Growing the Good Life: Willow Bend Iris Farm
Willow Bend Iris Farm is a team effort between owners Darrell and Victoria Rule. This spring marks the couple’s 13th year of raising spectacular blooms on four acres northwest of Grand Junction. They’ve loved every minute of it!
“Darrell manages all the irrigation, organics, and tractor work,” says Victoria. “We both take orders, help customers, do shipping, and can be found deadheading and weeding by hand early in the morning.”
After owning a 1,000-acre ranch in Steamboat Springs and working full-time jobs, retirement didn’t come easy for this active duo. Their idea of slowing down was to buy the Willow Bend Iris Farm business in Eckert and relocate it (and themselves) to Grand Junction. This involved digging up 25,000 plants by hand and replanting them on their new property — no easy task!
Fortunately, says Victoria, iris are a forgiving flower. “They will grow just about anywhere,” she explains. “Really, you just put them in the ground and let them do their own thing. Water them if you think about it — and if you don’t, they’ll figure it out. They’re so tough, they make my job easy.”
The Rules raise 600 varieties out of the “hundreds of thousands” available. Their selection is based on best sellers and historic iris — those introduced 30 or more years ago.
“Many growers just want to sell the latest and greatest, but we find we have a demand for historic iris. People want their gardens to be period-dated, just like their houses,”
Blooming season is mid-May through the first week of June. Guests can call in advance for a scheduled tour or drop by for a self-guided tour. The four-acre “showroom” is always evolving as 50 of the 600 varieties are changed out each year for 50 new ones.
The Rules sell iris rhizomes (they are not bulbs) throughout the 48 contiguous states, with their top sales in Texas, California, Maine, and Colorado. Their business is entirely retail, no wholesale. Fresh-cut iris are sold locally during blooming season and even shipped overnight to a large market of Chicago floral designers. At the request of customers, the Rules are in their fourth season of growing historic peonies. They offer 12 varieties, which are also selling well.
Victoria says iris are healing, meditative, and calming plants that change people’s lives and spirit. “People tell me iris create community,” she adds. “They remember them from their grandmother’s garden and share stories. They may not remember the name, but they remember the scent — sweet, citrus, flowery.”
Personally, Victoria finds she can be hot and irritable in the field, only to turn and see a bloom that wasn’t there two minutes ago, making her whole day.
“They bloom such a short time — but, you know, they wouldn’t be so special if they bloomed long,” she observes. “They do what they need to do in their short time. Trust me.”