This story is part of “We Care Montclair,” a special celebration of groups and individuals working to help the Montclair community. See more stories in the special “We Care Montclair” section inserted into the April 29 edition of Montclair Local.
The “Rainbow on the Hill” at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens is readying for its closeup. The 14,000-plus irises are expected to make their debut on May 14 — the start of this year’s bloom season.
Nancy Skjei, president of the Citizens Committee of the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, which maintains the site, said this year could produce spectacular blooms due to the long snow season.
“They do better when they have been covered under a a blanket of snow, and this year it was over a month,” said Skjei, who is in her 13th year at the gardens.
The gardens, at 474 Upper Mountain Ave., were first planted 94 years ago and named for Frank H. Presby, a Montclair resident who was one of the founders of the American Iris Society. His irises, along with others from as far as Germany, Japan and England, were first planted in 1927 on land that was donated by Barbara and Fred Walther next to Mountainside Park.
Other iris plants were donated by the American Iris Society and the Kellogg gardens in Michigan. Locally, Joseph Van Vleck donated his Siberica iris, and then-American Iris Society President John Wister laid out the garden design and helped supervise the planting with Barbara Walther, who was a member of the Garden Club of Montclair. The town supplied labor and materials. The Citizens Committee was organized in 1963 to manage the gardens.
In 2009, when financial difficulties set in, Essex County purchased the gardens, with oversight remaining the responsibility of the Citizens Committee.
Today, the gardens contain 1,500 different iris varieties, some older than 150 years, and produce over 100,000 blooms in the course of the season.
The Bloom Room Gift Shop, located in the 1851 historic Walther House located adjacent to the gardens, will be open on May 14 as well. The shop offers unique garden-related gifts.
In July and August, the popular Summer Mystery Bag Sale will be held. Each bag will contain at least eight unidentified bearded rhizomes for $20 a bag.
More information: presbyirisgardens.org.
— Jaimie Julia Winters