Some of Maxlin Dittmore's fondest childhood memories include hours spent gardening with his father. Dittmore's dad raised all kinds of flowers, but his greenest thumb was reserved for the irresistible iris. Someday, Dittmore promised himself, he too would own acreage filled with the fabulous flora, a garden so grand that each spring he would invite the public to come to his home to revel in its beauty.
For the 73-year-old Brentwood resident, that someday is finally here. Irises are called the Rainbows of the Gods, said Ditt-more. My dad raised them and they have always been my favorite, and I just wanted to share them. I wanted to give people a place to come and relax and smell the roses.
Or in this case, the iris. Stretching toward the sun in a broad variety of color and form, hundreds of the blooming annuals are planted in farmer's rows along the Ditt-more property on Payne Avenue. Sporting such names as Moonbeam, Mocha and Evening Glow, these delicate yet hardy and easy-to-grow flowers are as individual as their monikers.
This is the second year Dittmore has opened his garden to the public, but the first time he has christened the event with the official name of the Brentwood Iris Festival. For a few weeks each spring, this free event attracts a steady stream of admirers, many armed with cameras and a shopping list. And with over 35,000 known varieties, nearly 700 of which are represented on the Ditt-more site, there are plenty to choose from.
Iris enthusiast Rebecca Reimbold came to the festival for the simple chance to enjoy a mass viewing of her favorite flower, and she wasn't disappointed. This is so gorgeous. I can't believe all the shapes and varieties here, said Reimbold, who ordered dozens of the bulbs for her own garden. I'm a serious gardener and a lover of irises, and this is amazing. I'll definitely be back next year.
This year's festival was augmented by an art contest. A lifelong patron of the arts and a strong community advocate for art in the schools, Dittmore sent out invitations to all five East County high schools, inviting them to participate in the contest.
Students were encouraged to submit their best iris-inspired art for consideration, and an opportunity at a cash award of $150 for first place, $100 for second, and $50 for third place. Freedom and Liberty high schools accepted the invitation, and last weekend guests to the festival got a look at the two finalists' work and a chance to vote for their favorite.
The winner, Lalo Perez from Freedom High School, received the $150 and an extra surprise: Dittmore bought the painting from the young artist for a generous $1,000.
I'll tell you something, said Dittmore about his decision to host the art competition. I was always the littlest and the youngest in my class growing up and it was always the jocks that got honored for their accomplishments. In my opinion, the arts need to be appreciated and rewarded, too.
Dittmore's field of dreams will be in bloom until about mid-May. Until then, Brentwood Iris Garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and is located at 195 Payne Ave. in Brentwood.