Iowa State University

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777



Kelly Norris, Iowa State student, (515) 572-4907,

Dan Kuester, News Service, (515) 294-0704,

Iowa State sophomore turns passion, pastime into profession

AMES, Iowa -- Growing up in Bedford, Iowa, Kelly Norris never got in trouble for playing in the dirt. In fact, his grandmother encouraged it.

And Norris loved it.

From the time he was "old enough to hold a trowel," Norris had his grandmother's blessing to get dirty in the soil while helping her with the gardening around their family farm.

Norris is now a sophomore, and he still plays in the dirt -- both at school and at home.

At school, Norris is a horticulture major working with herbaceous ornamental plants. And at home he operates a seven-acre flower business that boasts an inventory of more than 250,000 plants with more than 550 different cultivars for sale.

A budding entrepreneur, Norris convinced his family to buy the iris farm when he found the company for sale on the Internet.

"We bought Rainbow Iris Farm lock, stock and barrel from some people in Texas," he said of the purchase. He then had the entire operation -- flowers, paperwork, files and all -- packed and shipped to Bedford.

Now the company envelops seven acres of the farm and ships more than 700 orders (comprising around 9,000 plants) each year to all 50 states and several foreign countries.

Norris' life in the dirt takes up much of his time. And his schedule outside the garden is also full.

Norris lectures at least once a month on the art and science of growing plants -- mostly irises -- to horticultural groups, civic organizations and weekend gardeners.

He writes at least a dozen articles a year for journals read by horticulture professionals as well as hobbyists.

All this while he's on track to graduate early from Iowa State.

At 19, Norris already has an impressive resume. But his passion really took root "collecting seeds, harvesting tomatoes and planting perennials" on the family farm in Bedford.

"I just couldn't get enough,' said Norris. "I would read books, take Master Gardener classes. I was just like a sponge."

He tracks his career as writer and lecturer back six years -- when he was 13.

Norris was doing some volunteer work for the National Audubon Society when he was approached by a local garden club about giving a lecture on attracting birds.

Soon after, he found an online garden publication that was willing to pay for articles on flowers. He got $50 for his first effort and never looked back.

Now, he is a member of more than a dozen professional societies (he's lost count) and serves on the scientific advisory committee of the American Iris Society.

Being so accomplished at such a young age has not changed his small-town Iowa outlook.

"It's not anything somebody else with a similar interest couldn't have done," he says modestly.

With all he has done, why settle on the iris?

"Of all the perennials, irises have the greatest color diversity of any group," says Norris, sounding more like a scientist than an enthusiast.

"There are irises in every color of the rainbow -- except true red, and some come very close to being true red," he explains. "You just don't see that diversity in other plants."

"Iris was the messenger of the gods," Norris explains, using his favorite plant's mythological eponym. "She left a rainbow in her path."

His own path will lead to a doctoral degree, he hopes, and a career working with the iris and other flowers.

"I love plants," he confides, now sounding more like an enthusiast than the scientist he hopes to become. "Perhaps too much."


Kelly Norris

Kelly Norris


"I just couldn't get enough. I would read books, take Master Gardener classes. I was just like a sponge."

Kelly Norris