Editor's note: The open field times to visit the iris farm are Wednesday, May 25 from 9 to 11 a.m. and Saturday, May 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. Please do not attempt to visit the farm outside of the scheduled visit hours.
Heather Stark was 8 years old when her mom, Arlene Eckman, started to plant irises in the patch on the other side of the garage at Stark’s childhood home in southwest Montrose near Oak Grove and Pearl Road.
Stark helped her mom weed the irises, which Eckman secured from a nearby field. Eckman walked with Stark to see which ones she liked.
“I’ve always loved irises,” Stark said as she stood next to her iris farm. “In the spring, we would drive around town and find irises that were blooming at people’s houses.”
During those drives, Eckman got out of the car and knocked on the front door of a home which had an iris color Eckman liked. She asked if she could have the flower.
“At first I’d be so embarrassed,” Eckman said laughing. “Then I realized what a smart idea that was — that’s how I can build my irises, through the variety.”
Stark’s experiences with her mom and love of flowers have led her to start Ripple Effect Iris Farm, her new business and, she hopes, a community iris farm.
The farm is located at 17656 6353 Road and has dozens of irises in full bloom. Each row — there are 36 of them — has between 200 and 250 flowers and has specific labeling so Stark can keep track of the blooms. She has 50 to 100 different colors of irises.
Stark is at her farm each morning and evening and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. She keeps her iris cheat sheet up to date and performs maintenance when necessary. Stark is occasionally accompanied by her daughters, McKenzie and Tegan, who have followed in their mother’s footsteps with an interest in irises.
The business plan and project, which Stark started on her birthday — June 16, 2020 — is all in an effort to sell iris rhizomes, help other iris lovers take care of their flowers and wants to teach how to properly thin irises for better care.
The trio of goals led her to the “ripple effect” name.
She hopes, eventually, the business can form into one where other moms can work in the field with their kids and wants to become a source for local gardens such as Camelot Gardens and San Juan Gardens.
But she’s taking the process one step at a time. The wait for an iris bloom is a long one.
“There is a yellow one — corn harvest — that bloomed for me last fall, and I was like, ‘Score! Now I have yellow in here,’” she said. “It kind of became that love and now it’s just kind of a legacy for my mom, especially now that she didn’t get to see it this year. But I know she’s seeing it from above.”
Stark’s mom, 81, died in March 2022. She saw the farm last year, but it wasn’t in full bloom with about 10 colors in bloom in each row. Now, there are hundreds of irises decorating the farm with different colors that remind Stark of the iris trips she took with her mom every spring since 2003.
The pair would pick a few dates to drive up to an iris farm in Fruita. Stark took a picture of that farm in 2020 and posted it to social media. Along with the picture, the post read, “Goals,” unaware she would have her own iris farm months later.
Stark and her mom wouldn’t call it a day in Fruita — if Stark spotted irises near the hospital, to the hospital they went. When they heard of irises on Selig Avenue in Montrose, they drove right over.
In 2016, with a new patch to manage, Eckman became physically unable to do so. She asked Stark if she wanted to take over management of the patch and the responsibility that came with it.
Stark said yes.
“She had a love for plants, and I did, too,” Stark said.
Eager to continue what her mom started, Stark spent the past year and a half planting 9,000 iris flowers on two acres near her childhood home. She completed the first 3,000 in fall of 2020, which took two weeks — two hours each morning and evening and more on the weekend.
She developed a system and planted another 3,000 in spring 2021. Her husband, Rusty, dug holes beforehand, which also helped Stark plant the final 3,000 across three days.
She has made sure to keep track of where specific irises are planted, which stems from her desire to stay organized and entrepreneurship spirit: she understands her audience.
“There are different levels of iris lovers,” Stark said. “You have iris lovers who want the specific name, another group that wants specific aged-irises and another that just likes irises and colors.”
The wide array of flowers has already drawn interest from the community. People stopped by last weekend to look at the farm and some picked which irises they would like. Online orders on Stark’s website, rippleeffectirisfarm.com, are expected to become available mid June.
Stark’s daughters might be able to help with marketing. McKenzie, 7, was at the farm with an iPad on Sunday taking pictures while describing the characteristics of each. She did the same with her mom’s old phone, creating a slideshow of pictures and taking videos explaining the uniqueness of each iris.
“McKenzie was like, ‘I could be teaching people about the different colors of iris and the terminology,’” Stark said.
After a recent hike, Stark asked the girls if they wanted to drive by the farm. They said yes, Stark recalled, overwhelmed by a desire to take pictures. And the girls are already coming up with names for irises. They told their mom if a yellow one sprouts up, they are calling it Big Bird.
“I could see them really enjoying the process of hibernating the iris and having to develop their own and crossing different ones together and seeing what comes from it,” Stark said. “I would like this to be a legacy for them, too, to have it become a family thing.”
For more information, visit Ripple Effects Iris Farm on Facebook or rippleeffectirisfarm.com. The farm is located at 17656 6353 Road in Montrose.
Editor's note: The article previously stated Heather's Stark's birthday is July 16. It is June 16. The spelling of one of Stark's daughters has been corrected to McKenzie.