie Stoops, Merry Alexander, Anita Schlaht, Mary Jo Fortuna, and Noreen Clouse

Members of the Edmond Iris and Garden Society have planted Edmond’s landscapes since 1925. The gardeners gather monthly to share ideas and “grow” in their botanical knowledge. As the club approaches its 100th anniversary, they are determined to track and treasure the flowers that have stood the test of time in Edmond.

“Irises are hardy in Oklahoma, and they’ve grown here for more than 100 years. They likely came from other parts of the country during the Land Run,” said Anita Schlaht, current society president. “Our centennial committee set a goal to plant a garden of irises from Edmond’s history. Coincidentally, Mary Joe Fortuna, the past president, discovered an Edmond Sun article from 1961 that proclaimed Edmond as The City of Iris!”

In their quest to identify historic blooms around the city, however, the garden members have unexpectedly found themselves in the “rescue and replant” role. As older houses or acreages are sold, plowed and rebuilt, the historic irises are being lost, so society members are actively watching for opportunities to talk with property owners about digging up underground roots called rhizomes before the land is razed. They have rescued irises from aging neighbors, from homes in the downtown area, and from dilapidated farmhouses.

“I was driving past some lots by the hospital on Bryant, and I noticed some beautiful irises blooming,” Anita said. “And then I saw a man on a tractor getting ready to mow them down. I ran up and asked permission to dig them up first. He said he was glad for us to save them. We rescued eight different iris varieties, which probably date back to the 1940s.”

Once irises are rescued, they need new homes. Last summer, the members dug up over 1,000 rhizomes from the property at 2nd & Bryant, which dated back to the 1960s. Having photographed the blooms, they knew they had saved 16 varieties, but after replanting them, this spring’s bloom revealed 40 varieties.

“We are actively seeking new places to plant them. We have a large iris bed we care for at Hafer Park, and we are hoping to add some at Stephenson Park,” Anita said. “My neighborhood at Town Square has some large circular gardens, and I was allowed to plant about 1,000 rhizomes, with help from boy scouts, E. J. West and his friends.”

Besides planting the rescued irises, Anita has found a passion for identifying the different hybrids and tracking where they first grew in Edmond. Much like an iris genealogist, she has a thick journal in which she adds names, notes, and photographs.

“All white or yellow irises might initially look the same, but when you compare two together, you will see different heights, flower sizes, and leaf colors,” Anita said.

Anita is currently trying to identify irises that either didn’t bloom last year or flowered in unexpected colors. She’s created an “incubation garden” where she tracks the mystery irises. She was also inspired to write a devotional book, Gardening with God.

“God is so creative. I get so much joy out of seeing the beautiful blooms, especially the ones I didn’t even imagine or expect,” Anita said. “During May, when the irises bloom, I rush to my gardens to see what flowers opened up overnight, and then I run get my husband, Kirby, and say, ‘Come see!’”

The Edmond Iris and Garden Society welcomes new members interested in all types of gardening. Visit Edmond Iris and Garden Society on Facebook to learn more.

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