Thank you Jim for your years of service in the Green Industry and for sharing your passion!
I first learned about Jim when my neighbor told me about this beautiful Iris farm by Smithville that I needed to visit. In my time living in the Northland I’ve learned about similarly small farms run by fantastic people that most people don’t even know exist. So, I decided to start sharing these hidden gems with our valued customers and fellow green industry associates, to keep them from disappearing.
On a cool and cloudy Saturday I drove north, past Smithville through the scenic rolling hills with my daughter, Elaesah, who was fully engaged in reading a book. I pulled past a field of perfectly spaced Irises then turned on a gravel driveway to meet Jim Hedgecock. He is the owner of Comanche Iris Gardens in Gower, MO. I thought it was ironic that my first gem in the Northland really was a Jim! (It might be a bad dad joke, but what’s the fun if you can’t get your daughter to roll her eyes?)
Jim has run his farm for 41 years, selling his Irises and other gardening products in stores and online, and has numerous Iris awards from Florence Italy, Russia, and the US for his new varieties. 25% of his business is selling a low nitrogen fertilizer mix that helps Irises bloom and multiply. With more blooms you are able to enjoy a longer season; I will definitely have to wait patiently to try this out after my Irises finally bloom.
Jim grew up in Riverside, MO and worked in the automotive industry for many years while tending a passion for flowers. He eventually bought 6 acres by Gower, MO and raised cattle, which was a short-lived venture since the property couldn’t support very many cows. He decided to take his farm and help it bloom into his childhood love of Irises, which his mom and grandmother always grew.
During the building of Smithville Lake, he rescued a lot of Irises from old, demolished farmsteads. Armed with this huge number of Irises flowering in a multitude of colors, Jim eventually started to advertise and sell them. With all these different colors of Irises, he was motivated to educate himself on how to breed them to create new colors. You can actually breed your own species of Iris and officially name them by sending in $15 to the Iris Society. Who knew? Jim cautions against this unless you’re really serious about quality and improving Irises, since amateur breeding muddies the professionalism of the Iris community. Eventually Jim was given an opportunity to buy out an Iris division of a nursery farm and he became the fourth largest producer of Irises in the US overnight. He used to sell wholesale, but decided it didn’t make business sense with so large a property.
Today Jim has over 2,000 varieties of tall Bearded Irises. I was intrigued to learn they have double blooming Irises which have gained in popularity because they have more varieties of available colors. Jim also grows about 200 varieties of Spuria Irises, which has more of a cattail appearance with cylindrical leaves and crisper flowers. The Spuria does better as a cut flower since all of its closed blooms will actually flower, whereas the Bearded Iris will not. You also don’t have to divide the Spuria Iris, while the Bearded Iris needs to be divided over time. A sad truth Jim shared about Spuria Iris is that a lot of the knowledge in growing these plants has disappeared with the passing of Iris growers in the industry. But thanks to Jim, many of these secrets remain for future generations.
Jim walked me through his rows of Iris varieties and showed me some that were on plant trial to see if he liked their colors. It was a fun visit and I look forward to going back in a few weeks to see the Irises in bloom. He said they usually bloom a week or two after the Irises in KC bloom.
After the tour of the gardens and the gift shop, Jim showed me his latest award for some of his new Iris varieties. I couldn’t believe all the organizations Jim is involved with and the breadth of his life’s work to promote the humble Iris. With a new, profound appreciation for Irises and Jim’s work, my starving teenager and I packed up the car. She immediately put her head down and began reading again as we drove back through the Gower hillside. I’m looking forward to the next hidden gem in the Northland. Have a great day and make sure to stop and smell the flowers!
Visit comancheacresiris.com for an update on bloom times.