Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cooley's Gardens: A Classic Garden Closes

As of this month, October, 2011, Cooley's Gardens is officially closing its doors. Tho gone, they will not be forgotten. A legacy of iris hybridizing and introduction spanning eight decades is not so easily erased. Iris lovers the world over will continue to cherish and enjoy the varieties that are with us due to the efforts of the Cooley family and all their heirs that have lovingly kept the business going all this time. As well, historic iris lovers will continue to collect their beautiful catalogs, for which they were renowned.



Cooley's Gardens started as a back yard hobby of Rholin and Pauline Cooley in Silverton, Oregon. They produced their first commercial catalog in 1928, and went on to become one of the largest iris firms in the US, lasting 83 years as of 2011. It has been continued by subsequent generations of the family, most recently by Rick Ernst and his wife Katie. Sadly, Rick passed away this past spring.

Cooley's was the primary introducer for many famous iris hybridizers. Early on, in 1929, Dr. Kleinsorge began introducing his illustrious varieties in their catalog with his beautiful 'Klamath'. Cooley's continued to introduce almost all of his irises until his final varieties 'Bengali' and 'Buckaroo' in 1961. Another legendary hybridizer featured in Cooley's thru the 40's, 50's, and 60's is Dave Hall, most famous for his line of 'flamingo pinks' that so captivated the iris world, he also brought us many other new color breaks as well. Cooley's later brought us the work of master hybridizer Jim Gibson and his ground-breaking work with plicatas, as well as the award winning productions of Larry Gaulter.


I was fortunate to have the chance to visit the beautiful display gardens at Cooley's during the 2006 AIS Convention. The garden was a mass of beautiful flowers and the fields stretched away into the distance - row after row in a dizzying rainbow of blooms. Visitors eagerly toured the display beds and admired the indoor floral arrangements for which Cooley's has been so famous over the years.

All things must eventually come to an end, and Cooley's Gardens can rest assured of their place in iris history. We will always have their legacy, all the beautiful irises they created and those they introduced, to remind us of their contributions to the world of irises.

19 comments:

  1. When I first started seriously growing iris-Cooley's was the garden that supplied my addiction-sorry to see them go.

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  2. So sad. Cooley's was a favorite of ours to visit when we lived in Oregon, and to order from when we didn't. I'm shocked they are closing.

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  3. I always wanted to visit. And when I was in Oregon, it was the wrong time of year. Very sad to see the legacy ending.

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  4. Dang. I got great service from Cooley's and always meant to visit.

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  5. All of us here at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens were so sad to hear our old friend, Cooley's, was to be no more. Some of our treasured archives included correspondence between Rholin and Barbara Walther. Cooley's was one of the earliest supporters of the project to create an iris garden honoring Frank Presby. Fortunately, for all of us here, Barbara saved every single Cooley's catalog. We still use them today as a valuable tool in verifying our collection.

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    1. I just went to order my irises and found Cooley's was gone. The one I especially wanted last year was sold out when I ordered. I don't even know the name of it. I wonder if you have the time at all could you look in the 2011 and find the iris that has orange standards and purple falls or purple standards and orange falls. The orange is really orange not buff. If I had the name of it maybe I could find it somewhere else. Or maybe you would have and idea where I could get a 2011 catalog and I could look myself. I had a place in the garden all planned for this iris. Thanks for your time.
      Blanche

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  6. I just last week learned of their closing. Does anyone know why? Also would greatly appreciate any suggestions on where to order from now. Cooley's was the only place I have ever ordered my iris from. Thank you.

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    1. The current owner Rholin Walther (Cooley connection)died unexpectantly in March 2011. His wife and (siblings &/or grown children) promised to carry on thru last summer to honor orders already in & more coming & I'm sure needing time to sort out what to do w/the business & the Farm.

      Reviewing a June 2009 Garden Gate Mag. late this winter, the truest Red Iris I've ever seen was featured on inside back cover, & lst plant in 4 decades gardening I thot "I JUST HADTA' HAVE!" It listed Cooley Gardens in Oregon & I was fired up in early 2012 ready to order at least 3. Website & phone not working ??? I kept at it punching in all kinds of Cooley IRIS/Red At Night for days & don't know how or what/where 'button' I pushed that caused a website to appear, I think called "The Sentinal Newspaper". A very lengthy article stating that due to the death of the current owner of Cooley Gardens, it would close by fall 2011. But the article also went on about the fact that this man was also a hybridizer & Red-At-Night was his reddest & most current reg. reddest Iris of 3, maybe 2009 or 10.

      I was selfishly crushed for myself, but could only guess at the grief of this hard working family losing their leader & loved one in only his late 60s (I think.) My search for that Iris at least to 100 Iris sites is ZILCH. High Country Gardens in NM was listed below Cooley Gardens, but no longer this season carries it. So that's the 'story-behind-the-story' & spread the word that a crazy 'ole lady in VT. is still 'frothing-at-the-mouth' to secure even just one tuber of this Iris called "RED-AT-NIGHT!"

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    2. Shreiner's Iris Gardens in Salem, Oregon is amazing. I didn't know Cooley's had closed.

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  7. I'm so sorry to hear this- I love my irises from Cooley's and wish I had the opportunity to buy more. :(

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  8. So sorry about the loss of loved one. My Mother so loved the visit we had the gardens.

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  9. I'm so sorry to hear this - Cooley's was my favorite supplier and I always looked forward to their gorgeous calendar. My best to the family - they have a proud legacy.

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  10. I have been looking all over for Cooley's, today I found a Catalog and started looking again. I found this site. I am deeply saddened by their loss in the family and closing. Cooleys was where my Grandmother, Mom and Dad always shopped for thier Iris. I have let my gardens go for many years and this is the year I started cleaning up my garden. I wish I knew more of the names. I am more determined to get them going again knowing that I will not be able to get any more Iris from Cooley's. I loved visiting in the spring walking through the gardens with a harp playing in the background. Then ordering more than had planed and getting a free catalog to dream about others I wanted. My Prayers go out to the family.

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  11. I was just looking for Cooley's on the internet. Didn't find it. Now I know why. Very sad. I hope the family is doing well now. I loved buying from Cooley's. I had over 60 varieties. I have moved and wanted to get more for my new place. So glad I was able to bring starts of some of my irises. I will definitely keep the three catalogs I have from the past. They will be a treasure. Thank you for the wonderful service your company has been.

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  12. Like the rest of your writers I was going on line to order Cooley's Spring and Fall Blend iris fertilizer only to find they have apparently closed. Such a crime. They will be missed. Does anyone know if they sold their stock to another grower from whom I might acquire the fertilizer? Thank you, Diane H., Charleston, SC.

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  13. I worked for Cooley's for a few years through high school. Such a hard working family, I have great memories of this place. Katie, I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I always did and always will look up to you

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  14. So sorry that cooleys closed. All the best to the family. did this beautiful place go to another agricultural, or even iris, grower?

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  15. I am so sad to hear of the closing of Cooley's. My sister and I used to go every year and after her passing I would go with one of my good friends, who has now also passed. It would take your breath away when you came upon the fields of iris and the mass of gorgeous colors. I had planned on going this spring but now realize that I can no longer stroll through the beautiful plants.

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  16. So sorry to hear of Rick's passing and the closing of Cooley's. My mother, Lois Legard Becker, grew up next door to Rholin and Pauline. Miriam was her close friend. I always enjoyed visiting the Cooley gardens across Silver Creek when visiting my Grandmother Alvina Legard.

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