Monday, February 18, 2019

California Dreaming 5--Napa Country Iris Gardens

By Bryce Williamson

Thanks to Roger Duncan’s great directions, I was able to save at least an hour on the trip to Napa Country Iris Gardens. While his directions were fine, the driver became confused since Lake Berryessa is no longer the hot spot in the Bay Area for fishing, swimming, boating, and water skiing that is once way, the store is boarded up where I am used to turning, and I ended up five miles down the road at a dive/biker bar, tried not to be intimidated by the customers who I would have really enjoyed 40 years ago; and they kindly got pointed me in the right direction.

On the drive we saw the damage done by last summer’s fires. With my sense of direction restored, we ended up at John and Leslie Painter’s. With rows of irises spilling down gentle slopes, it is a wonderful sight. After alerting Leslie we had arrived by honking the horn, she was able to open the gate, gave up her afternoon chore of mowing, let us in, and provided the guided tour.

 Leslie and John Painter and Phil Williams

Like Nola’s Iris Garden, the Painters operate a huge carriage trade business. In addition to taking orders for delivery in the summer, they sell irises in pots. In recent years, they have added pots of peonies for sale.

'Abbondanza' (Ghio 2002)

'Dewuc Whatic' Burseen 2011

John and Leslie also hybridize. Phil Williams and I, realizing that good daylight was going to be gone shortly, decided to focus on the Painter introductions and seedlings.

'Coconut Snow' (John Painter 2016)

'Dressed In Black' (Lesley Painter)

'Spice Trader' (John Painter 2010)

'Prairie Splendor' (John Painter 2018)

After making an inspection of those irises, I realized that the six broken ribs from last year were talking to me very loudly and I headed up the hill to sit in the shade. There I was joined my Leslie’s mother, Madelyn Handlong, some 90 plus years young, and we had a wonderful talk. She explained how Leslie first started selling irises at farmers’ markets and in pots, then they found the present location, John built the garage and apartment above, and finally the house. A spry woman, Leslie’s mother complained that they only let her drive 1.5 miles each day to take care of the feral cats she feeds. She is a woman after my heart. BTW Leslie’s mother was getting ready to sell pots of irises in the shade room on the weekend with another daughter who was flying in to help. I had to remind myself that I am thinking about moving and, therefore, resisted checking out the peonies in the pots.

John Painter J-13-35-A

J. Painter J-22-33-B

Leslie Painter L14-14-D

Leslie Painter L14-26

Not only do they sell irises in the garden, but also they sell online at The garden itself is located at 9087 Steele Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558.  Phone: 707.255.7880.

After our visit we headed back to Fairfield for the night and another gourmet dinner—Denney’s. I know Phil went home and had interesting things to say about the famed California cuisine. The only thing I can say is that he did go to the best Mexican hole-in-the-wall in Silicon Valley and liked molĂ©. The trip back to the San Jose airport Wednesday morning gave him a real initiation into Bay Area traffic--Concord was a parking lot on the freeway and Sunol grade was its normal stop and go traffic.

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