FRANKFORT — The gentle spring breeze stirs the delicate blooms of the hundreds of varieties of irises that sway in Mary Thurman's yard.
Dusty peach ruffles surrounded by a whisper of lilac evoke the dainty feel of a '70s prom dress in a variety called Celebration Song. Red Masterpiece has a crimson cap and fewer frills.
The 200 varieties of irises — bearded, dwarf, Siberian, all kinds — in Thurman's garden are far beyond the purple "flags," as irises are called sometimes, that pop up in yards across Central Kentucky this time of year. Her flowers, and others from the Bluegrass Iris Society, will be on display at the 45th annual Iris Show on Saturday at The Mall at Lexington Green.
It's a show Thurman has been to more times than she can count.
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For more than 40 years her home has been Iris Central, but she's not even sure how the flowers took such a hold on her. In 1965, she and her husband, Hugh, bought their Frankfort home and tried their hand at growing irises. They didn't stick. When they had to dig them up, "he dug them up and I just sat there and cried," she said.
Fortunately for iris lovers, they tried again. A few blooms turned into a few more, and soon their yard and a neighbor's yard were filled with flowers. Hugh Thurman, who died five years ago, became well known for creating hybrids.
From Bonkers to Neutron, the flowers are carefully labeled. But even in a yard as carefully cultivated as Thurman's, mistakes happen. A row of dwarf irises along a fence row is the result of some unintentional mixing. Thurman likes them so well, she has let them be.
Although slowed by a stroke, Thurman, 75, continues to tend her flowers and maintains a busy judging schedule at iris shows in the region.
The flowers need to be weeded and watered but will come back year after year. Thurman said she can still be surprised by when things bloom or how a particular flower will show. A trip across her yard is inevitably slowed as she stops to dead-head a plant or take a closer look at a particularly brilliant hue.
Sharon Gorgas, Thurman's friend and fellow iris lover, said the beauty of the iris is simply that "You never know what will happen."