When Carmen Armantrout moved from Denver to her childhood home in Hays, her goal was to revitalize the yard full of irises her late mother, Genie Dies, spent decades cultivating. As one travels past the home at the corner of 23rd and Pine Streets it is clear she has done just that. Seventy-six species of irises across 17 beds add a sea of color to the neighborhood that is hard to ignore.

Though the yard has been restored to its former glory, that wasn’t always the case in recent years. Armantrout enlisted the help of Guy Riedel with CCR Landscaping of Ellis to help clean up the yard when she first moved in July of 2017. It took three men working two 16-hour days to weed and create an environment for the flowers to flourish. With the help of her son, Cory, and her friend Jim Huenergarde, Armantrout has been able to keep the yard maintained.

“This is the best it’s looked in terms of weeds and grass in 20 years,” Armantrout said Wednesday afternoon as she tended to the garden.

“The last two years they’ve (the irises) been real happy and I’m trying to keep it that way.”

Now Armantrout is working to document and catalog the different species of irises so they all can eventually be identified. She has tagged each type with a number and compiled a large book that contains photographs and detailed descriptions of the flowers. She also has created a hand-drawn map of the yard that shows where all the beds are located. Though she has made significant headway, Armantrout expects it to take another year to document all of the varieties.

“I’m just trying to preserve her legacy,” Armantrout said of her efforts to maintain the garden her mother started in the 1970s.

“So many people have stopped by and said how they like it, how pretty it is.”

The irises began blooming at the end of April and Armantrout expects them to be in bloom for about another week. The back yard of the home is also covered in irises, but they have not yet come up.

Armantrout eventually hopes to change the landscaping and spread out the irises.

“I hope to reorganize so it can be maintained for the future,” Armantrout said.

Dies was a flower judge at the Ellis County Fair and inspired Armantrout to follow in her footsteps to learn more about flowers and also become a judge.

In her work throughout the yard, Armantrout has discovered dwarf and mini irises that she did not know existed.

“She’s still teaching me even after she’s gone,” Armantrout said of her mother.

Dies and her husband, Ed, were active in several organizations and found joy in serving the Hays community. At 70 years old, Armantrout believes that is the purpose for this next leg of her life, as well.

“They were all about service, so I guess this is my service to the community, to give them a pretty garden to look at,” Armantrout said.

“This is our gift to Hays.”