Iris Lady Knows Her Stuff From Experience



Ruth Overton claims she is no expert when it comes to iris, but she has more than 55 years of experience with the flower that has taught her a lot.

"I have always gardened," Overton said. She was taught the basics by her grandmother.


Ruth Overton

"She was an avid gardener and when I was just a little child, she'd take me out in the garden and show me how to take starts from plants, put them in the ground and make new plants."

Overton populated her garden with starts when she was still in the Midwest. "My sister-in-law lived next door and whenever we heard of an old farm house falling down or being torn down, we'd go out into the country and raid the yards for starts."

The iris has always been her favorite in the garden. She said when she and her late husband, Bill, were first married and iris was probably the first thing she planted.

When the couple moved to Payson 17 years ago they had planned to build a home on Gold Nugget, but they were talked out of it when Carolyn Stanley insisted on showing them a place on McDonald Circle that had been built by Russ Bemler.

"As soon as I walked in the house I knew it was where we had to live," Overton said.

The house sits on the west side of the hill and has breathtaking views of golf course and park below and the hills beyond. And there are iris everywhere.

The couple built the iris gardens together, hauling out the granite and bringing in trucks and trucks of dirt.

Some of the first iris Overton put in her new gardens were Star Valley natives. An aunt who had lived in Star Valley died.

"She had lots of fancy, bearded iris. When she died, my sister and I gathered starts from them."

Overton's sister is Diane Crabdree. It was a visit with the Crabdrees that introduced Ruth and Bill to Payson.

In addition to Overton's Star Valley starts of bearded iris, she has also planted rhizomes from Shepherd's Iris Garden in the Valley.

Before planting the iris, Overton makes sure the dirt is workable, then amends the soil with bone meal or ammonia phosphate. The start or rhizome goes in next and is covered.

"In July or August you need to clean away the old leaves from your iris," she said.

She trims the leaves back to a fan shape that is five or six inches tall. "You need to wait that long until after they've bloomed because the energy taken in by the leaves goes into the rhizome for the next bloom."

To use existing plants to expand an iris garden after the leaves have been trimmed, dig up the clump -- Overton uses a pitch fork with tines that are between 8 and 10 inches long. Shake off the dirt and cut off the part of the rhizome attached to a fan of leaves (keep the leaves and rhizome together).

The original rhizome can just be thrown away, Overton said.

If a rhizome looks as if it is diseased, that part can be cut off, if it appears to have had something eating it, an insecticide should be used to dust it, Overton said.

"You can put them back in the ground right away, or if you don't have the time, you can wait. I've waited as long as three months on some of mine. They're very hardy and not much will eat them," she said.

When planting the rhizome, Overton said put it at the back of the garden plot because they grow forward.

She said experts recommend putting only one rhizome in a hole and keeping about two to four feet apart.

"I'm impatient. I put three in one hole, with about three inches between them because I want to see them flower," Overton said.


Name: Ruth Overton

Occupation: artist

Employer: self

Age: 73

Birthplace: Cottonwood Falls, Kan.

Family: sister, Diane Crabdree, brother-in-law, Chuck Crabdree and their family

Personal motto: Life is beautiful, enjoy it.

Inspiration: My surroundings and my husband, Bill

Greatest feat: In Kansas City I had an art supply store and gallery where we taught classes

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Art, gardening and golf when I can, but art every day

Three words that describe me best are friendly, creative, joyful

I don't want to brag but I was on television, a program called "Something Beautiful" in Kansas City

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: Monet

Luxury defined: Living in Payson

Dream vacation spot: I'd just as soon be here in Payson, but when I liked to travel it was Ireland

Why Payson? We fell in love with it when we came to visit my sister. We always knew this is where we'd retire. We came here in 1987.

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