They have been Mother Nature’s Mother’s Day gift for 85 years now: The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Upper Montclair. And beginning today, Saturday May 5, they are open to the public from dawn to dusk through early June.
This year’s bloom season will include a variety of events, in the gardens and in the property’s historic Walther House, where Montclair photographer Frances Pelzman Liscio is showing and selling a collection of photos inspired by some of the other plants on the Presby grounds. Tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, May 6, a troupe of Japanese Taiko drummers will perform at 2 p.m. Next Sunday, there will be special shopping for moms in the gardens’ Bloom Room shop, and a Mother’s Day concert and lunch.
The gardens were established in 1927 to honor Frank H. Presby, founder of the American Iris Society, and while the property is now owned by Essex County, the Citizens Committee of the Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens bears sole responsibility for staffing and maintaining the garden and the adjoining historic Walther House. The committee has set a fund raising goal of $85,000 this year, and supporters can make donations in person, by check (made payable to “Presby Memorial Iris Gardens”) or online through the gardens’ Web site. The committee is suggesting donations of $8.50 (Friend), $85.00 (Patron), $850 (Supporter), and $8,500 (Enthusiast).
The warm–and now wet–spring is giving the gardens a big lift this year: the 3,000 iris varieties on the grounds could produce more than 100,000 blooms. The gardens’ are getting a boost from technology. You can sneak a peek at a Webcam to assess the crowds and weather before you visit, and once there, you can use your cell phone to listen to a guided tour of the gardens.
The cell tour is the work of staff gardener Suzanne Broullon, one of several Veronans who have a hand in the gardens. Broullon’s husband, John Britch, narrates the tour and Verona Park Conservancy President Deborah MacEvoy wears a second hat as a naturalist for Essex County here. Sign maker Matthew Beneduce McGrath carved the site’s main signage and John Espy Monument Works created the plaques.
“This is a living museum,” says Broullon of the iris collection, which ranges from historic heirlooms to award-winning modern varieties. “Everything here deserves to be here.” And don’t be afraid to bring the kids. “This is a great place to study plant biology,” Broullon adds. “When an iris opens, you can see all the parts.”
PLAN YOUR VISIT: The Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens are now open from dawn to dusk seven days a week. The Citizens Committee of the Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens invites the public to explore the blooms and take lots of pictures. But they ask that you not step into the plant beds to take your shots and that you refrain from smoking at the gardens: The tobacco mosaic virus is extremely dangerous to irises. For a complete calendar of Presby events, click here. The top price for prints in the “Other Presby” show is $300 and all profits will benefit the gardens.