Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Irises of Grace Sturtevant

Miss Grace Sturtevant is now known as the First Lady of Irises for her early pioneering work with our favorite flower. Before there was even an American Iris Society she was winning awards in horticultural shows for her beautiful creations. Sadly few of her varieties are left to us today. I've been collecting them for years and have only managed to find 20 of the over 200 she introduced. Her work with color was unparalleled for the day and she really advanced the palette that hybridizers would have to work with. Here are a few of my favorites.

'Anne Leslie' is a charming little amoena with ivory standards and rich red-violet falls. When it was introduced in 1918 it was quite the novel color combination. Listed as a TB in the 1939 Checklist, it rarely gets over 24" tall for me.

Miss Sturtevant worked extensively with yellow toned irises, attempting to achieve deeper color tones, larger flowers and taller stalks. 'Chalice', from 1924, features deep golden yellow blossoms with all parts f the flower the same rich self color tone. The flowers have a wonderful flaring form quite unlike the dog-eared form seen on so many of the day, and the amazing candelabra branching allows multiple flowers to be open at once. A vigorous grower and a prolific bloomer makes this one an outstanding garden plant all around.

'Mother Of Pearl' is simply sublime. It is a large flower on tall stems in a shimmering frosty lilac tone, with cream colored hafts and a soft yellow beard. It grows and blooms well, and was quite well received when it debuted in 1917.

One of the earliest pink plicatas to be brought to market was 'Pink Jadu', an introduction from 1931. It is a clean white iris with the petals edged and penciled in rose pink. It is lightly ruffled and was quite an advance for its time.

Blue toned irises were a main area of work for many early hybridizers, as they attempted to breed for the truest blue possible. 'Queen Caterina', tho described as a pale lavender-violet, was renowned for its wonderful clear color tone set off by bronze veining at the hafts and a bright golden beard. From 1918, it has a fine form with large flowers, wide petals, and excellent growth habits. It reliably blooms for me every year.

Long before Jean Stevens took the iris world by storm in 1945 with her fabulous yellow amoena 'Pinnacle', Miss Sturtevant had created 'Sea Foam', an early blooming intermediate bearded variety from 1928 with crystalline white standards over primrose yellow falls. Not the best form to the flowers but so very different in color than anything else before it.

'Vishnu', an introduction from 1920, was described as being a light pinkish-cinnamon with maroon veining. A golden heart lights up the entire flower. It is a very distinct variety, with tall stalks, large flowers and a great garden presence. It is vigorous, hardy and has loads of personality and charm.

This is but small peek into the legacy this amazing woman has left the iris world. You can read more about the life and work of Miss Sturtevant at the HIPS website.

1 comment:

  1. Sturtevant's 'Taj Mahal' is just about my favorite tall bearded iris. It's very tough, prolific, and sets off all the spring purples and lavenders with its cool white color and lavender veining. The branching and beautiful slender stalks of the oldies are a big part of their charm. As for form, I like falling falls -- and there are no big flaring, flouncy modern TBs growing here to show them up!