Monday, July 12, 2021

On the Iris Road Again: Diana Ford’s Garden

By Bryce Williamson

The pandemic had so messed up my thinking that it was at the end of the iris bloom season in Northern California that I realized that it was safe to make a day trip to see a garden. And the best day for the trip would fall on Mothers’ Day. With the far north of the state blooming a bit later and curious about the Diana Ford’s hybridizing efforts, I set out early on Sunday for Hopland.

'Centennial Celebration'

Hopland is one of those census designated areas located on the west bank of the Russian River 13 miles south-southeast of Ukiah in the Sanel Valley. It is a rustic farming community situated amongst oak covered coastal foothills. Most of the valley and many of the rolling hills are covered in vineyards.


But just before Highway 101 narrows from four lanes to two and crosses the Russian River, I turned off to the east to find the Ford garden.

The Fords built a retirement home on property that had been owned by her grandfather. The 14 acres are surrounded by vineyards. Diana comes naturally into irises as both her grandmother and mother grew them. When she retired in 2012 as a computer programmer, she bought a few irises, went to the Santa Rosa Iris Society plant sale, and we all know what happened next.

Diana and Don Ford

These days she is growing around 4000 seedlings each year. The current focus of her hybridizing is on pinks, bicolors, olive toned flowers, and rebloomers. As she later wrote to me, “I love iris with the white standards and light within, so I’ll always look at those first. I love bright clean color. Try to work with iris that get me excited.”

178SBLB2

238SB6


167WCG1

323FS4

187RCI2

At the 2019 National’s blind competition of seedlings, her seedling, now named ‘Centennial Celebration’ won. Diana explained to me that she had not expected to introduce so soon, but winning the competition resulted in 'Centennial Celebration' being introduced in 2020.

I not only enjoyed my visit, but also brought home some canes of a wonderful single rose Altissimo. It was a long shot that I could root the cuttings, but 6 out of 9 are still alive and giving me hope that they will survive. It would be a wonderful addition to my yard. Not only were the irises of interest, but I also enjoyed the garden.



After I the visit, I took the grand tour of Hopland and then found a shady spot by the Russian River to eat my lunch. It made for a beautiful and peaceful day. It felt very good to be on the road again.


Images of Ford seedlings and 'Centennial Celebration' by Diana Ford. All other images by Bryce Williamson.


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