Farm offers 250 varieties Frederick County teen’s interest in irises is blooming
Middletown — When 14-year-old Colin Campbell talks about irises, his voice takes on an almost reverent tone.
Whether he is showing off blooms on display in all their glory or discussing the seedlings he painstakingly cross-pollinated, no doubt can be found about his passion for the flowers.
For Colin, starting Iris Hills Farm two years ago was both a sign of a budding entrepreneurial spirit and of his desire to work more with his favorite flower.
Today, he has 250 varieties of irises for sale on his family’s five-acre property at 465 Chapel Road outside Middletown. Another 800 seedlings that he hybridized, or crossbred, in the last two years will start blooming in the years ahead.
“When I just got started, my parents helped me a lot,” said Colin, the son of Rob and Sheryl Campbell. “This year, I am trying to do most of the work myself.”
For the most part, the irises available for purchase are in flower beds around the Campbell home. The yard is brimming with color as the assorted varieties bloom at different times.
People may visit Iris Hill in late April, all of May, and into early June, reserve the varieties they want, and then come back in the summer to pick them up after they finish blooming and it is safe to dig them up, Colin said. People then take them home; they will bloom again next year, or possibly this fall.
About 20 potted irises can be purchased and taken home immediately, he added.
The prices range from $3 to $25 per plant, depending on the variety and age.
He is growing a wide variety of Tall Bearded irises, including Alessandra’s Gift, Busy Being Blue, Gypsy Romance, Corn Dance and Daughter of Stars. The last has enough stalk that it is one of the irises that re-blooms in the fall.
In the flower beds near his front porch, Colin has several clumps of Timescape, a violet Tall Bearded iris that was one of the first varieties he ever grew.
Some of the Median irises he grows are Baby Blessed, Constant Companion, Florence French, Raspberry Silk and Prince of Burgundy.
Pictures of the varieties, their prices and their availability are on Iris Hills Farm’s website, irishillsfarm.com.
Because of the time and care the flowers need, especially this month, the business is only possible because Colin is home-schooled, he said. The high school sophomore took a break from his studies this month so he could concentrate on the irises.
Watching Colin’s interest in irises bloom has been a treat for his parents, who love seeing him working the land and developing a strong sense of independence, said Sheryl, a stay-at home mother.
“It gives him a good way to be outside and doing things with dirt and sunshine,” she said.
The family moved to Frederick County six years ago when Rob became a manager with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Campbells hoped Iris Hills Farm would give Colin a chance to develop skills he could use later in life if he wants to start a business as an adult, Sheryl said.
The endeavor also has helped him on learning how to interact with adults, whether they are his customers or members of the Northern Virginia chapter of the American Iris Society, which he joined two years ago, she said.
Colin’s interest in irises began much earlier, though. He started with a few plants he was given about five years ago; they sparked his imagination and prompted him to scour books and websites looking for more information.
He continued to add to his collection of flowers and finally a neighbor and owner of Echo Ridge Nursery near Middletown, Theodora Rezba, suggested he turn his hobby into a money-making enterprise, he said.
His father built him a section in the backyard with five 50-foot-long flower beds two years ago. More irises are planted in beds around the property.
This summer, Colin plans to build more beds in the front yard to help house the seedlings he has hybridized. He will pay for the venture and more irises with half the profits he makes from the sale of this year’s plants. The other half will go into savings for the future.
Although he enjoys all aspects of growing irises, hybridizing has become a significant part of what Colin likes most, he said. Don and Ginny Spoon of Cross Junction introduced him to cross-pollinating three years ago. It involves transferring pollen from one iris to another.
Colin sees hybridizing irises as his way of “participating in God’s creation.” It has required patience on his part since it can take several years to move from cross-pollination to seeing the first blooms. In 2014, he hopes to see blooms on about 20 plants he hybridized two years ago.
“Sometimes I make crosses where I have no idea what is going to happen,” he said. “Even if you think you know what it is going to look like, it might be completely different because God is in control of that. That is part of why I like it.”
Part of the attraction of hybridizing is creating irises no one has seen before, Colin said. He is not just looking for pretty flowers. He is training to become an American Iris Society judge; this would allow him to vote on awards.
Judges look for certain elements in award-winning irises, so he tries to breed plants that will bring those characteristics out. “I want to be really selective of what I give a name and enter into competitions.”
Sheryl was always aware of her son’s potential for focus and patience, but it has become even more apparent with his hybridizing, she said. The fact that he is willing to wait three or more years before he ever sees a single bloom on a flower “was a further stretch than we would have thought.”
It didn’t come as a total surprise, though, since he has always been studious, she said. In addition to gardening, Colin loves music — he has played piano six years and cello for three — and pencil and pen drawings, mainly of flowers. He writes fiction and hopes to write novels someday.
He especially likes sharing his knowledge with others. Recently, he started giving presentations about irises and their care to local garden clubs.
Colin also will set up a table and act as the iris expert at the Gardenfest at Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 1.
“I wanted to find a way to promote irises and teach people about them and also get people out to my garden,” he said.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org