Thelma’s Out of Control Hobby


A car honked as it passed Thelma’s iris garden in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Thelma and her daughter threw up a hand and chuckled. There goes our pastor who preaches every Sunday for people to bring their hoes and help me weed the iris beds.

This is how I met Thelma. She was sitting on a bucket in the middle of her irises. She greeted me with a delightful twinkle in her eye. She had me summed up before I ever uttered a word. “You like flowers?”, she said. “I’ve got to get these weeds cleared out but that is something not many folks like to do–but I do.”


“That’s a lot of irises Thelma”, I said. “How come you grew so many?”


Thelma—-I needed a hobby.


Me—Have you always grown irises?


Thelma—No, I use to own The Moravian Cookie Shop.


Me—Oh really?, so you used a 200 year old cookie recipe? I’ve heard about that. I descend from the Foltz family. Perhaps we are cousins?  Is it the recipe brought to the Moravian settlement from the Foltz/Voltz family?


Thelma—-Yes, that’s the one. So when I retired, I needed a hobby. I started growing a few irises.


Me—Which one is your favorite?



Thelma—I like the bright purple but the white with the ruffled edges is probably my favorite one today. Tomorrow it will be something else.


Me—Thelma I really like being in your iris garden. And I’ve enjoyed talking to you. My neighbors brought me by cause they knew I would love it—and I do. You’ve got a full cart and it’s hot, are you going to take a break?


Me–Thelma, you look cute riding around in your cart and hauling your daisy weeds in the back.


Thelma—I’m over 80 years old and never felt better. Please take all the pictures you want. We love it when the artist come and set up their easel, paintbrushes, and all their paints. They get lost in the sea of color and don’t watch out for my cart. We tell them not to set up right in the middle of the isle as I’m not the cart driver I once was. ( She and her daughter laugh a ton at this little tidbit of info. I can see them replaying an accident in their minds)


Me—Do they grow pretty good in this red dirt? Do you have to water often? What do you use as food?


Thelma—we use bonemeal but that’s about it. We’ve never watered even through last year’s drought. They just love this dirt.


Me–Do you know the names of them all? Are they all priced the same.


Thelma—yes, I know the names of all of them. No, they aren’t priced the same. You have to tell us what you want and then we tell you. We have some on sale that my daughter just dug up.


Me–wow, those are healthy bunches for $2 each. I’ll be back very soon. You sure are generous.


Thelma—we love people and this supports my hobby.


Me—I see your girls have made you a sign. You have a great sense of humor. I’m glad you opened your garden to us flower lovers. Can I come back and video and do another interview with you? I want my readers to hear your delightful voice.


Thelma—yes, you can do a video interview but bring your hoe cause it needs tidying up a bit first. ( to this she laughs and laughs and I grin real big—-because it would be an honor to work beside her. She doesn’t know I’ll show up one day with my hoe , some refreshments, and lots of energy)



Thank you to my sweet neighbors Bob and Almeda for taking me today. I enjoyed your company and nice lunch you bought for me.

To all my readers, I planted some flowers for Bob and Almeda yesterday and this trip was their thank-you. They couldn’t have made me happier. And this iris garden is only minutes from my house. I just never knew about it.


Thank you Thelma! You spread so much sunshine and I’ll be back to learn the names ;) I’ll start with the one below because it’s my favorite.


20 comments on “Thelma’s Out of Control Hobby

  1. Amazing, I’m crying because that story is so beautiful… and because I wish I could visit and buy a tubful of her irises!!! If I ever get within 100 miles, I will go there. If she ever begins to sell by mail order let me know!

  2. I so enjoyed this visit to Thelma’s iris garden, the conversation interspersed with the photos gave you a great sense of actually being there. I’m with other commenters, Thelma is an inspiration for how to live a good life. I enjoyed the dahlia story, too, and my hat is off to anyone who would raise that many and dig them up every year. There is an iris breeder in my area who brings bouquets of them to the library and other public places every year; I hadn’t been big on bearded irises until I saw his, and these are similarly amazing and beguiling.

  3. She reminds me of my great aunt who will turn 103 this year. Amazing. Old people are a real treat to listen to. They have so much to tell.
    I love iris too. So maybe mine are getting to much water? They do bloom still. Do you guys have rain in the summer months? We don’t here so I have to water daily. I know drought years are different though. It is not humid here at all it is bone dry and hot. There is a huge Iris grower in Oregon. I would love to visit there someday. What a real fun day for you! I hope you get to go back again before the Iris are done blooming!

  4. What an amazing post, The photos of the irises are just wonderful, and I hope to have such a hobby when I am 80 years old. She must have been fun to talk to and what a great deal on the price of those irises.

  5. That looks like a delightful place and she a delightful lady. Bearded Iris are a long time favorite. It would be dangerous for me to visit at peak bloom, but the prices seemed like a steal.

  6. Good morning Anna, what a nice outing. I like the ruffley ones too. There is one that you pictured that is purple and yellow….guess I am a sucker for those colors. Gorgeous blooms! So is this place close to your house? I think I would be there frequently!!

  7. I hope that I am still this enthusiastic about gardening when I am this old. Thelma is a wonderful lady. Thanks for sharing her with us.

    Always Growing

  8. Anna, thank you for this beautiful story. Thelma is so special too! This story and pictures reminded me of a day that we visted our brother and he took us down to his sister-in-law’s house “down the road about a mile” to her dahlia patch. It was like Thelma’s Iris patch. It was hard to choose just one dahlia; they were all so beautiful! And up in Pa. you have to dig them up before winter sets in because they will freeze and rot. To think that sister-in-law and her husband did that every Fall is beyond me. My favorite color Iris is that light purple one, but I loved them all! My two sisters and I were acting like kids let loose in a penny candy store that day, trying to cut as many as our arms would carry to take home with us(100 plus miles). My brother dug up some of the red dinner plate size bulbs and brought them to me the next year, and I have pictures around here “somewhere” and come late Fall, we carefully dug the tubers up and let them dry out before storing them in the laundry room, replanted them the next Spring but neglected to dig them up that next Fall and they froze and rotted. I was sick about that, and never grew them again. I thought it was too much work; and the next Spring, I really regreted it. Thanks for introducing us to Thelma and her beautiful Iris garden. What a beautiful story!

    • Thelma is giving those Iris bulbs away dirt cheap. Better show her a catalog from some of the more popular bulb growers and let her look at their prices. Some of the German Iris bulbs are priced anywhere from $12-$50 or $75.(Example:Van Bourgondien) Guess she is not in for the money, but for the joy of it and the joy her Iris bring to others like you when they come to visit her. Knowing you, you will take or do something for her when she least expects it. I’m sure seeing the joy she bought to you made her happy and knowing you shared the beautiful story about her Iris Patch and her with your fans was her reward.

  9. That is such a fabulous story with pictures to die for ! I adore iris,and my husband loves them to distraction.I love the “enter at own risk”sign…I know a lot of nurseries/shops that ought to warn addictive-type personalities about their wonderful goods/plants in the same way ;-)

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