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.